Guao (Dominican Republic | 2015, 34 min)
Directed by: Eduardo Velázquez
Written by: Eduardo Velázquez
Cast: Lia Briones, Matias Pellegrini, Eduardo Velázquez
Set in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Guao tells the story of Luperon, a Caribbean immigrant, a naive and shy boy and his profound love for Catherine Deneuve. Luperon, who has lived protected by his sister Ana, an aspiring actress and waitress is a caregiver to Luperon due to a mysterious brain degenerative disease. Luperon decides to transition and become Catherine Deneuve and falls in love with Federico, a religious fanatic.
Interview:Born in the Dominican Republic, Eduardo Velazquez graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute where he majored in Painting and Art History. After receiving his MFA in Film and Emerging Practices at SUNY Buffalo, Velazquez moved to New York City where he wrote the screenplay and fleshed out the concept of his first short film “Guao.”
NYIFF: Hi Eduardo! We’re so excited to screen your short film “Guao” as a part of the 2016 NYC Independent Film Festival. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few of our questions. Maybe you could start by telling us what originally brought you to New York and how you first got the idea for “Guao.”
EV: I moved to NYC to live in a world with more creative freedom. I wanted to work outside limitations based on prejudice on being a black and queer in my native country. Don’t get me wrong; those limitations exist on the whole planet. I always said: “Being black is like being illegal in the whole world.” However, I feel like I escaped Santo Domingo in a rush, although its magic still lives inside me.
I wrote GUAO as a short story first. I was writing a lot during my MFA years. The goal was to publish a book of short stories under the hashtag # *postcolonialbooty.* As a visual artist, everything that I build comes from sequences of images/scenes. After finishing the story, I started seeing the scenes from the GUAO in my mind. I tried to ignore it for a while, but I saw vividly each character in my mind and listened to their conversations and dreams. Basically, my brain became a confession room in a catholic church for Luperon/Lupe, Ana and Federico. So, I started writing a script, which resulted in my first film effort called GUAO.
NYIFF: The filming took place in Buenos Aires what kinds of obstacles did you encounter while filming in South America?
EV: Filming in Argentina was a dream. Buenos Aires has such a rich tradition of film. Theater and acting are an active part of the creative life on the city.
One of the challenges was to create a team of collaborators without being physically present in Buenos Aires. I didn’t know any of my collaborators in person, only through Skype. Lia was the first one to join the project. She served as a liaison, and helped me connect with other actors, casting directors, and filmmakers.
At that time, Lia had just graduated from the Film Research Center (CIC) in Buenos Aires, and she was doing a lot of theater in the city.
I interviewed dozens of people through Skype and FaceTime. By the end of the process (around 5 months), I had a photography assistant, a first AD, and Matias Pellegrini Sanchez (played Federico, the romantic interest of Luperon/Lupe) on board.
The shooting was exhausting at times, because the rehearsal and recording of each scene took a lot of time.
Lia was presenting her play *Nostalgia* almost every night, and Matias was working in two different theater companies at the time, so the majority of the scenes where shot very late at night or during the early hours of the morning because of the limited amount of time in their schedules.
We had no budget for GUAO. Not everyone was willing to work with me for free, and generously help me develop my vision. I wasn’t there physically. So, finding people that believed in my idea as intensely as me was the ultimate challenge. Happily, everything worked out.
NYIFF: You’re both the lead actor and director of the film. How did you juggle both roles? When you weren’t behind the camera yourself, what kind of direction did you give to the cameraman?
EV: GUAO represents my first attempt directing, acting and writing a formal script. It was not an easy job.
Directing came naturally, I am painter, and I have done some performance art before, so it was pretty clear to me what GUAO would look like, taking into account the lack of budget, and guerilla style of filming.
When I wasn’t behind the camera, each scene was rehearsed and recorded based on the scene sequence in the storyboard. After seeing the recorded video, I was able to address the actors and specify any changes in the way the first AD and the cameraman would shoot the scene. When I was not in front of the camera acting, I was shooting. I was deeply inspired by the DOGMA 95 and Mumblecore film style. I am very particular when I work in my projects; my directions were all about breaking the rules.
By the final days of shooting, I felt like I had two heads on my shoulders, one was the head of Eduardo, the director, and the other, the head of Eduardo the actor. Playing these two roles was a test of endurance and mental elasticity.
NYIFF: Lia Briones delivers a stunning performance as your sister in the film. How did you meet and how did you two manage to give such a naturalistic portrayal of brother and sister?
EV: Lia is simply amazing. She was the first person I reached and talk to about the project. Lia was basically my partner in crime in convincing people to work for the project. When we were shooting GUAO, Lia waspresenting almost every night a play of her authorship called Nostalgia at el Teatro La Mueca in Buenos Aires at the time. It was a busy time for her as an actress and dramaturge.
I believe our performances are naturalistic due to our instant connection off camera. When I told Lia about the project, I sent her the script hesitantly. At the time, we only knew each other from a friend of a friend and social media. After sending her the script, Lia called a few hours later and said: “I’m the sister. Do you know that?” At that time, I was surprised that she wanted to get involved in a project so DIY. Also, the shooting of the film was scheduled at the same time of the premiere of her play that upcoming the fall.
The original idea was to find a transgender actress to play the role of Luperon/Lupe. I spent a couple months casting people via Skype. I couldn’t find anyone suitable for the role of Luperon/Lupe. Also, we didn’t have a budget, and that didn’t help us in the searching process. One day Lia called me and said: “Why don’t you play the role of the Luperon/Lupe? You wrote the script, no one knows these characters better than you. We are both Dominicans...”
I did a screen test for fun and sent it to Lia. After that, Lia was convinced that I must play the role. I wasn’t, so I kept casting people. After a couple of months I realized that I didn’t have any time left to find someone and prepare him or her for the role, so I decided to do it. Lia, as a trained actress, was able to help me to develop the character. When Lia was in action, every shot worked, but with me it took a little bit of time to let go, and just lend my body and emotional experience to the character.
Before the shooting of GUAO, we lived in the apartment where the characters would live in the film for a week. We slept together, ate together, and even shared bathroom moments sometimes before we started shooting. This experience helped us to connect and develop a natural dance that translated into our performances of Ana and Luperon/Lupe in GUAO.
NYIFF: So much of the dialogue seems improvised, how close did you stick to the script?
EV: There was a script. There were bios and soundtracks for each characters, etc. After seeing the footage, I was able to add and subtract information from the original script. Also, we used improv acting techniques at certain moments in the film, to see how far we could go with the characters. Some of these shots were incorporated into the final product.
NYIFF: How long did you shoot for? How long did it take to edit?
EV: We shot for 2 1/2 weeks, and it took 4 months to edit the material.
NYIFF: In the future, do you see yourself both directing and acting or is there one you prefer?
EV: I see myself directing, writing scripts, and producing again. However, I don’t see myself acting in my future (to be honest, never). I am not a good actor. I deeply admire actors and actresses for putting themselves in such vulnerable space constantly.
NYIFF: Are there any other projects in the pipeline? Do you plan on shooting anything in New York?
EV: Yes. I am working on two films right now. And yes, both take place in New York City. These films will deal with the postcolonial body, relationship with others and its translation in the city.
NYIFF: Thanks again for speaking with us, Eduardo! We’ll see you at the festival!
Guao is an official selection for the 7th Annual NYC Independent Film Festival.