Sunday, July 23, 2017

"Amigas With Benefits" -- Adelina Anthony on Film Making, Musica, y Mas!

Adelina Anthony (photo courtesy of AdeRisa Productions)
La Bloga is honored to have with us today, award-winning writer, actor, director, producer, Adelina Anthony, a fierce queer-multi-disciplinary-artista presence on stage and in film.  It’s been three years since Adelina was with us, talking about her film Bruising for Besos. (Click here for that interview.) Today she is here to tell us about her new film, Amigas with Benefits. 

Amelia Montes: Saludos Adelina!  First—tell us all about the reception for Bruising for Besos.  And for those who never saw the film, how can they still see it (if possible?)? 

Adelina Anthony:  Hola Amelia!  Yes, we’ve been blessed with a beautiful reception across the nation and internationally from our intended viewing communities for Bruising for Besos.  We feel very affirmed in the making of this cinematic offering to our communities. Although we had some distribution and sales agent offers while on the film festival circuit—after some deep reflection and research—we decided it was better for us in the long run to begin building our indie distribution arm as AdeRisa Productions. 

So the GREAT news for La Bloga readers is that we will be releasing our film online through our company’s Vimeo account this coming October after we have our official theatrical release on Sunday, October 1, 2017 in Austin, Texas, at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema – Mueller.  We’re collaborating with allgo (a statewide Queer People of Color Organization)—in Austin they are our biggest supporters and champions of our work (as we are of theirs).   Plus, they’re helping us create a post screening community event for this launch, which is purposefully being released on day one of National Domestic Violence Awareness month.

Amelia Montes: Fabulous.  And as for, Amigas with Benefits, it is produced by your own company:  AdeRisa Productions.  This isn’t the first film you’ve done through your own production company.  You produced Gold Star which won the “People’s Choice Award” at last year’s PBS Online Film Festival.  I'd like to backtrack and ask what was the impetus for AdeRisa Productions?

Adelina Anthony:  AdeRisa Productions was co-founded with my esposa, Marisa Becerra.  To be clear, it wouldn’t have happened without her support—financially, emotionally, and artistically.  She’s  critical to our success. She's also my first audience and her feedback is always influential in how I develop my work.  We co-founded AdeRisa Productions because we wanted to create films on sovereign artistic ground with content and form that served our stories.  Film is a powerful media that we utilize to promote social justice and awareness about our communities.  She’s a brilliant writer herself, and I can’t wait until we produce her short film in the near future.

Scene from Amigas with Benefits (photo courtesy of AdeRisa Productions)

We co-founded AdeRisa Productions because we wanted to create films on sovereign artistic ground with content and form that served our stories.  Film is a powerful media that we utilize to promote social justice and awareness about our communities. 

Our working production model is both spiritually focused and artist/crew centered as a production company.  We keep a spiritual elder and intention on the sets that we fully produce.  We’ve been fortunate to have nancy Chargualaf martin hold this kind of practice, energy, and space for us. We also  utilize her visual artist skills as a Production Designer.   This summer marks the fifth year of our production company as an LLC in California.  In 2012, we went into production with the very first short film I wrote and directed, Forgiving Heart, which we intend to re-release at some point.

That same year we Executive Produced Ofelia Yánez’s short film, The Good Kind, and in 2015 we Executive Produced Karla Legaspy’s Gold Star, which won the 2014 LatinoPublic Broadcasting Public Media Content Fund Award and later the 2016 People’s Choice Award for the PBS Online Film Festival. We also co-produced the first three of D’Lo’s comedic webseries, Private Dick.  It was very important for us during the first five years of building our company to practice reciprocity and support the artist friends who had invested in our vision.  We plan to continue as Consulting Producers as we move forward in this new chapter of our company.

So, we’ve been very busy!  But every audition, every project, every experience in this journey (even with its challenges), have been bolstered by our talented communities and how they contribute to this collaborative art form.  We also know, on a profound level, that our ancestors have our backs.   The work is also for them.  Remembering this always keeps us grounded.

Amelia Montes: Felicidades on these very vibrant and important projects.  AdeRisa Productions has also been working with the Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB) program. Tell us about your collaboration with LPB.

Adelina Anthony: First, we love LPB and would not have been able to produce these works without their generous funding and their belief in our stories.  They are visionary!  And I would encourage any and all Latinx filmmakers to apply to their annual Public Media Content Fund (PMCF).  The more we can populate the world with our stories, made through our perspective and based in our experiences—the better we can communicate who we are to the world as an extremely diverse and heterogeneous population.  We think this is more critical than ever, especially as we find ourselves under the toxic rhetoric of the current political regime. 

My relationship actually began with LPB when I was participating in Film Independent’s Project Involve (PI).  I was a screenwriter in their program and my short screenplay, You’re Dead to Me, was produced by a talented 2013 PI cohort.  LPB was the main funder behind that story and it went on to receive huge critical acclaim and awards on the festival circuit, and eventually won the prestigious 2014 Imagen Award.  So that’s how they came to know me as a writer.  When the short film screened at the Project Involve Showcase in 2014, I attended the event with AdeRisa Production’s company co-producer, Karla Legaspy.  We had a chance to meet the LPB staff at that time and they were so kind and told us about the annual PMCF award.  I was in the midst of fundraising and pre-production that summer for Bruising for Besos, but Karla jumped on it.  She developed and submitted her short script and a year later we were in production for her debut short film, Gold Star.

GoldStar is the first project LPB funded that was Executive Produced by AdeRisaProductions. I had the great pleasure of acting in in the short and watching Karla realize one of her artistic dreams.  She’s a fantastic multi-talented artist and one of the hardest working producers I know.  Marisa and I feel fortunate that we've had Karla collaborating with us.  And with Amigas with Benefits, audiences get to see her acting talents (again).

Scene from Amigas with Benefits (photo courtesy of AdeRisa Productions)
Ultimately, part of the joy of collaborating with LPB is that they trust their artists.  Both times that AdeRisa Productions was funded to Executive Produce these short films, they gave us artistic freedom to execute the projects.  They provided support throughout the process, including incredible feedback during the post-production process.  Again, we do not know of any other organization that is so committed to consistently funding film productions of Latina/o/x stories.  They are actively changing the cultural landscape with their grant support. 

Without grants, most artists I know cannot get their work produced.  To be honest, I’m much more experienced as a theater maker, but my solo/ensemble plays just haven't been coming my way the last few years.  Like many of my artists of color peers, I make the final rounds, but it stops there. I'm currently participating in the incredible National Directing Institute (created by Pangea Theater and Art2Action), and we learned about the abysmal statistics around funding when it comes to women and artists of color; it's a systemic problem.  What I deeply appreciate about the Directing Institute is that we are taking direct action as a collective of conscious artists to change the field through our practices.  

Currently, my Two Spirit Xicana lesbian voice is in the world right now in such an impactful way because of LPB.  In this day and age, I really recommend that as writers we develop flexibility to adapt stories to the screen or other platforms. It gives the story more legs and a longevity to reach audiences beyond our reach.

Amelia Montes: Agreed!  And speaking of “stories,” in Amigas with Benefits, you are providing us with a very different story from Bruising for Besos.  Tell us about how Amigas with Benefits came about and what this film means to you.

Adelina Anthony: Amigas with Benefits came about because I always ask myself—what story and characters do I want to experience with my communities?  I looked at what we had accomplished as AdeRisa Productions, and even though we have a Spiritual Elder on set, we hadn’t produced any work with our lesbian of color elders at the forefront.  Once I knew I was going to create a Latina Lesbian elder, Lupita, as my protagonist, and that I planned to apply to LPB for funding, I let the story germinate over a couple of months, imagining various scenarios with her.  Once the story came, it was in a flash, I wrote the first draft in half a day.  But the rewrites happened over six months and Marisa sent me articles on our LGBTQ elders that she would find in the news.  That information also helped to shape the kind of story I wanted to tell.  I also thought about story in the ways I had been trained by Ruth Atkinson for film and Cherrie Moraga for playwriting.  These former mentors have given me writing tools and techniques.  Each work is an opportunity to work with what I know and with what I don’t know.  I’m a creative risk taker, so I’m also always trying to create story in ways that resonate for us as Xicanx/Latinx peoples—be it in content, form, or as is usually the case for me, both.

Amigas with Benefits is a way to center a community that figures prominently in my life.  As Xicanx,  we come from a culture of respecting elders.  I’m aware of how our queer elders of color are practically non-existent in cultural productions, especially film.  So this small offering is a way to open conversations up about their experiences and needs.  By no means does it represent all queer elders of color, but I think it will touch many of us for different reasons, queer or nonqueer. 
Scene from Amigas with Benefits (photo courtesy of AdeRisa Productions)
Amelia Montes: This film brings us into the world of the Senior Center.  According to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), “Americans ages 65 and older [are] projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060 . . . [and] the older populations is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse.”  These statistics don’t include LGBTQ individuals.  In the film, it seems that this Senior Center is quite ahead of the norm:  (a) respecting elder consenting adults which allows for intimacy, (b) a community that respects and protects each other.  Your comment---

Adelina Anthony: Yes, those are the stats (including what’s missing)… all of the articles we read during the development of the script pointed to the “norm” of QTPOC/LGBT elders suffering abuse either at the hands of Senior Resident staff, nurses, and/or other residents.  It’s heartbreaking to know that our Queer elders have to contend with homophobia or transphobia in their golden years.  Sometimes, we tell stories as we know them to be…. And sometimes, we tell them as we hope them to be.  They both can provide medicine for us as viewers.

I took the initiative to imagine a progressive Senior Resident home, where the viewer had the sense that the work in social equity had been done.  It also is clear that the elders are seen as complex human beings, with their sexuality in tact.  Sexuality is alive and well in Senior Residences.  But, even though I imagined a more hopeful and progressive space, I tried to also keep the reality of homophobia for Queer Elders present. 

In my artist mind, I equated this imagined progressive Senior Residence to the niche spaces we learn to build for our survival as intersectional two spirit/queer/trans people of color/womyn of color/people of color communities.  But even when we have these “safe spaces” we still have to contend with the rest of the world.  The character that disrupts the harmony of the day represents this constant intrusion of “isms” we have to fight. 

Amelia Montes: Another topic this film brings up is elder rights. How is this film opening up dialogues in this area? 

Adelina Anthony: Elders have agency and I wanted to show this in the story through the characters. There’s so much to write and explore in this age range, and, the longer version of this story allows for that to be fleshed out more.  In the longer version, Lupita, and her lover, Ramona, mobilize the change in their residency.  So we actually experience what they had to endure to create a safe space among their fellow residents.  For the short version, it's focused on two Latina lesbians who clearly love each other and already have a supportive community.  In fact, they have one that will stand up for them because they understand their collective elder rights.

Again, this isn’t the norm in most Senior Residencies.  Elder abuse actually occurs more often than people suspect or care to know.  So I hope it makes us think about how we can advocate for our elders and give them the respect and care they deserve.  I hope it makes us open up dialogue in multiple ways about elder rights and needs, especially for QTPOC.

Amelia Montes: Yet another topic in this richly complex film is having to do with “coming out” and the consequences of not doing that.  In a recent film by Nancy Kates, Regarding Susan Sontag, the same issue comes up about earlier generations of women.  In the film, New York author and public speaker, Fran Lebowitz appears and says that because women had to be and became comfortable with being discreet, they didn’t see the point of coming out later—and that such a decision should be respected.  That seems to be questioned in this film. Why? 

Adelina Anthony:  I haven’t seen Nancy Kates’s film yet, but I agree that such a decision should be respected.  I think it still holds true for today, regardless of age or gender.  I would never judge any queer person for whether they choose to come out or not.  It’s still life and death for many people.  I only reserve judgment if such persons were to hypocritically participate in the oppression of their fellow queer family that is living out and proud.  It takes great courage to be out in this world.  It’s a powerful experience to live our lives freely.  And I do believe coming out publicly, especially to our loved ones, changes the world for the better. But, again, every queer person needs to make that choice for herself/himself/themselves.

In writing Lupita and allowing her to express remorse about her decision not to come out holds true with many queer people I’ve met throughout my life from older generations.  We can still respect Lupita as a visibly brown, indigenous looking mujer, and intuitively understand the multiple ways she chose to live her life in order to survive, allow her the space to grieve choices she made under oppressive structures that still exist today; structures that are operating today in more nefarious ways with the current policies being made against us, and that not only silence our sexuality, but how we choose to identify and express ourselves in myriad cultural ways. 

Scene from Amigas with Benefits (photo courtesy of AdeRisa Productions)
Regret is something we usually feel when we realize that our choices have impacted our lives and the lives of others in hurtful ways.  I love the character of Lupita enough to allow her this moment of grief and self-reflection, because ultimately it empowers her.  My hope is that even non-queer people recognize how we fail our collective humanity when we don’t allow others to live in their truths.    

Amelia Montes: That comes through in the film!  I also want to ask about your film score.  Tell me your process in choosing the music.  Each piece seamlessly works to either introduce or accompany a scene and would also make an excellent soundtrack.

Adelina Anthony:  I’m so glad you made mention of the music and score!  Yes, this is my third time collaborating with our composer, Alex Valenzy, and my second time with Marlene Beltran Cuauhtin, a talented singer/songwriter.  They both made my job as music supervisor bien easy because they are such gifted and generous artists. 

Alex is a self-taught musician, a genius who has this immense range of musical genres.   He creates, feels, and thinks about music through a very organic process, always coming from a place of honoring the story.  Working from a deep and emotional place, he approaches each film on its own terms.  He always reads the script a few months before we go into production.  Then we discuss the story and characters.  Sometimes I'll use temp music to score a section to exemplify a tone or rhythm I'm looking for.  Alex always comes back with great ideas to support a scene.  I really love how he supported Yuny Parada's emotional work as Lupita with a delicate harp during her emotional moment.  Alex's gift is also knowing when a scene doesn't need instrumentation because the silence is more powerful, is its own music.

For Amigas with Benefits, because it was a short dramedy, we both agreed that we would have him compose once I could deliver a rough cut to him.  We were on a quick turn around, so he actually designed the score within a few weeks.  He composed several openings for us, and, actually, Marisa as a producer gave great feedback about capturing more of a a trio feel for the opening score.  The beginning and ending compositions are actually fusions of traditional trio and norteño with Alex’s gift for giving them musical twists that reflect his style as a young Xicano influenced by everything from Tool, Iron Maiden to Hans Zimmer.

And as for Marlene, she’s another wonder!  Everyone fell in love with her original song, “Dáme,” which she composed and performed as the character Ixchel in Bruising for Besos.   The beauty of working with Xicana/o/x artists is that you don’t have to do any cultural translations.  She knew we needed a bolero to capture that long ago era of our abuelas.  I sent Marlene the first rough cut and she came back with “Querida Mia.”  Again, here’s a musical artist (Marlene is also a gifted actor and writer) who culls her work from a deep place of knowing and cultural recognition.  She never fails to deliver something that feels like it always existed in the world of the film. 

One last person I need to mention is Nicolas Osorio, our production/post sound mixing recorder and sound designer.  He’s critical in how everything gets balanced.  I usually have a clear sense of where I want music to enter/exit a scene and at what volume levels.  But Nicolos, Alex, and Marisa are always my most critical collaborators when it comes to the final mix. I trust them inherently and when we're all in agreement, it just confirms my instincts and aesthetic choices.
Amelia Montes: It all works seamlessly, and it’s obvious that this is due to having a great team.  Do you have anything you would like to add? 

Adelina Anthony:  Yes, gracias to you and La Bloga for consistently supporting my/our work by sharing it with your readership. 

And I only want to add that this project could not have been made without the incredible team that is AdeRisa Productions, which has always put Xicana/Latina lesbians and queer womyn of color/womyn/people of color in leadership roles and as the majority on the set.  After five years of doing this kind of film work, we’ve been blessed to develop a production team and acting pool of immensely gifted and generous collaborators.  Many of them have been working with us since the inception of AdeRisa Productions, including Jean Kim who is our cinematographer in this short film project. 

Finally, I/we hope our communities will support us during these last few days of the PBS Film Festival by voting for us daily.  They can vote every day across all three platforms: YouTube, Facebook, and at

Órale, let's show the mundo we want to continue to see ourselves reflected in nuanced ways!  Thank you for the wonderful preguntas, Amelia. Tlazocamatli.

Amelia Montes: And now, La Bloga Readers, it's your turn! You are warmly invited to view the film and VOTE.  Just click here: Amigas with Benefits - watch and vote!  Enjoy, y gracias to Adelina Anthony and AdeRisa Productions!

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