Cinema Femme met up with talented Laura Baumeister, helmer of “Daughter of Rage,” the first narrative feature directed by a Nicaraguan woman. The movie, world-premiered in the Discovery section of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (September 8-18), follows 11-year-old María (Araceli Alejandra Medal), who lives with her mom Lilibeth (Virginia Raquel Sevilla Garcia) near Nicaragua’s biggest landfill, an oppressive place where the pair scramble to survive by recycling metal scraps and breeding their dog to sell the puppies. During our chat, we spoke about Baumeister’s sources of inspiration, her casting choices and the challenges of directing and producing in Nicaragua.
What is the socio-political context which inspired the making of your film?
I started working on “Daughter of Rage” in 2017. Back then, I had already shot some short movies which explored the mother-daughter relationship in different settings, so this theme was something I was very interested in. When it came the moment to work on my first feature, I wanted to continue exploring this theme as well as the ‘frontiers’ between humans and animalhood, and how fantasy and reality could merge. I wondered in which space this exploration could occur. I remembered there was a place I saw in Nicaragua when I was a teenager, and that was the dump. Also, I did some teaching there as part of my school work. […] The background behind this film is that of a very unpredictable country in terms of social changes and politics. When I began working on it, the situation was a bit more stable, but while the project kept growing, many more political conflicts emerged…
So the situation worsened over the last few years…
Yes, there’s more political instability.
How did you cast the two leads?
I went the ‘old-school’ way. We launched a casting call. There are no acting schools or casting agencies in Nicaragua. We used Facebook, Instagram and radio ads. The woman playing the mother [Sevilla Garcia] is a theater actress, and I found her two years before entering production so that we could work a lot together. For the role played by Araceli [Alejandra Medal, who portrays young María], my casting director and I met almost 300 kids. She really caught our attention.
She didn’t have any prior experience, right?
No, not at all.
You managed to craft a story which feels really authentic but gradually becomes more of a magic realist tale. What were the main production challenges you dealt with?
The biggest challenge was, in a broader sense, making a movie in a country with no industry or funds, and no expertise you can rely on in terms of crew and collaborators. How can we film in Nicaragua and tell a Nicaraguan tale? I found really nice collaborators who understood [the nature of my work], and it was like a snowball effect. Of course, working in a dump has some hygienic implications. Also, it has a strong emotional impact. It confronts you. And, we did work with the members of the local community to make sure that they could feel safe, and most of the secondary characters and extras we cast were people who live there.
I was curious to know what kind of instructions you gave to your DP, [Teresa Kuhn] and your composers [Jean Baptiste de Laubier and Arthur Simonini]…
I’ve been working together with my DP for almost ten years, so we really know each other. Before filming, she traveled to Nicaragua already six times, so we didn’t have this type of relationship where she needed instructions to follow. We designed the visual world together and it was a long process, but [we were aware that] we were entering a very ‘dark painting.’ We needed to envision it, but we also needed to put some hints of light in order to create a contrast. For me, it was always all about a game between light and darkness, which coexist in this type of story and, more generally, in life. How can we ‘compact’ this contrast and render it visually? [Speaking about the score], how can we create an unsettling, atmospheric music, along with notes and melodies which could deliver more uplifting vibrations and emotions?
I believe you render such contrast also by ‘placing’ the puppies together with the dirt of the landfill. Their presence is really heartwarming. Against all odds, you show there’s still for room for life, affection…
Yes, but there’s also Maria’s relationship with Tadeo [newcomer Carlos Gutierrez]. In this context, where there are evident signs of exploitation and lot of things are going wrong, there’s this standard guy willing to help you just because he’s that way, [to prove that] tenderness and joy can still come, unexpectedly.
How hard is to be a director in Nicaragua and what type of obstacles as a woman in film did you face?
Well, as I was saying there’s no industry in this country. So there’s not yet a talk about men and women, because there’s not much happening. Of course, I knew Nicaragua’s history of film, and I knew this was going to be one of the few opportunities to show ‘parts’ of our country, of our spirit… So it wasn’t much about being the first or the second [woman directing a narrative feature]. It was more about cinema’s mission to build our identity, our memories, our culture… […] [I asked myself]: what do I want to portray? This is why I wanted to emphasize the ‘collision’ between reality and imagination. I think it’s something quite common within my culture.
What women filmmakers inspire you?
I think Lucrecia Martel is a goddess. I really connect with her work and admire her. She’s taught me a lot with her cinema. From Europe, I love Andrea Arnold. But I could mention thousands.
Are you already working on some new projects?
I’m working on two features. One is a post-horror movie, which is about violence against women and it’ll be a vengeance story. The other is a love story. I feel the need to tell a love story after exploring the intensity of the ‘other’ spectrum of emotions.