Julia Solomonoff is an Argentine director based in New York City. As both a director and producer, she has played a key role in the revitalization of Latin American cinema and her films have been featured at international film festivals including Toronto, Sundance, San Sebastian, Berlinale, and New Directors/New Films. Her directing credits include “Hermanas” and “The Last Summer of La Boyita.”
“Nobody’s Watching” will premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival on April 22.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
Js: An unlikely and timely tale of immigration, identity, and self-discovery.
In “Nobody’s Watching,” 30-year-old Nico (Guillermo Pfening) leaves a promising acting career in Argentina after a romantic break-up with his male married producer. He lands in New York City, lured into believing that his talent will help him find success “on his own” and prove his self-worth, but that’s not what he discovers.
Too blond to play Latino and with an accent too strong to play anything else, Nico falls through the cracks, and must juggle odd jobs to survive. Unwilling to return home and be seen as a failure, Nico manages to stay afloat thanks to his ability to pretend to be something he isn’t, but he gets lost in his own lies.
Theo (Charlie Costi), the baby he cares for, becomes his only genuine bond of affection. His fragile world is shaken when he receives a visit from his former producer/mentor and ex-lover.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
Js: This story does not come from imagination. It feeds from my own experiences and observations as a Latina trying to find her voice in the noise of New York. I have lived between New York City and Buenos Aires for over a decade.
I have felt energized and crushed by this city. I experienced the joys of discovery and the frustrations of being lost in translation and being defined by others in very limiting and even patronizing ways until I learned to define myself in my own terms. And yes, even though I came with a Fulbright to study at Columbia, my true reason for leaving Buenos Aires was heartbreak.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
Js: I know the film will resonate particularly with a New York audience: that’s why I’m excited to open in Tribeca. So many people hold on to the idea of living in New York even when the city turns its back to them, people that sacrifice so much — space, time, and life — just to attach their names to this city, as if being here was a goal in itself. I invite them to re-define their reasons for being here.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
Js: Everything was a challenge and it was all worth it. Writing the film was hard, because it is a story with many layers and finding its core and its tone took a while.
Editing was also very challenging, because we needed to find a balance and a pace to a story that is like a personal journey through four seasons, that is not genre or plot-driven but character-driven. Nico is a complex, sometimes erratic, and contradictory character, one that meanders through desires and fears more than he heads for a clear want or goal.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
Js: This deserves a separate interview. All my films have an important portion of public funds from Latin America and Europe, but this one was particularly challenging because we were shooting a PanAmerican story in New York. We were able to put together an official co-production with Argentina/Colombia and Brazil, get support form Ibermedia, Incaa, Proimagenes, and Ancine and at the same time partner with production companies from USA, Spain, France, Lebanon, and the Dominican Republic.
Imagine the languages, contracts, and currencies involved and all this for a low budget film! But to us, this collaboration speaks of the international appeal of the story and amplifies our visibility and reach.
W&H: What does it mean for you to have your film play at Tribeca?
Js: We are so excited! The Tribeca Film Institute Latin American Fund was the first support we had, alongside the Heineken Voces Development Award, three years ago. This is a New York film so it feels so right to start its public life in the heart of the city.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
Js: Worst advice: “You need a likable character.” That is a phrase that is responsible for the most washed-out movies today. Characters that are one dimensional, predictable, and deeply conservative. Agh!
Best advice: As the Dardenne brothers say, the important thing is to develop a dynamic relationship to the character: Sometimes you feel incredibly close to them and sometimes you distance yourself and wish they’ve done differently, but you follow them because you understand their needs, witness their struggles, and our failures teach us more than our successes!
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
Js: Do not limit yourself to “positive views” of female characters. Allow yourself the freedom and complexity of creation, free yourself from the “important message,” and work from your own experience and perspective. Don’t try to please. Do things that scare you. Trust your gut and work from the inside, but also distance yourself to try to make meaning of it.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
Js: Just one?! Sorry, I can’t. I am inspired by the works of Claire Denis, Maren Ade, Lucrecia Martel, Naomi Kawase, Catherine Breillat, and Agnes Varda. I am so fortunate that, because I have been teaching at Columbia University and Nyu for the last five years, I’ve seen a lot of talented and determined women from around the globe. I can’t wait to see their features!
W&H: There have been significant conversations over the last couple of years about increasing the amount of opportunities for women directors yet the numbers have not increased. Are you optimistic about the possibilities for change? Share any thoughts you might have.
Js: To me is not just about female representation in key positions, but also about diversity and representation of minorities. It is not about increasing jobs as much as fostering points of views and discourses that challenge the mainstream narrative. And that takes even more time and commitment than hiring practices, which is the staring point.
There are no doubt efforts and increasing awareness, and the key part is that this time there is a legal element to it — we all know that the U.S. is the country of lawyers — but there is still a long, long road ahead of us and I would not want to celebrate before I see some actual, serious increase in representation. It will take years and there will be backlashes, so don’t uncork the champagne too early — it gets flat and sour.
Tribeca 2017 Women Directors: Meet Julia Solomonoff — “Nobody’s Watching” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.