I often ask myself, how does each of us weave our own responsibilities into the pattern of history? How can I tell stories about human rights and the quest for justice yet engage people who are uninterested or apathetic? And the answer has always brought me back to this idea of the persistence of vision. Just as in cinema, believing that we will create a new art, and with it the possibility of transformation comes from this concept of 24 frames per second that from static images (things the way they are) comes movement (change).
Profound communication only happens when there is persistence — staying committed to people and places where we once made films. In my case, 500 YEARS is the third film in the Guatemalan trilogy, which began in 1982 with When the Mountains Tremble and continued in 2011 with Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. 500 YEARS (2017) takes up the story where Granito left off.
The first time I mentioned I was making a film about Winnie Mandela, it happened to be to a novelist, in a bar in Amsterdam. He screwed up his face and said: “What? That murderer!” His response was echoed on numerous occasions around the world. Nelson Mandela was still perceived as a saint and his wife as the fallen woman, or worse.
At the time, we were having trouble finding backers for the film, and faced a great deal of skepticism at documentary film festivals
The late, great advocate for documentary, Roger Ebert, once said that films serve as empathy machines. “We all are born with a certain package,” he said, as captured in the wonderful Steve James documentary. “We are who we are: Where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person.
The so-called “red states”
There are a lot of people in the middle of the country, the rural areas, the so-called “red states” who may have never met a transgender person in real life. Even in the cities, many of us may fall into the same category. To many, their entire knowledge of the trans experience is through what they have seen in media.
However, I knew that if I was true to the spirit and person of Gigi, viewers would come to empathize and understand in a way they might never otherwise, because as Ebert said, movies do that. Communication is also really at the center of This Is Everything.
How Gigi communicates to her family, especially her father, that she was born a woman. She became famous on YouTube.
She communicated so openly and connected with millions in the process, inviting them into her journey to become a woman. She proved to be a great communicator to her own audience, and through her we had a roadmap as to how to communicate her story to our audience. Once you can understand a person’s background.
Bela Lugosi once famously said, “It is women who love horror. Gloat over it. Feed on it. Are nourished by it. Shudder and cling and cry out — and come back for more.” He was as right then as he is now. Women love horror. And yet here we are in 2017, and even though more than half of all horror film ticket buyers are women, people still believe we aren’t interested in scary stories.