Sunday, April 27, 2014

Exploration in Cyclical Trauma: Adelina Anthony Talks About Her Film, "Bruising for Besos"

Adelina Anthony (photo by Marisa Becerra)

Yes, La Bloga readers, Adelina Anthony is in the La Bloga house! Award-winning writer, actor, director, producer, Adelina Anthony is a fierce queer-multi-disciplinary-artista presence on stage and in film. Her latest project is the highly anticipated film entitled, Bruising for Besosand she's here to talk about it. 

Montes:  Saludos, Adelina!  So good to have you with us today.  It’s been four years since La Bloga writer, Olga Garcia Echeverria interviewed you (click here).  In that interview, you were just about to launch your theater solo comedy shows entitled, La Hocicona Series.  It turned out to be very successful.  Since then, you’ve also appeared in other theater productions, including Cherríe Moraga’s play New Fire—To Put Things Right Again. Describe your journey since 2010. What have the past four years been like for you?
-Graphic Art by Rio Yañez, based on photos by 
Marissa Becerra
-Book cover design by Lorenzo Herrera de Lozano

Adelina Anthony:  The past four years have been an incredible journey of continued growth, creativity, hard-earned lessons and returning to the grounding of why I do my arte.  In November 2010, when I launched the comedic performance triptych of La Hocicona Series, it was the culmination of a manda I had set for myself as an artist who wanted to incorporate some of the Xicana Indigenous tenets I had been exposed to by my maestras at the time, Cherríe Moraga and Celia Herrera Rodriguez.  Those tenets include rites, working with one’s ancestors, audience as witness, remembering/memory-making and, ultimately, the practice of one’s artistic work as an offering.  The teachings led me to a place where I began to claim the identity of a “sacred-clown,” because it honors both my dramatic and comedic voices, and it points to the main aesthetic of these solo works.  La Hocicona Series, although primarily couched in comedy, has very theatrical and dramatic moments, where the audience as witness is made privy to the underbelly of the humor.  I could not have known in 2010 that four years later, with the publishing of the works by Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano at Kórima Press, I would be a Lambda Award Literary Finalist in the LGBT Drama category

In 2011, I actually moved to the Bay Area to work with Moraga and Herrera Rodriguez on their New Fire collaboration.  We had come off of collaborating together in a production of Moraga’s play, Digging Up the Dirt, which premiered the Summer of 2010. The culmination of the New Fire project resulted in one of the most successful audience runs we could have imagined with over 3,000 community members attending to see the work, which was conceived as ceremony on stage.  Aesthetically speaking, it was also very ambitious and was a historical “first” in many aspects.  

"Digging Up the Dirt"- Adelina Anthony and Cheryl Umaña (photo by Anna Rodil)
And, for audiences who had the “ojos” to see what all of the collaborators were attempting to present, I believe it was very moving.  I co-produced, served as assistant director, and played the role of Coyote, the spiritual trickster, i.e. a sacred clown.  What most people will never know is the amount of sacrifice that went into the project because of the numerous obstacles presented to us along the way.  But in the end, I look back at that intense period and I realize it helped crystallize my own artistic journey for the coming years, and returning to my work in the medium of film was a priority.  I had made the decision to do so in the Spring of 2010, and in January 2012, I began adapting my solo play, Bruising for Besos, into a screenplay. 

In 2004, the first monologues of the solo play had been initially developed in Moraga’s play-writing classes while I was a graduate student at Stanford.  At the end of that year my mother died, and this spiritual tectonic shift changed everything in my life.  The significance of that work became ever more deeper. By the time I returned to Bruising for Besos, I had already started La Hocicona Series which I had conceived as an offering steeped in the “epic mundane” life of queer Xicanidad.  This is how I’ve always maintained a steady artistic and creative life. I am usually developing several projects at once, giving the bulk of my attention and energy to the one that demands priority. After several major workshop readings including one at allgo (A Texas Statewide Queer People of Color Organization) and later at La Peña Cultural Center,  eventually, in 2009 I world-premiered Bruising for Besos at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center with Jon Imparato as my producer/dramaturg and Rose Marcario as my director. 

So it seems fitting that I find myself, ten years later after those initial monologues from Moraga's class, focused on Bruising for Besos as my/our first feature film production, because it’s a return to a work initially conceived as an offering to my ancestors, especially my mother.  Initially, the solo play had been intended as a series of solo plays, with one being symbolically offered to each of the four sacred directions.  Challenges arose and this intention was postponed. But I have learned over and over again, that sometimes the blessing is not getting what you want, because what will come to pass later is even better than what you could have conceived of.  This is how I feel about our film, and I think of returning to that promise I made to my mother during her passing, that I would tell our stories, that her/our life would not be for naught or silenced by her death.  She had been asked to carry silence long enough, and I was/am her hocicona daughter who intends to break the silence.

Adelina Anthony as "The Coyote" in New Fire: To Put Things Right Again
Montes:  Felicidades on all of these milestones!  Our comunidades have certainly benefitted from your work.  Now you are moving into the realm of feature filmmaking with Bruising for Besos.  How did this come about?

Adelina Anthony:  At the end of every year, but more so because the period marks my mother’s passing, I become very reflective and take stock of where I am in life as an artist and human being.  At the end of 2011, I realized I had to get back on track with my goal to return to film, and I had known since the premiere of the solo play that it would lend itself to a film.  But as someone who works in many genres, you learn to respect what each genre offers and its specific rules.  Play-writing is not the same as screenwriting.  Plays are immersed in language, and while a screenplay has dialogue, it’s also a highly visual medium.  So I knew I had to begin to seriously study screenwriting.  In January 2012, I started the adaptation process, and I had applied to the Outfest Screenwriting Lab with the first ten pages.  When I was invited to submit the rest of the screenplay, it put a fire under me to finish that first draft.  And although I didn’t get selected for the lab in the end, I credit that invitation for propelling me forward.  I was invited to participate in Outfest Fusion Access, which is an all day series of industry panels and meetings hosted at NBC.  It’s an eye opener and you leave feeling very enthusiastic as a queer person of color.

After this experience, I was inspired to return to my screenplay and do some more revisions to get ready for submission to Film Independent’s Project Involve Program.  I had heard of Project Involve over the years, because almost every queer or filmmaker of color I know has gone through the program. It quickly became clear to me and my pareja, Marisa Becerra, that if I intended to make films, I needed to be closer to the opportunities provided in L.A.  So we moved back to Southern California.  Moreover, beyond just a mere supporter of my work, Marisa became the co-founder/producer with me of AdeRisa Productions in July 2012.  We hit the ground running and went straight into pre-production for our first short film, Forgiving Heart, which world-premiered at the Outfest Queer People of Color Film Festival and just had a screening in Mexico City for a Lesbian festival there.  We also Executive Produced Ofelia Yánez’s short film, The Good Kind , which has just started to screen on the festival circuit.

Adelina Anthony as "Yoli" in the stage version of Bruising for Besos (photo by Allison Moon)
In short the last two years have been a serious study of films, film production, studying the inner workings of indie filmmaking and honing my screenwriting skills with my Project Involve mentor and professional story editor, Ruth Atkinson.  Bruising for Besos comes out of all of these learning experiences, but, primarily because Marisa has provided undeniable support in myriad facets.  She creates the space for me to work as an artist, which might have been curtailed after the economic recession.  She’s been as adamant about making this feature film.  We tried an Indiegogo campaign last year, but it was not successful, but, again, I thank the universe for that setback.  It allowed us to re-focus, re-heal (because we had not stopped moving at a laborious pace since 2011) and it gave me time to go deeper with my script and do a major overhaul, which I’m thankful to my filmmaker friend Masami Kawai for her feedback on a previous version.  And then Ilyse McKimme at Sundance Institute sent an inquiry about the screenplay, which eventually landed me in the 2nd Annual Screenwriters Intensive--and that was an exhilarating experience. 

All in all, feeling very blessed and energized about the manifestation of this work. 

Montes:  Quite a journey to this film!  I’m sure La Bloga readers want to know what Bruising for Besos is about.

Adelina Anthony:  Our logline states: A charismatic Xicana lesbian seduces an alluring Puerto Rican woman and discovers she’s recreating her tumultuous past.

I can tell our X/Chican@ audiences that Bruising for Besos explores cyclical traumas, as in domestic abuse in nonqueer and queer relationships.  The protagonist, Yoli, has to make the metaphorical, spiritual and physical return home.  Although she's recreated familia for herself through friends and loved ones, unfortunately, she's also recreated the old family dynamics she learned as a child. 

Rosa Barron in the role of Teenage Yoli from Forgiving Heart
I’ve never shied away from taboo or heavy themes, because I know the value in exposing these issues and stories.  Plus, I’m always consciously utilizing sacred-clown aesthetics and giving my audiences respite and breath.

Montes:  Yes, your comedic timing is brilliant, coming right at a time in the play when we are filled with the tension and then, you bring us laughter!  In La Hocicona Series, you played a number of characters that took us on these journeys.  Are you doing the same in this film or do you play only one character along with a full cast? 

Adelina Anthony:  One of the reasons I wanted to move into filmmaking was for the opportunity to create roles for other queer/trans people of color and allies.  I am very proud to say that in Bruising for Besos, I only play Yoli, and that the world of the film is peopled by such a diversity and complexity of characters that it will be a first of its kind in many ways.  I wrote a major role for one of my best friends, D’Lo, a Tamil Sri-Lankan American Transgender artist.  And we just held auditions in L.A. this past March and have cast it with such amazing talent from our communities, that as a director I couldn’t be more excited to work with these actors.  The acting alone is going to be riveting, this we promise you.

Montes:  Who are some of the other actors you just cast?

Adelina Anthony:  We've cast queer women of color actors such as Natalie Camunas, Lawrencia Dandridge, and Brenda Banda as well as women of color allies like Puerto Rican actor Carolyn Zeller, Asian American comedienne extraordinaire, Kristina Wong, and Xicana actor-singer, Marlene Beltran. There are also a number of other queer/trans people of color in featured cameo appearances including queer ranchera singer, Magaly La Voz de Oro.  We're even going to showcase some of our visual artists by having their works appear as part of our production design: young artists like Cynthia Velásquez and Edgar-Arturo Camacho-González and other more established artists we admire.

Montes: We cannot wait!  As for your work in theater and film, what do you love about theater life, and how is it different from film?  Do you love one more than the other?

Adelina Anthony:  I will always be a teatrista.  I love the uniqueness of the experience, it’s ephemeral quality, and the kinetic energía that transmits between performer and audience.  Film never provides that exchange of energía, but it has its own special prowess and its audience reach is one of them.  Even as I have moved into filmmaking, I will always continue to work on the stage, but I will just be more selective about when and why.  I started to workshop La Malcriada Series, which is the boi-butch-macha counterpart to La Hocicona Series.  So in time, I’m sure my theatrical shenanigans will have me back on that stage where my connection to my comunidades is instantly felt.

Montes:  Have you worked in film before?

"Forgiving Heart," film by Adelina Anthony
Adelina Anthony:  Yes, primarily as an actor when I was being professionally represented by the Mary Collins Agency in Dallas.  Because of my high school drama teacher, Mr. Martín, I had done a couple of stints in background work which exposed me as a teenager to a production set. When I landed in L.A. as a buxom, high femme at the age of 24, bueno, you can imagine what auditions were like--yuck.  Thankfully, I was in my queer Chicana skin by then, and I was out and politically vocal, so I realized very quickly that auditioning for the typical beer commercials or walking into a room full of men who gawked at me was not in line with my feminist politics.  A year into these kinds of auditions, I surmised very quickly that if I wanted to maintain my own cultural voice and sense of integrity, I had a better chance of doing it through theater, where at the very least, I could self produce if necessary.  It was challenging for other reasons, and I had naysayers all along the way, but I have no regrets.  Every now and then I would do a cameo or production role for a friend working on a short film.

Montes:  Are you the sole writer of the script or are you working with a writing group?

I am the sole writer.   

Montes:  And are you also the director? 

Adelina Anthony:  Yes, I am the director. I have a clear vision for this film, and the best collaborators I could wish for, including my producer Marisa and my co-producer, Karla Legaspy.  It’s a highly collaborative art form, just like theater.

Montes:  And in this collaborative journey, what all goes into the shooting of a film, and is it similar to stage production? 

Adelina Anthony:  There are a lot of similarities involved in preparing to shoot a film from budgeting, pre-production design meetings, auditions, putting union and nonunion contracts in place, hiring of crew, buying insurance, etc.  But in film, I would say the rental of the right camera equipment, finding the ideal locations (because indie films are overwhelmingly shot on location) and figuring out how to properly house and feed your cast/crew, well, as Marisa said, “It’s like planning a wedding every day.”

Scene from Forgiving Heart with Tynae Miller and Rosa Barron (photo by Catalina Ausin)
Montes:  For those of us who are not familiar with film, what are some other factors that happen during the filming.  For example, with a tight budget, I imagine that everything has to be ready and filmed in a certain number of days, yes?  What else?

Adelina Anthony:  Yes, film is very reliant on pre-production.  And even with the best preparedness, a challenge will present itself on set.  They call it Murphy’s Law.  And you have to shoot it all within your time frame because usually that’s all your budget will allow.  Despite any challenges we will face, as a company, AdeRisa Productions has implemented a work model that cares for our cast and, especially our crew, in a more holistic manner.  So we do our best to keep ten hour days, instead of the usual 12-14 hours (or more) on a production set.

Also, unlike theater, one does not shoot the story in the order it unfolds.  So you may be shooting the end of the film one day, the beginning the next, and be somewhere in the middle by the end of your shoot.  This is because you’re relying on location and actor availability.  Personally, I don’t work with story in a purely linear fashion, so the production process sits well with my Xicana sensibilities around time and space.  Plus, it really forces you as a director and actor to know your trajectory, to have a clear understanding at each juncture where your character is supposed to be on her journey.   

Adelina Anthony as "La Sad Girl" from Las Hociconas (photo by Troy Wise)
Montes:  How are you acquiring funding for the film.? 

Adelina Anthony:  Bueno, as you can imagine, because of the nature of the work, we’re not being funded by any major investor or grant.  This is all about grassroots online funding, but, fortunately, this time around we’re going through AIM/Hatchfund gracias to Alma López who introduced me to my Program Officer, Stephany Campos. As an artist, this is the best platform available for so many reasons, from the one-on-one guidance you and your project receive, to the fact that it allows for your donors to make fully tax-deductible contributions (and they still get perks) to our film. 

We only need to raise $30,000 to get us into production this July.  We just need to shoot the film and worry about the post-production component afterwards. It’s also not uncommon for indie filmmakers to do their films in segments, because of the financial struggles.  We know our film will eventually cost us closer to $100,000, but that’s after post-production costs come in.  And this is relatively cheap for an indie film, when one considers that Hollywood spends in the hundreds of millions and that indie films can average $250,000 to 2 million.  In fact, we spent $125,000 for New Fire, so our budget is cheaper than most major theater productions too.

Montes:  Where do you plan to show the film? 

Adelina Anthony:  EVERYWHERE.  But, seriously, we’re making plans now for venues where our ideal audiences exist, and like my theater work, that means thinking outside of the traditional “presentation” box.

Montes:  In 2012, Aurora Guerrero came out with “Mosquita y Mari.”  It played at Sundance and other Independent festival venues.  Is this your plan for “Bruising for Besos”?

Adelina Anthony:  We are all huge fans of Aurora, of her team, and of what they accomplished with the beautiful and groundbreaking film that is Mosquita y MariI think the film circuit is still a viable and necessary component for indie filmmakers, so we do plan to use the festival circuit.  Traditionally, if you want to pick up a distributor for your film, the fest circuit is your best shot. But this is also shifting and the industry has been talking for years now about the major upheaval in distribution models. With the advent of the Internet, there are other options.  We are going to stay open to all of the experiences and go with the best option for the film to reach as many of our audiences as possible. 

Montes:  So, Adelina, La Bloga readers want to know: in 2010 you described yourself as a queer-multi-disciplinary-artista. What are your thoughts on this description four years later? 

Adelina Anthony:  I do claim that identity, as well as many other progressive and indigenous identified markers.  I’m as comfortable with terms like jota, lesbian, two-spirited, Xicana, and interdisciplinary artista.  As Bonfíl Batalla states in México Profundo, “Naming oneself is power.”  Too many of my ancestors, cultural activists, and artists from previous generations sacrificed and agitated for us to walk wholly in our skins.  My embodied political identities inform my work and I continue to form these spaces without apology.  As an artist, the multi and inter-disciplinary terms are apt because I am always exploring different genres, trying to figure out the best “home” for the work—be it a poem, a short story, a play, film, or hybrid of these genres. 

 Montes:  Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

Adelina Anthony:  I know that we’ve all been very touched by the initial support from our communities.  We’re going to work very hard to give them a film, an offering, that we hope will lead to a lot of necessary dialogue and much needed healing in our familias.  We’re honored to be part of this wave of queer/trans/ and people of color filmmakers who have made such incredible films like Pariah, Mosquita y Mari, Circumstance and A Gun Hill Road to name a few.  We’re indebted to our spiritual elder, nancy Chargualaf martin, who continues to hold us in prayer with her Chumash and indigenous circles.  In the end, we know this is the only reason we’re making this film, for our stories to be held in community.

Montes: Gracias, Adelina!
Adelina Anthony's La Hocicona Series is available in DVD for educational purposes for university libraries or as one of the gifts when you donate to Bruising for Besos (click here)
Her Lambda Literary Award nominated published book is entitled: Las Hociconas: Three Locas with Big Mouths and Even Bigger Brains (click here)
Check out her website as well for more information on Bruising for Besos:

Contribute to Bruising for Besos with a Tax-Deductible Donation (plus perks) by May 8, 2014.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm inspired to donate. Thank you for this blog post. Good luck!