A quiet middle class world of good intentions begins to crumble when fourteen-years-old Miriam meets her internet boyfriend. While her family and friends prepare for her a traditional fifteen birthday party, Miriam doesn’t know how to explain that her boyfriend is black.
INTERVIEW WITH THE DIRECTORS
1.- What are some of the things that influence
you and the way you film the differences of class
and race in Dominican Republic?
Natalia Cabral: we made two documentaries
before “Miriam Lies” that explored the conflicts
of class and race in Dominican Republic. The
first one was “You and Me,” the portrait of a
love-hate relationship between an older, white,
middle-class woman and her young black maid.
The second one was “Site of Sites” a choral film
that explored both sides of the construction of
a luxury resort: on the one hand, you had the
rich tourists lifestyle, on the other, the humble
workers. It is not difficult to find images,
sounds and stories that place us in front of
the unfortunate spectacle of the differences
between people in Dominican Republic. The
whites there are the minority, but they have all
the power and the blacks have very little and
have to wear uniforms to survive at the mercy
of the rich. It’s very visual and violent, like
an Ulrich Seidl film. For first-time visitors,
the uneven landscape can be uncomfortable,
even alarming, but for us Dominicans it’s
quite normal, our everyday life. In these two
previous films, “You and Me” and “Site of
Sites”, we made formal decisions closer to an
observational kind of cinema, which helped
us generate some tension, discomfort and also
some nervous laughters. In “Miriam Lies”, we
decided to emphasize the story more, with a
tense and uncomfortable ending that leaves the
viewer thinking with a certain emotion that
the story has been building up during the film.
2.- What attracted you to this story? How did you
come up with the idea?
Oriol Estrada: We like films that deal with big
issues in a subtle way, but with no concessions; we
like those everyday life stories in which it seems
that nothing important is apparently happening,
but we feel in the air that a threat is constantly
growing. We are attracted to protagonists when
they are neither good nor bad and behave morally
in a rather questionable way. I think it is the best
way for the spectators to identify with the “hero”
because as human beings, it is obvious that it’s
practically impossible for us to have an exemplary
conduct or life experience and that is surely what
makes human kind so interesting. In the end that’s
what makes art attractive, the possibility of seeing
ourselves reflected in it with all our complexities.
“Miriam Lies” was born from this way of
understanding cinema that we share. It all started
with an anecdote of youth that Natalia told me.
I identified a possible film because the anecdote
was politically and socially terrible, but at the
same time very human, common and natural,
so I encouraged her to write a film together
based on that anecdote. She started writing from
memories and I was shaping the story, looking
for the strengths and eliminating weaknesses.
Little by little other sub-plots appeared and
the characters began to take shape and speak
for themselves. Without realizing it, reality
became a plot of fiction with a world of its own.
Natalia Cabral: Oriol’s point of view helped
the anecdote become a script and achieve a
broader perspective. He has great sensitivity and
curiosity for Dominican Republic. We wrote the
script together, perhaps an anecdote from my
youth was the starting point, but as we were
writing and producing, the film became a codirection
in a very natural and beautiful way
3.- Is “Miriam Lies” an autobiographical, personal
film? How much of your lives is in Miriam’s life
NC: The anecdote that Oriol comments on is
a situation that happened to me when I was a
teenager. I met this boy online and I was hoping
he’d be white when I met him. Then, when we
agreed to meet personally in a public place and I
saw from a distance that he was black, I ran away
and never saw him again. This reaction I had
was quite a surprise for me, because until then,
I thought I was a “good person”, that I was the
open minded in my group of friends and family.
But as the years went by, as I remembered and
analized on what happened, I realized that I
could be like them, or even worse than them,
and I understood that if I wanted to begin to talk
about the problems that concern us as a society,
the best way was to start talking about oneself.
4.- In the story, Miriam’s character is black, but
she is accepted by those around her, while other
black characters from the lower social classes
are despised. Can you talk about this dynamic?
NC: I think that when you’re middle class you’re
more accepted by middle class people even if
you’re black than if you’re lower class and black.
If you’re racially mixed like Miriam, it’s all about
“fixing the race”. It’s something that people say
to each other from time to time in the form of a
joke or in the form of a sinful secret. The darkest
member of a couple may hear: “Congratulations!
You’re fixing the race” Or if that member is a
woman and she’s pregnant, people around her
may long for for the baby to come out white like
the father. These are very common commentaries
that are not necessarily said to hurt others, but they
serve as a verbal affirmation of what we already
see on a day-to-day basis in the way society is
organized and how this social order is perpetuated.
5.- How did you find Dulce Rodríguez, the girl
who plays Miriam?
Oriol Estrada: The first thing we did before
shooting was to prepare the auditon for the young
protagonists. We knew that the most important
thing was to find the ideal girls to play these
roles. We needed two girls from different social
classes to be great friends on screen. We knew
that due to the racial and social class division
in Dominican Republic, this was going to be
difficult. We planned to cast the girls long before
the shoot started and once we had the girls, we
planned to work with them for months, so that
they would get to know each other and create
bonds between them and between us; that
way, once they arrived on set, they would be
comfortable and could simply be themselves and
enrich the characters with their own personalities.
We saw over 500 girls, in every possible way.
We searched through social networks, went to
schools, visited shopping malls.... In the end it
turned out that Dulce was one of the first girls
we saw and we really knew she was Miriam since
the first interview. The longest one to appear was
Carolina Rohana, which plays Jennifer, Miriam’s
best friend; from the moment we met Dulce until
we met Carolina, almost 3 months passed by.
Dulce didn’t have any experience in cinema or
theatre, and in fact she didn’t want to be an actress,
at least until now. She signed up for the audition
because of a bet she made with her sister, who saw
through the social networks that we were looking
for a girl of the same physique and challenged
her to sign up. From the moment we met Dulce,
she caught our eye because she looked so much
like Miriam, she was a very intelligent, sensitive,
very confident and somewhat rebellious girl. Also,
she shares similar family conflicts with Miriam’s
character and what interested us the most was her
ability to draw her own conclusions about them.
In that first interview we had with her, she
spoke to us with great confidence about the
contradictions of her life, and with the script
in her hand, she understood better than us
what could go through Miriam’s head. She even
suggested behaviors or reactions for Miriam’s
role that we hadn’t thought of, but seemed
totally logical. She always told us: I am Miriam.
6.- How did Miriam and Jennifer, played
by Carolina Rohana, finally seem to
be best friends in such a natural way?
OE: With Jennifer it was the opposite situation
to some extent. We needed a very charming
and innocent girl, a little naughty at times,
who was not repulsive and made herself loved.
We thought Jennifer’s profile would be easier
to find than Miriam’s and it turned out to be
much more complicated. When it came to acting,
many of the girls we saw who looked very much
like Jennifer exaggerated their performances
and found it hard to understand what we wanted
because of the influence of soap operas and
artificial cinema they were used to. Carolina
doesn’t seem to be acting when she acts, she plays
a lot, and sometimes it seems as if she doesn’t
remember what she has to say but suddenly she
says it in her own way, with a very unexpected
natural style. Once we had them both, Dulce
and Carolina, we met once or twice a week for
a year, so we got them to get used to each other
and at the same time, we got to know them. At
the beginning, we only played games and in
this way the roles were created unconsciously;
later on, we began to improvise with the
script; all these exercises were so productive
that when we got to the set, there were scenes
in the film that were completely improvised
and completely out of the girls’ imagination.
7.- There are also performances by professional
actors in the adult roles. What was it like to work
with this mix of non-professional and professional
Natalia Cabral: Initially we wanted the adults
characters to be natural actors like the young
girls, but we didn’t have time to cast natural adult
actors, so we tried professional actors from the
Dominican Republic’s film, theater and television.
We casted them on the premise that even if they
were professional actors, their personalities should
be similar to the characters in the film. That’s how
we found Miriam’s family, Jennifer’s family and the
other characters. Because the improvisation method
proved to be so effective and exciting with the girl,
we also used it with the professional actors. We
wanted them to understand the intention of the
scenes in the script, but we let themselves be carried
away by the actions and reactions of the other
actors. We were looking for a certain truth that
you could identify at the time of shooting, that was
more important to us than following the dialogues
of the script word for word. The words had to come
from the living people who were the actors and all
of them contributed with some detail of their lives.
When professional and non-professional
actors were together, we gave them a space of
freedom to impress and challenge each other.
8.- How do you think the film will be received by
We believe that to date, “Miriam Lies” is our most
emotional and narrative film, so we assume that for a
less specialized audience, the film will come out with
more strength and interest than perhaps our previous
works, which were quite successful at festivals but
without much success with audiences. Anyways,
guessing what the audience will think and feel is
always a mystery, our encounter with the them is an
adventure full of unexpected reactions; so as always,
we hope that the film will not go unnoticed, that the
audience will be able to cross the border of fiction
with us and that they will feel some satisfaction,
some challenge for having crossed the line.
9.- What was the biggest challenge when making
We spent about 8 years trying to get
the film up and running and we still didn’t have
the economic plan fully worked out while shooting.
Anyways, during those long years of searching
for funding, we had time to enrich the script and
strengthen ourselves as filmmakers by gaining
experience in filming other projects; but the easiest
thing would have been to give up, so we took the
difficult road and went on. Another great challenge
was to work with a large team of professionals. In
our previous films, we used to work with a very small
team, only the two of us and a few very trustworthy
collaborators, and in “Miriam Lies” we had to open
up and share our ideas, concerns and insecurities
with other professionals, sometimes more
experienced than us, which in fact is never easy.
There were also many personal challenges.
We had to learn to work and live together
through thick and thin. We are a couple and
have made our professional careers together.
And each day is a challenge of resistance.
10.- How do you manage to work together in cinema
and live as a couple?
OE: I don’t think there are formulas for that. It
requires mutual effort, passion and empathy, and
even if you take into account those elements there
is always a certain tension because as humans, we
are loaded with contradictory feelings. Sometimes
great decisions are made with simplicity and
other times seemingly minor conflicts represent
a great emotional stress in the relationship. One
of the film ideas that we sometimes talk about is
the one about filming ourselves making a film.
If me make that project a reality one day, I don’t
know if people who repeatedly ask us how we
manage to combine a couple’s affective relationship
with a work relationship will get an answer,
but I’m quite sure they will get a good laugh.