INTERVIEW WITH ROSARIO GARCIA-MONTERO

ARE YOU FEELING LONELY?

a film by Rosario Garcia-Montero

Are You Feeling Loney? is definitely a character driven film, but upon viewing it again, I was really impressed with the premise. What inspired this particular story?

My biggest ambition as a storyteller is to develop stories with a strong premise and then follow characters with unpredictable behaviors.

I wanted to tell the story of a blind date that went very bad.

He is desperately seeking to connect with a widow with money. And she is desperately playing his game, a maid thinking this might be a prominent rich doctor. Nobody tells the truth.

You avoid more tell tale New York City landmarks in the photography. We know it’s New York because of Mr. Pinkerton’s Driver’s License. What neighborhood is this? And how important was it for the story to take place there?

I always knew the film was about loneliness in NY, the isolation levels you reach there are amazingly high. So it was an “ode” to that.

The film was shoot in Brooklyn, (Williamsburg, Greenpoint, in the D.u.m.b.o waterfront). And the indian restaurant called “Panna II” is located in the east village. One of the few locations that blew my mind when I visited some years before…you need to almost lean to enter because all the red pepper lights are heavy and dangerous and fun. (don’t say that it is your b-day because they will manually turn those lights on and off !!) We also see some references of the actual Empire State Building, like in the film “an affaire to remember.”

In 2013 people seem to rely more on other forms of digital communication than telephone. Ten years after the film was released, would Baddi still try to connect in the same way?

Maybe instead of making phone calls nowadays, he would have chat online. But I like the old ways. You need to charm and convince someone by the phone, chatting is too impersonal.

But no matter how technologies evolve, the isolation in NY is ever present.

Baddi tells Lili his station in life is different. He is neither a doctor, nor a broker. The two characters in this film both clean floors for a living. What do you feel this film might say about working class New Yorkers connecting in the midst of such a fast-paced city? Would their experience be different from others?

He is making a phone call to seduce Mr. Pinkerton’s rich widow, and Lili  is finally meeting someone charming and eager to talk to her and make her feel good. It’s not really about being working class. It is about everyone with day jobs who have huge dreams that are not really happening. In New York, friends had 4 or 5 jobs top pay the rent and still live with high levels of anxiety.

Baddi will eventually “meet” Lili, just not at the agreed upon time and place. What does it mean when your main characters only meet under such violent circumstances? Will Baddi “recognize” her?

They will finally reunite, but a bit late. He won’t recognize her. He will look first for any Golden Teeth, to sell in the Russian pawnshop for cash, but after not finding anything he will discard her and move on and make more phone calls, with the same pickup lines, the pattern, to be able to engage with somebody new that doesn’t know your tricks, perpetually avoiding making real connections.

What filmmakers were you looking at before making this film?

It’s a bit of a mockery of an Affair To Remember.

But in terms of mise and scene and aesthetics, this was my second short so I would worry a lot, even thou I had an idea of how I wanted it to look..i kept thinking of all the possibilities a short film could have depending on what DP you had. I interviewed a lot of DPs and they would say things like: i see this film b&w, i would freak out and look for another one…and now i still wonder how it would have looked like with the other DP and his different approach…

What was the biggest challenge of the production?

A huge challenge was that I knew how the typical student film looks like: no art direction, empty white walls with no paintings, probably your own apartment,  the actors projecting many shadows evidencing the key light and the fill light…a learning process that I wanted to avoid…so I knew how I didn’t want it to look like, but you are almost all on your own.

The main location was a morgue, and I didn’t want it to be real.  The art had to be impeccable, so i would collect pieces of wood that then i would wrap them in timber foil and then attach the handles to make the morgue corpse cabinets. The time you dedicate in the small details makes a big difference.

The day that my film was shot was the day my actor’s visa expired!

But he did show up.  And after a couple of hours.. there was a big strike on our street, we had to cut for an early lunch at 10am…but eventually the strike ended and we resumed.

Pashu-Pathi Ganeshan does a marvelous job! How was the casting process?

I put an ad in Backstage, the ordinary way to cast in NY. I used that in my previous short film Locked and it worked great! But with my thesis film AYFL? The Indian actors that showed up were all of British descent, with British accents. When I told them that i wanted to use Indian accents they would feel a slightly offended. And their accents were fake. So I decided to go to the indian neighborhood in NY. I then went to Jersey City and Jackson Heights, and I looked for newspapers targeted to the Indian community and I found one called “India abroad” located in Manhattan, so I went there, paid for an ad and began receiving the most amazing and bizarre phone calls.

One of them was from Pashu pathi Ganeshan, the only thing he asked me was if I minded that he was “xx-feet tall”. Since I had just arrived to NY and I’m a metric system person,  I didn’t get his height, but assumed he was either very tall or short. He was very short, but in my film, i didn’t want to use the height element, so I would always make low angle shots to neutralize that. He was the most amazing character. All the dialogue lines were already written, so the script and his personality worked really well together. He was not the kind of actor that would improvise.

Did you ever consider shooting this with a digital camera?

Never. It was for a class called: “16mm synch sound.” It had to be 16mm film. Arriflex, and I even used a ancient Bolex for the time-lapse shot.

When the film premiered at Sundance, my film was the only 16mm short! They were worried that the mono sound would be a problem for me, but i was very happy with the recognition and the appeal that my “baddy” character had.

The digital world took over and my feature film was shot using red one cameras and one canon D2 for underwater takes! So we all embrace digital technology.

You already have a very impressive first feature that you’ve helmed called Las Malas Intenciones. Are there any current projects you’d like to mention?

The worst transition ever, to go from short film to feature film…It was such a big challenge to make my feature debut, it took me 6 years, but it had a good world premier in Berlinale so that was worth while. Now I’m writing 2 projects, looking into films in English, and always developing stories with the same odd characters!

But there’s another hard transition: from first feature to second. I find myself discarding more ideas now…looking for a second film that something new to say. It’s hard!

Peruvian filmmaker, ROSARIO GARCÍA-MONTERO graduated in Media Studies from the University of Lima. She went on to get a Masters Degree in Film Production from The New School in New York City, where she wrote and directed three short films: Trapped (2002), Are You Feeling Lonely? (2004) and Gloom (2006). Her films went on to screen at Sundance and other international festivals all over the world.