Interview with Lauren Sowa and Zoé Salicrup Junco, Producer and Director of Marisol


Copy Edited & Posted by Sophie Schmidt

Marisol follows the experience of a young undocumented mother struggling to provide for her daughter and brings awareness to the economic issues faced by undocumented immigrants in the United States. Why do you think we need these kinds of stories in the media today?   

Lauren: I believe that media is our most powerful influencer. If we want to change things on a large scale, we have to find a way into people’s hearts and minds. We created this film with the hope that viewers would empathize with Marisol and see her as an individual, not a statistic or an “issue.” This story is a small step toward a larger goal of humanizing the immigration debate.

Zoé: Couldn’t agree more with Lauren. 

Director Zoe Salicrup Junco with Rachel Lizette & Emma Ramos

 

Marisol is just one example of the ways that immigration policies force undocumented people living in the United States to take risks in order to support their families financially. How would you suggest filmmakers, directors, and producers get involved in order to bring awareness to these immigration policies, even if they themselves might not have experienced the exact story they aim to amplify?   

Lauren: Research is important. Surrounding yourself with collaborators who can help bring a different perspective than you do. Be informed. Read the news. Stay current. And do your best not to perpetuate stereotypes. Always seek authenticity.

Zoé: Just expanding a bit more on what Lauren mentioned — in order for a film to create a human connection with its audience, it must stem from authenticity. A major part of that research is to listen to these stories from the people who are or have actually lived through them. It’s not that you will tell their story word for word, but it’s important that you as the filmmaker first establish that human connection with the story or issue that you’re trying to raise awareness of before you take it to the big screen. 

Language practices are important as they carry cultural identity. In scenes where Marisol talks to her daughter Maria, she speaks primarily in Spanish even though Maria understands both Spanish and English. Why was it important that she communicates with her daughter in Spanish? What led to decisions regarding how language was used in the film? 

Zoé: It’s about preserving authenticity. Some projects decide to preserve authenticity a different way,but for us it just made sense to preserve the bilingual factor. The story is based in NYC, which is known for being a melting pot of different cultures. I live in NYC and I’d say that 50% of the time I’m speaking Spanish around the city.

Lauren: We always knew this would be a bilingual film. This goes back to authenticity. I’m always bothered when I watch a show where two characters who aren’t native English speakers speak English just because it’s an American show. American content should reflect the diversity of this country. We are trusting that both the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking audiences will watch and appreciate it.  

In the film, we saw multiple examples of the ways that individuals treat and react to undocumented people trying to survive in the United States. What did you hope to accomplish by including such a wide range of reactions? How do you want people to think about their own reactions after watching Marisol?

Lauren: We wanted the film to reflect the complexities that we see and feel surrounding the issue of immigration today. We see local law enforcement refusing to carry out the orders of ICE. We see people placing signs in their windows to express support and safe havens for undocumented people. We see love, support, and outrage. We see racism, hatred, and fear. We wanted to show the good and the bad. My hope is that someone who thinks immigration is a black and white issue might watch the film and feel a little more gray. Maybe this person is against immigration, but they empathize with Marisol and that causes them to treat the immigrants in her community with more compassion.

Zoé: Again, it all goes back to that human connection we aimed to create between you (the spectator) and Marisol. Think of those different individuals you see throughout the film reacting towards Marisol like a spectrum of the immigration debate. These characters can serve as a point of reference and perhaps grant you perspective on where you stood within the debate before AND after you formed a connection with Marisol. Did that perspective change? If so, why? What happens now? What is my role in all of this? Can I help? How can I help? These are the questions I hope audience members begin to ask themselves after watching the film.

Tim Eliot with Q Kadwani & Teren Carter

 

As I watched the film, I envisioned multiple endings for Marisol. Without spoiling the ending, why did you choose to take the ending in the direction that it went? 

Zoé: Trying my best not to ruin the ending, I’d say the direction we went with works because it remains open — as a circumstance that ultimately can happen to anyone. The story comes back to the mother, the daughter, and their unbreakable bond. That’s something that a lot of people can relate to, even if you’re not an immigrant. 

So far in my work as a filmmaker, I have only gone through the editing process by myself. What advice can you offer about collaboratively developing the storyline, choosing settings, deliberating tone, or any other collective choices that needed to be made for the final production?   

Zoé: I think that when you’re working on a collaborative project, the most important things to keep in mind are respecting the story and respecting the team you’re working with. When you make the story the team’s top priority I often see how egos dilute. It stops being about who you’re working with and becomes more about what you’re working on and how can we elevate it together. When it comes to respecting your team, I think one of the biggest things is communication. Creating a space that feels creative and safe for your team members to speak up and bring forward their ideas as well as their concerns. 

Lauren: When I first read the script from Tim I knew we had to make the film. It was our way of processing what had just happened to our country, post-election. I also knew that in order to tell this story authentically we wanted to bring on a director who could help us to fully realize Marisol’s character. Zoé was the perfect partner. From the beginning she and Tim worked on the script to ensure that Marisol had agency throughout. It was very important to us that we represent both sides of this issue without letting anyone off the hook. We want to spark conversations in people’s living rooms. Conversations that lead to empathy and change.

Director Zoe Salicrup Junco interacts with actors

 

As women directors and producers, what’s the best and worst advice you’ve received? How have you used both good and bad advice to help your film projects? 

Zoé: One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received as a director is to just keep shooting. Don’t get stuck waiting for that one project to take off. Make sure you also keep shooting and working on your craft. With time, I realized this advice was so on point. As a result, I’ve made it a goal to aim to direct a short film once a year. I can’t recall ever getting bad advice. Perhaps it was advice that didn’t apply to me or I wasn’t at the right place or time to apply it on my own career. 

Lauren: I don’t remember getting much advice before I started producing, but if I could offer some I’d say don’t ever skimp on food. Feed your crew well. Take note of dietary restrictions and allergies. Ask what their favorite snacks are. A well-fed crew is a happy crew. A happy crew means a more productive set. Those little things go a long way towards building good will.

Considering the advice you have received and the experiences you have gone through as women filmmakers, what would your advice be for future women producers and directors as they try to figure out which direction to take their work? 

Lauren: Don’t be afraid to dream big. Content is king, and there are more opportunities than ever. Find ways to be creative, especially with sources of funding. We have it harder as women. People are more hesitant to give us money. Don’t let that scare you off — I encourage you to think outside the box. We’ll make our own ways.

Zoé: Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. And whatever you want to pursue — just do it. Don’t let anybody stop you, not even yourself.

As filmmakers, no matter how many film projects we work on, there is always something new to learn with each project. What did you learn while creating Marisol?    

Zoé: The power of collaborating with more women. Marisol was one of the first projects where attention to gender equality was given top priority. It really made a difference in the whole experience. There was a sense of balance that is hard to describe but just felt right.

Lauren: The saying is as old as filmmaking itself but it’s so true — your film is made in pre-production. Everyone wants to get to set because that’s the fun part, but it won’t be fun if you haven’t done the work. As a producer half of your job is anticipating problems. The more you can prepare in pre-pro the smoother production will go. And truly, you have to be thinking about festivals, distribution, and marketing all the way back before pre-pro. There were some specific challenges with Marisol because so much of the film takes place in a moving car. Where does the crew go? How do we watch the playback of each scene in order to give notes? Zoé ended up in the hatchback of the picture car with a monitor, and the crew followed in a pass-van where we had video village hooked up. That way everyone could do their job in real time, while on the move. That was a fun day.  

Zoé Salicrup Junco filming from the back of Marisol’s car

 

What future projects or collaborations can we look forward to?

Lauren: Oh, Zoé is stuck with me now. I’ll work with her forever if she’ll have me. We are developing more of Marisol’s story, and I have several other projects in various stages of completion, both as a producer and as an actor. 

Zoé:  I absolutely enjoyed working with Lauren and hope we can collaborate on many more projects together. We’re currently developing Marisol into a longer format medium so that’s something really exciting to look forward to. I also recently finished directing another short film about the mental health crisis in Puerto Rico after Hurricane María so I hope to share it with US and international festivals soon. 

You can learn more about Marisol on their website, Instagram, and Twitter. You can watch Marisol on HBO Latino, HBO GO, & HBO NOW. To see what else Zoé Salicrup Junco has done, take a look at her website. Learn more about Shewonda on her profile.