Camila José Donoso and Nicolás Videla's drama Naomi Cambel takes a look at a transsexual woman in her mid-thirties who works as a spiritual guide and a tarot-card reader. The Chilean film, which had its debut at the South American country's Valdivia International Film Festival and received a Special Mention from the Jury, is screening as part of Art of the Real (April 10-26) on Tuesday evening.
Nicolás Videla & Camila José Donoso, Chile, 2013, 85m
Spanish with English subtitles
Description: The title of Nicolás Videla and Camila José Donoso’s debut feature, a hybrid film centered around the struggle of Yermén, a thirtysomething transgender woman, to finance her sex-change operation, is at once odd and totally fitting. “I’d like to look like Naomi Campbell,” a young woman tells Yermén as the two of them sit in a Santiago hospital waiting room. “Be exactly the same.” Naomi Campbel is a savvy critique of the assumptions—about gender, class, and beauty—that inspire that sort of talk, but it’s also an imaginative embodiment of the trans-ness it celebrates: a documentary with the structure of a fictional character study, and a sleekly shot piece of digital filmmaking punctuated by pixelated, low-grade video footage shot by Yermén herself.
Responses from Camila José Donoso:
On meeting Yermén and the motivation of making Naomi Campbel:
The film is based on the friendship and creative relationship an my co-director Nicolás and I have with Yermén, the protagonist. Our main motivation was to create new ways of looking at the trans community, focusing on the identity of Yermén as other characters in the film are introduced. We also aimed to reverse stereotypes of both the physical aspects of a trans person as well as the place where the film was shot–the suburbs…
On facing challenges:
The biggest challenges with making Naomi Campbel was our desire to portray our friend with dignity while still capturing the complexity of her individual radical thoughts and poetry and reflecting on the history of the trans community. We also wanted to investigate the identity of both Yermén and the film itself. It was a challenge to combine formal aspects of fiction filmmaking with its documentary aspects, particularly Yermén's own [footage] filming herself with a Hi-8 camera.
On influences and filmmakers Donoso admires:
I admire the work of Chilean filmmakers Ignacio Agüero and José Luis Torres Leiva. There are also directors who are not necessarily traditional documentary filmmakers who have inspired me a lot, including Lucrecia Martel, Agnès Varda, and Pedro Costa.
On what's coming up next:
I'm now making my second film, Nona, with the same producing team I worked with on Naomi Campbel. It is the story of Josephine (played by my grandmother) who lives in self-exile at home, recalling a past life with her lover and Molotov cocktails. It's a portrait of a classic, but hardened person. We hope to release it next year.