By Orla Smith.
Ever since he came to power, it’s become impossible not to notice when films depict how it feels to live in Trump’s America.
Of course, most of these films were in production long before his presidency. Siblings is one of the first films of the Trump era that is intentionally about the Trump era. The documentary follows two subjects: the first a pair of Mexican brothers who have been deported from the US, the second a Trump voting woman named Vanessa.
Placing these different people in parallel as they navigate their day to day lives, director Laura Plancarte boldly explores our current political climate and the way that it effects everyday people. Interspersed are a collage of interviews with American people who span a range of classes, races and ages ― all trying to make sense of what the American dream means to them.
At the 25th Raindance Film Festival, we sat down with Plancarte and discussed Trump, non-biased filmmaking and the future of political cinema.
BRWC: How did you find your subjects?
LAURA PLANCARTE: I found the brothers through my previous film Tierra Caliente. I’ve always wanted to make a film that placed Mexico and the US in parallel, and when I met the brothers I thought: these are the Mexican characters. They had gone to the US five times already. I wondered why they still wanted to go back, and through talking to them I saw how complex the American dream has become in Mexico.
Then I travelled to the US in order to show the points of view of different American communities ― which is where I met Vanessa. She came to be interviewed, and when I heard her talking it was like hearing the brothers talk. Although from the outside they’re so different, they both want the same thing: this American dream that will improve everything in their lives.
BRWC: Did Vanessa take much convincing to participate in the film?
LP: The moment we met we had a mutual spark. That was surprising, because we think so differently and we don’t share the same ideals. I thought: if I like her, other people will. I didn’t want to show a cartoon version of a Trump voter, because what would be the point?
When I told her I wanted to work with her further, she was interested ― but a short while later she backed out. Two months passed and I wrote to her saying: ‘I respect your choice, but I want to tell you that I’ve just been to Barcelona, and when I showed your interview people were amazed. You’re really charismatic, and you’re able to get your ideas across. If you’re interested it would be great; I don’t want to make a biased film.’ Then she surprised me by replying, ‘Ok. Let’s do it.’
BRWC: You said you didn’t want to make a biased film, which is reflected in the equal screen time you give to both of your subjects. Do you think that the film as an object is politically neutral, even if you aren’t?
LP: That’s a difficult question. I spent nine months editing, trying to make the film non-biased. I think it is clear in the film that I believe that Trump is appalling. That’s important, because I don’t want to fool people. That was a huge challenge. However, I think in a way it is non-biased, as I do believe that Vanessa’s ideas cross over, as well as the ideas of the brothers.
BRWC: When was the idea for the film first conceived?
LP: I started formally thinking about it when I was editing Tierra Caliente in 2014. That was when I heard the first recordings from the brothers and started working on this film ― but the idea has been with me all my life. I grew up seeing Mexico and the United States fight constantly and I found it ridiculous. For me, it’s evident that we have a completely co-dependent relationship. Both countries need each other economically and socially. We have created a shared culture which I think is fantastic ― but unfortunately we don’t celebrate it.
BRWC: So it wasn’t originally going to be about Trump?
LP: No, but when Trump came into the picture, I realised we needed this film more urgently than ever. I do honestly think that Trump is not bringing anything positive to the table. I think it’s very important to say that. He’s also using his own people: I see people like Vanessa, and I don’t think Trump will give her what he has promised her. I find it so awful that someone could lie to their people in that way.
BRWC: It seemed like most of the filming was done before the election results ― while he was on the campaign trail.
BRWC: Did you film anything after he was elected?
LP: We had finished shooting with Vanessa, but we were shooting in Mexico the day Trump won. It’s a day I’m never going to forget: it was cold and rainy in Mexico City, which is not usual, and everybody’s mood was as miserable as the weather.
BRWC: Did you find that, due to its topicality, there was more interest in funding Siblings than there has been with your previous projects?
LP: No. That actually tells you a lot about the world ― and it scares me. People are frightened of these issues and they don’t want to get involved, because they are saturated by the news. When they go home, they want to relax. They don’t want to think about the world, or be challenged by anything. They want to see a drama, or a documentary with a happy ending. It’s very hard to make this kind of work because it’s not what people want to sell or see ― but we need to try. We can’t escape the world we live in.
BRWC: What do you hope people will take away from your film?
LP: We want to simplify things: separate them into good and bad. It makes us feel empowered… but it’s a fallacy, because life is complex. It’s time to accept that we are multi-layered, and even though that gives us a sensation of uncertainty, it can also bring us to real solutions. The film doesn’t give you a solution; I don’t have the solution. What I do know is that when problems are given a face, they change.
BRWC: What’s next?
LP: My prime focus now it to distribute this film. I want to work to get the film seen and open a dialogue. However, as a creator, it’s very difficult not to have something on your mind. So yes, I have started thinking about my new film. I can’t tell you much except for one thing: it’s going to be set in the United States. Being born in Mexico, I view the US from a different light. I find it very interesting that, for example, they are the most powerful country in the world, but there isn’t universal healthcare. I want to make a film about the US that involves social issues.
Siblings will make its world premiere at the 25th Raindance Film Festival on September 25th, followed by a repeat screening on September 27th.
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