Lucía Florez is a Fulbright Scholar from Peru with an MFA in Documentary Filmmaking. She has a decade of experience developing short documentaries about the relationship of people with their environment and their struggle for equality for different international organizations like the UN, WWF, Conservation International, World Conservation Society, amongst others. She directed “Paperthin,” a short documentary about the journey of a Russian trans woman seeking asylum in NYC, that won the Best Documentary Award at the Sioux City International Film Festival. Her latest personal film is called “Mamá”, whose work-in-progress was shown at DOC NYC, and explores her relationship with her mother around her sexual orientation. She was also the cinematographer of “A Word Away,” a short doc about migrants from South Sudan, which premiered at the Camden International Film Fest. Florez is the recipient of the “Yvonne Hebert Award” given by UN Women as well as the Matthew Modine Master’s Scholarship.
Within the framework of this year’s 16 DAYS 16 FILMS initiative created by Modern Films and the Kering Foundation, a short film competition that platforms female filmmakers and their films, which explore, emote, and educate on forms of violence against women, Tara Karajica talks to Lucía Florez about her short film, “Paperthin,” as well as her thoughts on the short form, women in film today and what she is up to next.
How did you get into filmmaking and what inspires you to make films?
Lucía Florez: I first got into filmmaking as I started working on the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law, on a project called “Climate changes so should you”. As I started travelling through the Andean-Amazon region, talking to Indigenous people about how they adapted to climate change using their traditional knowledge, I knew that that experience had to be documented. I grabbed my camera and started shooting and interviewing them. That’s where my passion for non-fiction storytelling was first ignited. After that experience, I started using documentary filmmaking as a tool to elevate voices in the light of different struggles. I love seeing film as a way of activism and that’s why the topics that I portray revolve around climate change, Indigenous rights, LGBTIQ rights and women empowerment, amongst others.
Can you talk about your short film Paperthin?
L.F.: Paperthin is a documentary short about 21-year-old Victoria who left her hometown in East Russia to move to New York City after facing violent attacks and persecutions because of her gender identity. Now, while starting her transition to a woman, she applies for political asylum in the US with the dream of starting from scratch and creating a free future. As a queer female filmmaker from a third world country, this topic really resonates with my history. Growing up in a conservative country like Peru, I relate to the difficulties of finding a safe space to explore oneself. A conflict generates when the place you are used to call home doesn’t accept the way you are living. Facing the decision to leave everything you know in order to be yourself is not an easy task and although I didn’t go through that situation myself, I can relate both to the concept and the emotional burden that comes from fighting for your own space. In this sense, the making of this film resonates with my own backstory. I want this film to be both a tribute to the immensely strong resilience of queer people and also a reconceptualization of what migration means in today’s context. I want to portray the connotation of migration as an expression of freedom, not being committed to a certain space, but always moving and being curious. I think it is important to subtly send out this message even more in today’s context, where leaving your home country in search of a better life is seen as a weakness. I want to contribute in changing that notion, conceiving this act as a brave and almost adventurous one that should be something that is admired.
How do you see the short form today?
L.F.: Today, as our world becomes more and more digital, I think the short form has a huge potential to be reframed. Every time there are more online platforms that shine a light on more independent artists who start with a short. I think that giving amateur filmmakers the opportunity to create a career and reputation through these first steps is very important.
What is your opinion on the situation of women in film today?
L.F.: Although there are more spaces that feature women directors these days, I think we still have a long way to go when it comes to the equality of content. We, as women, have to take over the imposed narratives that have been dominant in the construction of our identities. Talking about women in film means so much more than having representation in an industry; it is about shifting the way we are perceived in society, changing patterns that affect us directly in our day-to-day and creating referents for future generations to thrive. There is so much of our reality that is unseen, invisible because it is useless to the male gaze, but so vital for us and our understanding. Telling stories that tackle topics like abuse and violence, female sexuality or even something as mundane as menstruation is a way to empower our identity and change our narratives.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker and what is your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
L.F.: My favorite female filmmaker is Sofia Coppola. The way she portrays stories with her unique aesthetic is really special. My latest favorite film by her is On the Rocks. I think that the narrative escapes the classic “hero’s journey” formula that Hollywood always tends to follow. There are a lot of scenes that feel more like slices of life, resembling almost a documentary feel which I love.
What are your next projects?
L.F.: I’m currently developing my next documentary adventure to take place in the Amazon of Peru called The River that Flows Backwards that follows the story of a character that calls herself Pamela Anderson. “Pamela Anderson” is a gender fluid cook that works in the kitchen of an Amazon travel boat in Peru, whose life goal is to migrate to Argentina to transition into a woman. But after months of struggling to save some money, their dreams will be shuttered in the ship that always reminds them they can’t escape. This is a project that I’ve been wanting to direct for a long time, recognizing the importance of visualizing the richness of identities that come from the intersection of being trans, but also Indigenous, working in a space/non-space. The intersection of the diverse worlds that we plan to document in this piece resonates with various layers of my own identity as the director. The universe of possibilities and gradients of gender identity and sexual orientation that this particular subculture offers is as infinite as the characters that represent it. In this lays a fascination that attracts me very deeply.
This interview was conducted within the framework of the 2020 16 DAYS 16 FILMS initiative created by the Kering Foundation and Modern Films.