March 19, 2008

Interview with Patricia Riggen, director of La Misma Luna

Patricia Riggen's first feature film La Misma Luna opens on 250 screens across the country today. She answered a few questions about the film and being a female director.

Women & Hollywood: The issue of immigration is so highly charged and you were able to humanize it and also to show that it is a women's issue.

Patricia Riggen: Women are now crossing the border. It used to be men. Now, there are 4 million women in this country who have left a child behind. When people ask me if this is a true story, I tell them that it is based on 4 million true stories. These women have no other options and make the most difficult sacrifice of all because no mother would leave her child unless she was desperate. That was something I wanted to explore. Rosario has a huge dilemma having made this decision in order to provide for her child because she loves him, while at the same time feeling like she's sacrificing that love. It's not just a statistic to me. These are human beings and that's what I wanted to show.
W&H: This film feels very female -- it's from a woman's eye. It's no coincidence that both the director and screenwriter are women. These films are few and far between in Hollywood these days.
PR: It's something that I have struggled with in my career. I'm Mexican, and I never could have become a director in Mexico. I moved here and that allowed me to do this work.
W&H: In Mexico, you didn't have an opportunity to work as a director?
PR: In Mexico, I never gave myself the chance to imagine myself in the director's shoes. It took me a while to discover what I wanted to do. I was already working in the business doing different jobs and feeling unhappy. When I was growing up in Mexico there weren't any women directors around for me to see that it was something I could do. Funny enough I wrote my college thesis on women directors in Mexico when I didn't even know I was going to be a director. There were four, and I interviewed them feeling like being a director was equivalent to being an astronaut -- the hardest most strange thing to be. Completely unaccessible, and it shouldn't be like that.
W&H: Women feel that it is so difficult to be a director here.
PR: That's what my friends tell me and I feel it is so easy here.
W&H: Have the Fox Searchlight people (the film distributor) been supporting your vision?
PR: Fox Searchlight has been wonderful and I'll tell you why- they're all women. There's one guy at the top and then it's all women. Their sensibility is very feminine and it makes it really wonderful for a women's movie. They totally get it and care about the film.
W&H: Adrian Alonso performance as Carlitos really astounded me. Talk a little bit about how you directed him and how you were able to elicit his spectacular performance.
PR: Thank you, nobody ever asks me about this. They always say, where did you find him. It's not the finding, it's the directing. It's all about the directing. I think most kids can act and it's a matter of directing them properly. In this case, Adrian is very talented but he's also a child and has no criteria to understand if he is doing something good or not. Older actors know what they are doing, kids don't.
W&H: The whole movie rests of his shoulders -- if he wouldn't have been good, the movie wouldn't have been good.
PR: I basically knew that if I didn't find the right kid I shouldn't even attempt to make this movie. But the truth is that I worked with him very closely and my eyes were always on him to protect and help him.
W&H: How did you get the script?
PR: I made a documentary called Family Portraits and Ligiah saw it and loved it and sent me the screenplay. I immediately connected with it. We started working together , and when we had the script ready to shoot the financing was there. She was great to work with, she's very smart and she always stood by me. When I felt that the movie wasn't going to happen she came and worked for no money. She did all the drafts and revisions and waited and waited for the movie to happen.
W&H: You are also the film's producer.
PR: This is an important aspect. I did have a way to make this at a studio, and I started working with them but felt I was losing creative control and the decisions being made were wrong and it wasn't going to be a good movie. I was thinking that I was a director for hire, but it was a project that I brought and realized this is not a way I wanted to make my first feature. Fortunately, it was a very low budget so I decided to raise the money myself to keep control which enabled me to make every single decision which allowed me to make the best movie I could.
W&H: What do you want the audience to feel after seeing the film?
PR: I want them to have a good time, and to feel engaged and moved. I want people to see the humanity of those who surround us that we don't necessarily notice like the waiter or gardener and think about their lives.
W&H: What's next for you?
PR: I have several offers from Hollywood. I am keeping my feet on the ground knowing that my fellow female directors have taken a long time to shoot again. They have made successful first films and then it has taken them a long time to shoot their second. I don't want to take 10 years to make another film. I am developing some projects for Hollywood including a romantic comedy and a period drama. But I also have a project of my own that I control in case the Hollywood films don't happen.