Written and directed by Evelyn Lorena, 'Gabriela' follows a young undocumented Guatemalan woman who dreams of joining a country club swim team in the American South. Despite her single-minded determination, she is soon confronted by her overprotective mother’s fears, by the limitations imposed by her economic and legal status, and by her own self-judgment. As she attempts to find a way around the systems that exclude her, 'Gabriela' is propelled on a journey towards self-acceptance.The film stars Atlanta local Evelyn Lorena(The Resident),Maria Telón(of Golden Globe-nominated film ‘La Llorona’, and Marvel’s ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.’)andViktor White (The Idea of You).
Atlanta Film and TV: 'Gabriela' follows a young undocumented Guatemalan woman, who dreams of joining a country club swim team in the American South. What was the inspiration to write, direct, and star in this film?
Evelyn Lorena: "To be honest, I’m not really sure why I decided to do all of those hats. At first, it all started because of the need to create my own opportunities and explore stories, nuanced stories, that I wasn’t seeing on the screen. So, the job kind of fell that way — that I had to write and direct etc. It was also so precious to me this story that I wasn’t sure another person would understand what I was going for. The acting part came at the inspiration of my LALIFF mentor Oscar Torres and producer Maris Lidaka who mentioned to me how healing playing the part could be. It was an interesting challenge, but I really enjoyed being able to stretch my artistic muscles and be able to tune my awareness in such a way that I could jump from hat to hat."
Atlanta Film and TV:You are a Guatemalan-American who grew up in the south. Throughout the film, Gabriela finds a way around the systems that exclude her, and, in turn, is propelled into a journey towards self-acceptance. As the writer, director, and star of the film, 'Gabriela,' have you had to find your own self-acceptance? If so, can you share how you’ve found it?
Evelyn Lorena: "I have and it hasn’t been easy. I’ve always liked myself and had a certain level of self-respect, but there was an odd twist of fate that sometimes I was placed as an artistic person against others that perhaps did not see the world that way, and that kind of friction or resistance to your own being can be tough growing up. I feel that the biggest part of self-acceptance has been, like 'Gabriela,' learning to accept in a way that you no longer care what anyone has to say about you, even the nay-saying voice in your own head. You simply resign yourself to the fact that you and everything is okay, and you begin to create that safety for yourself, and that helps bring a deeper level of acceptance, I think."
Atlanta Film and TV: What message do you hope to convey through the story of Gabriela?
Evelyn Lorena: "Gosh, I don’t want to influence anyone’s perception of the story too much, but I hope people find a way to find a universal theme of understanding the importance of self-acceptance in the face of resistance or hardship."
Atlanta Film and TV: Were there any challenges you faced during the film process? If so, can you share those with us?
Evelyn Lorena: "I have been very private about this, but I did face a near-death health crisis while I was shooting the film, which made certain things more difficult and I had to stay really disciplined and organized in order to not put myself into peril. Part of that also contributed to how we would shoot our water sequences, and I ended up becoming really resourceful with the help of Brett Copes and Constance Palmer, our stunt coordinators, Emily Marquet, our production designer, and the more production assistance of EUE Screen Gem Studios to shoot our water sequences dry-for-wet. And we spent a lot of pre-production time mapping and organizing how to re-create water. It's really cool what you can do with lights and imagination. Our lighting and gaffing team, Ben Davis and Bean Brambell, were just amazing. All a challenge, but really rewarding to figure out together. I loved this production team so much."
Atlanta Film and TV: What do you hope audiences will take away after watching 'Gabriela?'
Evelyn Lorena: "Compassion and love. Cliche? I don’t think so. I really look for that in art. Is it creating more compassion and love in the world? Letting you truly see a person for all their nuances. I’m not sure why seeing another person in their full humanity creates this … magical experience for each of us, but it does. And I hope people connect with Gabriela in some form or another. Empathy is really important to me and a cornerstone of my work."
Official Trailer of 'Gabriela.'
'Gabriela' will premiere in-person at the 47th edition of the Atlanta Film Festival on Thursday, April 27th at the Plaza Theater | LeFont Auditorium @ 7pm.