Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival: What It Was Features Latina Damsel in Destruction

Daniel Armando is a director and art director best known for Boys Like You (2011). His MGLFF debut, What it Was, tells the story of Adina, a successful Latina actress who returns to New York after devastating life events, only to find herself lost in a dreamscape.

The highly-stylized film follows Adina as she makes intense connections with a butch artist, a college student, and an ex-girlfriend. The whole thing has a purposeful ethereal quality.

"The look I was going for was a look of intimacy, like a dance between two lovers or a person quietly finding solace in prayer," the director said. "I wanted the colors in the film to feel and look soft and nostalgic, and the camera to be close to the actors eyes and lips. I was constantly seeking for that high level of candid affection and that feel of warm coziness."

Armando recently spoke with Cultist about the film, the lack of representation of Latinos in film, and his first visit to Miami.

See also: MGLFF: Jon Bush Takes Miami To "Club King" Mario Diaz's Party

Cultist: Tell us a little about what the film is about:

Daniel Armando: The film is about a woman who, after leaving her crumbling Hollywood marriage, returns back to her home, New York. She returns back to a state of mind she hasn't been in since she was a teenager. She finds herself in a haze of memories, desires, and longing, and once again repeats unhealthy behavioral patterns she can't let go. It's a tragic story of sexual frustration and self-destruction.

What inspired you to take on this project?

What inspired me to take on this project was the opportunity to explore sexuality and identity. In this case, it's from the point of view of a woman, a Latina. In seeing this character explore and search for her sexual identity and freedom, it was fascinating to see the emotional depth and vulnerability that can occur, especially between two women. The level of comfort and intimacy they are capable of sharing is really beautiful.

Tell us about Adina and her journey:

Adina is a curious person. She's playful and mischievous, but also very much a sensitive soul with insecurities and doubt. The journey Adina is on is a journey of pain and suffering, silent suffering. Her quest is to find answers to questions she can't express. When we first see her, she is still filled with emotional pain. Then, slowly, we see her begin to unravel and weave through that pain and grab on to any kind of hope or excitement that will wake her up and fulfill her.

What was your favorite moment during filming?

Not so much as being a favorite as it was just in general a memorable moment was the day we shot the body painting scene with Arlene Chico-Lugo (Adina). I remember the prep work we did for that. We had meetings, discussions, instructions, all kinds of preparing for this moment. When it finally came time to shoot that scene, it was inspiring and amazing to watch her take us all in this personal journey, and it was courageous of her to let us capture every minute of it. It was the first time she had been nude in front of a camera, be painted nude and act in front of a camera. With only me, the two actors, the director of cinematography, and the actual body artist in the room, we gently went through the process of shooting Arlene be painted nude with care and respect and a high level sensitivity. There was this spiritual energy in the room. It was the first time I felt like we were capturing something bigger than all of us. I know, for Arlene, it was a very liberating "once-in-a-life-time" experience that she can now say she has had.

How do you feel about What it Was being part of MGLFF's line up this year?

It feels wonderful to have What it Was be included in this year's Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. This festival has made huge contributions to the LGBT community, and it continues to bring forth great stories through film. We are honored and grateful for the opportunity to share our work with MGLFF audiences. Many great films have passed through this festival, and to be joining those films is amazing and humbling.

Will you be coming to town for the festival?

This will be my first time in Florida, and what a great way to experience it. I plan to attend as many films as I can and enjoy what Miami and MGLFF has to offer. Coming from New York, it will be a nice change of weather and scenery -- can't wait.

What do you feel is the message of the film, if there is one?

The message of the film that comes to mind is from that old saying that RuPaul has now so lovingly adopted which is "If you don't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?" It all begins with you and your peace of mind, and once that's in order, you can begin to recognize that peace in others and share in it.

Do you feel that Latino lead characters are underrepresented in film?

I feel we don't have enough Latinos writing lead Latino characters. It's a responsibility I think I have as a writer to always keep my Latino brothers and sisters in mind and minorities in general in mind. If I don't write for people who look like myself, who will? The LGBT community is growing, the Latino community is growing, the artist community is growing, and I have high hopes that one day they will all mature and blossom into something beautiful and extravagant that will not be denied. It's very exciting and I feel very fortunate to be living in a time where, once again, change is occurring and things are indeed getting better.

MGLFF presents the East Coast premiere of What it Was on Wednesday, May 7, at 6:30 p.m. at O Cinema Miami Shores. Tickets cost $12. Visit mglff.com.

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