Director Laura Plancarte’s Siblings is the second film she has had selected at Raindance Film Festival. This must see documentary relates to the very current issue of immigration and deportation, begging the question ‘is there an American dream?’.
Siblings tells in parallel the story of two Mexican brothers that want to go back to the US after being deported for life, with the story of an American woman who lost her house and today believes she can get it back through Trump’s promises.
Their journeys take them on road trips to meet with their past and with relatives who they believe can help them achieve their dreams. Immigration has been shown in many ways, but it has never been presented through the lives of Mexicans and Americans who live similar situations due to poverty and lack of family structure.
Director Laura Plancarte lives and works in London making films and visual arts. Her work has been exhibited in museums and cultural spaces in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Barcelona and London. Her first feature film Tierra Caliente was selected for the Festival Internacional de Cine de Guadalajara, Raindance, Docs Against Gravity and won best feature film at World of Film International Festival in Glasgow. Siblings is her second feature documentary.
Producer Mike Lerner has been making films since 1988 including Afghan Star, Hell and Back Again, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer and The Square. He has won a number of industry awards including; six Sundance Awards, an EMMY Award for Best Documentary, two Grierson Awards for Best Documentary, Prix Italia and has an Academy Award Nomination for Best Documentary Feature 2012 and two Royal Television Society Award Nominations.
In 2015, she made her debut with Tierra Caliente, a movie about of a family from the state of Guerrero and now she’s back with another very emotional documentary called Siblings about two parties, one living California and one living in Mexico, about the difference in life but also the things we have in common. We had the honour of chatting to director Laura Pancarte and talking about Siblings, about independent filmmaking as well as about her next projects.
Hi Laura, welcome to Raindance. How is it to be here?
Oh, it’s fantastic, Liselotte. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I’m very happy to be here.
Is it your first time here?
No, it’s my second time. Two years ago, I was also selected. With my first documentary that was called Tierra Caliente. Now I’m selected with my second one which is called Siblings.
How did you select the two parties for your movie (Vanessa and the two brothers)? How did you come across them?
Well, I think it’s not really choosing, it’s about falling in love. I wanted to make a film about a mirror reflection about people from two countries talking about immigration. I think when we see a film about immigration it’s always either told from the Mexican view or from the American one but there’s no movie in which they’re actually put together. In which you realize that we’re all siblings. Doesn’t matter where you’re from. That shows that we also have more in common than differences, which is a fortune so we need to look at it, instead of being so divided. I met the brothers because in my previous film, I worked with a family from the region called Tierra Caliente and I got to meet a lot of people. When I heard their stories, I immediately thought ‘I need to work with those two guys’. Because for me, it was not being able to understand why they travelled five times illegally to the US, how they worked in Polish factories, sweeping, being a carpenter, painter, loads of things. They even transported drugs from one American state to the other. They were caught, they were imprisoned in the US for three years, and they were deported for life. Why would you want to go back to a state like that? I couldn’t really understand that. This is an example of what we see in Mexico. We want to go the America to get a better economy but we also going to the US because it has become a mythical way of solving any problems you have in your life. Any problems you have will be solved there. What you see in the story of the brothers, that there’s so much more than economy, that they’re actually looking for their mother. The love of their mother, who left them when their father died. I think that the brothers lack parenting and having a family. More than any kind of economy. It was incredible to work with them.
I learned a lot and when I was going to the US and trying to find the American story while making the first shots of the movies (the collage you see in the beginning), suddenly an American woman came to see me and she just start talking to me and told me her story. I found her very warm and actually I found it a privilege the way she wanted to share her story and her intimacy with me. I found her very warm and charming. She obviously thinks very differently than me. She’s a Trump supporter and she also knew that I thought differently than her but I think we had a bond. She became the woman on the other side of the mirror, reflecting from the American side. It was very challenging to work with her because I don’t agree with her views but at the same time, it also taught me a lot. By being born and raised in Mexico, I got to know one side of the United States. By going with her, I got to know that there’s another reality. I think at the beginning of the film, when you see her and the two brothers, it’s clear that the brothers are poor but at the beginning, it’s not so evident to know that she’s poor as well. I think in the film it becomes clear that poverty in the America looks very different than poverty in Mexico. I learned a lot. I didn’t change my thoughts or my views but it made me understand where she came from. I think that’s the same thing with the brothers. I don’t agree with the decisions they made but I understand where they come from. I think that we can make better solutions and propose better possibilities by doing the exercise of putting yourself in the shoes of the other. If not, you almost have an immediate rejection instead of creating a dialogue.
Were both parties very willing to corporate and participate from the start?
At the beginning, the brothers were shocked that I wanted to work with them. They didn’t understand that actually. They’ve probably never seen a documentary in their life. The films they have seen are completely different and they probably didn’t even know what a documentary was. They were flattered because, that’s sadness of all of this, that they thought that they were not interested enough. They wanted to know if I had an arterial motive with this documentary. To them it’s seemed so unreal. From the moment we started, they really liked it. They were very happy and I think it was a nice experience for them. I think the encounter with their mother was very important for them and I think it was also very important for the mother too.
With Vanessa, when we met I said that I really wanted to work with her to make this film. I told her that I want to see her side of the story as well and asked her to work with me. At the beginning she said “Ok, let’s do it” but then I went back, away to LA and then she did send me an e-mail in which she said “no, I don’t think I’m the person for you”. I asked her why. She asked me ten questions, I answered them and then she said that “she couldn’t give me that and that she couldn’t be the person to work with me”. I said to her that she was the person because she was very charismatic and people will be able to hear your thoughts. People who don’t think like her will be able would be able to listen to her and to her story. She still said “no”. I left it there and I think two months after that, I went to DocsBarcelona (an award show for documentaries and documentary makers) and I showed there clips of her to the people and people were really interested in her. I think she was made for cinema. She’s open, has great presence and she’s charismatic. I told her that her message got across and that she really should think about it. I also told her that everyone thought that she was very good. And then afterwards, she replied with “yes, let’s do this”. I didn’t expect that at all because she had said “No” multiple times. That’s how we started.
It was a very interesting process but at the same time, it was also very difficult. Especially with the three of them. In my previous film, the family of Tierra Caliente and I shared the same ideas and it was kind of easy because it was black or white in a way. They knew who was bad and who was good. There was no turn-around. In this film, it’s not like that. It’s all different tones of colour, different layers of textures. It’s complicated and that’s what I wanted to say with the film. Life is complicated. We can’t simplify it and we can’t try to pretend that life is black or white, like these are the good once and those are the bad once. Follow those people and not the others. Life is so much more complex than that. It takes a long time to be able to understand all the perspectives and all sides of the story. I think what we could do is exactly to see that reality, to perceive that reality and to see that it’s complicated and accept that.
How long did it take to make the movie?
Well, three years.
That must be hard?
It’s hard. It’s a long process but it’s very enjoyable. I love making films. I can’t deny that. I think when you’re an independent filmmaker, you love making films.
Were there any moments that are maybe not in the film, that were very emotional for you?
Yeah, this film is about emotions. I think at some points I was really drained, emotionally. It was very hard to make this film. I spent nine months together with Vanessa and the two brothers. Even when I don’t agree with what they think or with the decisions they make, I still need to do them justice. When you don’t agree with the people that you’re making the film but then you do see that’s more than just a disagreement with those people. It’s not two dimensional. I didn’t agree with neither of the three so it was complicated. To be able to put them in reality but also do them justice at the same time. Try to show them through my eyes. As you see in the film, it really gets emotional at some points and those emotions are very real. I think that’s what makes it magical and very interesting.
What were their thoughts when they saw the movie? Or haven’t they seen it yet?
The brothers love the movie but last time I had contact with Vanessa, I thought she hasn’t seen the movie yet. Two months ago she saw the films but I haven’t heard from her anymore. I’m giving her time and I hope she comes around. I think she would be amazed at how she comes across to people that don’t think like her actually. People who might be liberal and who might not change their opinion but they will understand where she’s coming from. For me, it would be very sad if she stays closed but I respect it. I think it’s very difficult to see yourself on the screen so let’s see what happens.
Your documentary is an independent film. Why should people come to Raindance and watch independent movies?
People need to come to Raindance and watch independent movies, not only at Raindance but everywhere, because otherwise the only movies people are going to see films that are commissioned by institutions. There’s always an agenda to those films, what they want you to think of it and what they want you to watch. I’m not saying that that’s bad because they’re very good things as well. By Hollywood, by television channels, etc but it’s so important to watch independent films. Films that aren’t made with hidden agenda or films that aren’t sending a message made by an institution.
Do you have any advice for documentary makers who want to get into the documentary business?
Be true to yourself. If you want to make documentaries, just do it. It’s a great process and an incredible world. If you’re doing it and expecting something with that, then don’t. Change career. It’s not going to happen.
One last question: Do you have any upcoming movies?
I’m starting my next film but I’m just at the beginning. I don’t know yet how it’s going to evolve, but I think it’s going to be in the United States.
Ok, well looking forward to that and thanks for this interview.
Well, thank you so much!