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Female-Driven Stories Shine as Canada Looks South at #VLAFF2015

Gigi Saul Guerrero in Dis Pleis

As the 13th Vancouver Latin American Film Festival (VLAFF), the largest festival of Latin American cinema in Canada, kicks off on September 3rd, two made-in-Vancouver shorts stand out in the fest's fifth annual "Canada Looks South" section.

Fans of Gigi Saul Guerrero, a rising star in the horror scene, will have the opportunity to see the actress in a new light. In Rosaura Lezama's Dis Pleis, Guerrero stars as Victoria, an awkward Mexican immigrant unable to communicate with her dominant sister.

The title Dis Pleis refers to the phonetic way a Spanish-speaking person would pronounce "this place."

"The role of Victoria had personal struggles I could relate to. When I moved to Vancouver, to Canada, I remember how hard it was to fit in right away. Learning a new language was also an intense experience," says Guerrero, who is currently working on her first feature film as a director. "Dis Pleis had a new sense of style that I had never tried before. When Rosaura invited me to do the role I was really excited to try it out! I am so used to the horror scene right now that it felt extremely refreshing to try something new and exciting!"

The film is Lezama's thesis film from the Film Production program at UBC and was shot in East Vancouver in the spring of 2014.

Lezama, a born Mexican, got together with Chloe Rose, a UBC Creative Writing grad, with the rough idea of two Mexican sisters struggling to get along in Vancouver and living together in a complex relationship. She also knew she wanted the first half of the film to be in colour, and the second half in black and white.

"I love to play with structure as much as I can," says the director. "In the first half of the film, Frida (Fiona Maclean) is the protagonist, trying to 'make it', moving and shaking. She is dreamy and career-oriented, she is an artist and in her mind, the world is full of possibilities, hence the colorful visuals."

Midway through the film, Lezama pays homage the short film The Cabbage Fairy by Alice Guy-Blaché, the first woman film director, in a remarkable dream sequence, before changing perspective to Victoria.

"It is very important for me to portray Hispanic characters that don't fit the simple stereotypes ingrained in pop culture," adds Lezama, who received a Best Production Design award at UBC's POV Festival for her art design, which included gothic-looking twin dolls, symbolizing the sisters' relationship.

"I come from a visual arts background, so I designed this style to fit the character of Frida. It's Salvador Dalí meets grandma's house with a little innocent twist.

"The wonderful Chloe [Rose] was the mind behind all the sharp beats and dialogue," says Lezama about her screenwriter, who explains the shift to black and white is meant to clearly separate the two sisters and their states of mind.

"The audience can't have a clear picture of the girls' lives when the sisters themselves are unable to communicate with one another," says Rose. "Rosaura stressed the importance of miscommunication from the very start, and the visual switch from colour to black and white is an important part of that!"

Dis Pleis won two other awards at UBC's 2015 POV film festival, Best Lead Actress (Maclean), and the Women in Film Award for Lezama.


Dis Pleis (2015) - Promotional CLIP from Rosaura Lezama on Vimeo.

Penning Down the Pity

Celina Drysdale-Henríquez' short The Last Time I Saw You is just five minutes long, but the emotional intensity of this one-woman production is unforgettable.

Inspired by true heartache, Drysdale-Henríquez tells the story of a young woman who writes a letter to the older man that rejected her. Shot in a single night with just a block of paper, a pen and an iPhone at hand, the enticing narrator unravels a seemingly random stream of consciousness, penned on handwritten notes, and edited together at an accelerated pace.

"It was fuelled by creative insanity," says Drysdale-Henríquez. "I started writing at about 7 or 8 in the evening, and didn't finish until 5 am the next day. I filmed with my iPhone, at first in longer segments and then trying to load them to my computer, but I figured out pretty quickly how frustratingly inefficient that was. I started taking very short 10-30 second clips, holding the phone in one hand and writing with the other. Then I emailed each video to myself and uploaded them onto my computer where I sped them up."

Celina Drysdale-HenriquezDrysdale-Henríquez then timed the speed of the writing to the narration, which she recorded in the concrete stairwell of her apartment building, because she loved the sound.

"Love is my strongest inspiration in all I do, whether or not I want it to be," says the filmmaker, Canadian daughter to the Chilean documentarian Carmen Henríquez. "I'm very proud to be able to honour both sides of myself through 'Canada Looks South'. I've never really felt completely one or the other."

Anne-Mary Mullen, Senior Programmer and General Manager for VLAFF, explains what drew her to these two short films:

"They are both written and directed by young women artists, living in Vancouver, negotiating the spaces and complexities of intimate relationships; and how these relationships inform, challenge and motivate the women's emerging identities as artists. In both films, the voices are strong and full of energy for life and the possibilities it may hold, in spite of the struggles and rites of passage they must go through."

The Last Time I Saw you precedes Viaje on FRIDAY, SEPT. 4 at 7:15PM & SUNDAY, SEPT. 6 at 1pm.

Dis Pleis precedes Natural Philosophy of Love on SUNDAY, SEPT. 6 at 7:15pm & TUESDAY, SEPT. 8 at 9:15pm.


by Katja De Bock

Photography courtesy of the filmmakers:

Key photo: Gigi Saul Guerrero in Dis Pleis.

Production still of Dis Pleis L-R:  Dina Attalla, Cinematographer, Rosaura Lezama and Producer/Editor Alex MarriottStill image credit: Leen Issa.

The last photo shows filmmaker Celina Drysdale-Henríquez

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