Victoria Linares: “It gave them a sense of being seen” | Screen buzz

Victoria Linares’ second feature, which screens at this year’s T&T Film Festival, continues the filmmaker’s assured manipulation of artifice and performance — exposing cinema’s seductive lies — to arrive at deeper truths. She talks to Jonathan Ali about the process

  • Victoria Linares Villegas, courtesy Jonathan Ali

Camila Santana is a young actress set to play a pregnant teenager in Ramona, a film from the Dominican Republic directed by Victoria Linares. Camila suggests to her director that they interview young women who became teenage mothers, to better equip the actress to provide an authentic performance.

Yet as the young women speak candidly about their lives and give Camila feedback during rehearsals, the actress comes to a realisation and decides to give up her role, turning the script over to the young women in a gesture of creative empowerment.

Existing at the intersection between fiction and documentary, Ramona is an imaginative film exploring Caribbean social reality and the representation of that reality, asking: Who has the right to tell whose story? Linares’ second feature, which screens at this year’s T&T Film Festival, continues the filmmaker’s assured manipulation of artifice and performance — exposing cinema’s seductive lies — to arrive at deeper truths.

She spoke with Jonathan Ali about hybrid forms of filmmaking, the Eurocentric gaze in cinema, and more.

Where did the idea for Ramona come from? 

Ramona started in 2019 when I was reading Light in August by William Faulkner. The image of a pregnant teenager running away from home struck a huge chord. Questions of representation emerged when I was writing the fictional screenplay. I even interviewed pregnant teenagers to better depict the character in development. The opportunity to make the film finally came, but with a limited budget. I talked to my best friend, Diego Cepeda, about the possibility of making Ramona along the lines of my previous film, It Runs in the Family. A film about a film that couldn’t get made. Me and Diego, who became the co-writer in the process, started spitballing about using the fictional screenplay to alternate reality with fiction by having real pregnant girls insert their own life stories into the film.

Had your professional actress ever worked on a film of this hybrid nature before? 

She’d only worked in fiction films before Ramona. I made my first short fiction film with her, and then later she became the casting director for Ramona when it was fiction. When the film changed its point of view and format, she became my alter ego. The concerns you see in the film are hers as well. Every day of production she used to come up to me to ask, “What is the point of this? Why am I here?” I didn’t want to answer her, but she knew right away the minute she saw the finished film. 

How did you find the “real” young women, and did they get what it was you were attempting to do from the outset?

We did a month of “casting”, searching for girls from different backgrounds. It was not hard. I believe we are the country in Latin America with the highest teen pregnancy rates. They knew that I was looking for inspiration for a fictional character that had had a similar story to them, and that they were later going to perform scenes of the fictional screenplay. They knew the narrative but not the ulterior motive.

One of the young women says at one point, “Knowing things doesn’t mean you lived them.” To what extent do you agree with this? 

Agreeing fully would be to keep all actors from doing their work, which is not our point of view. We believe that the real girls could embody Ramona in ways that we couldn’t even imagine. It was so interesting to see them do the things they do on a day-to-day basis being transformed by the mere gesture of filming them. That brilliant statement delivered by Lesly [Aybar] made us think of ways that artists could think of new alternatives to representation, and for others to see themselves on the screen in a different light. We wanted to escape from a Eurocentric perspective of what teen pregnancy could look like in the Dominican Republic.

How did the experience of making Ramona affect the participants? 

Seeing the film opened their eyes to new possibilities. It gave them a sense of being seen. Although not all, some of them are going to take up acting lessons quite soon. And we want to shoot another film with them in the future.

Ramona (2023)
Director: Victoria Linares Villegas
Dominican Republic
82 minutes

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
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