“Her Mother’s Daughter” is an emotional portrait of a volatile and challenging mother-daughter relationship, explored through dance and motion. Mother and daughter live together, yet lead separate lives, each in their own isolated world.
In these separate lives, each finds a degree of satisfaction and contentment, in strikingly parallel ways – through the purity and joy of natural things. However, when brought together, echoes of past pain and loss haunt the pair and expose their vulnerability, leading to cycles of conflict, fear and even violence. Ironically, they each crave the same thing from the other – understanding and acceptance. Can resolution be achieved and love restored? It’s possible, but only through forgiveness, communication and grace.
We interviewed Alejandra Cadena-Perez regading her film. Alejandra has a master of fine arts and her film has premiered in many film festivals in the past year. It was our pleasure to speak to Alejandra about her film and her work as a filmmaker.
How did you start making films, and what was the first film project you worked on?
I grew up seeing my mother filming with her SONY Handycam at all family gatherings, holidays, birthdays, vacations, and once in a while, capturing everyday silly things. Later in my teens, I picked up her camera to understand her fascination. I later understood the goal was to encapsulate time, to bend it later to tell the story behind every shot. In addition to my mother's love for capturing memories, I was influenced by my countries' fascination for stories. I grew up in Mexico, where telenovelas and watching movies are a necessity, like bread and tortillas. Hence, I observed how stories evolved and how images moved people. I understood the importance and power of storytelling and its importance in shaping cultural identity and beliefs. I started my storytelling career as a trained professional jazz and folklore dancer, where I used movement and body to project emotions. Years later, I wanted to go deeper, so I studied psychology to understand human behavior.
And recently, with more life experiences and more clarity about life, I decided to pick up where I left off, and started developing and creating stories with universal themes. My first film was a video essay about my place in the big city as a content individual, yet searching for more. My second film, called "YESPIRATION" - 2019, is a personal short documentary film about the dedication, discipline, and joys of being a long-distance runner. This film was officially selected at four Film Festivals and was an Award Winner at the "Sport Movies and TV 2020 Festival", Milan, Italy. My third film, and first fiction hybrid film, is "Her Mother's Daughter" - 2019 featured in this magazine. Thus far, the film has been officially selected to ten Film Festivals worldwide (USA, Europe, and Asia) and winner of two awards; 2nd Place Student Film – “United Latino Film Festival 2020”, USA, and Award Winner at “L'Age d'Or International Arthouse Film Festival 2019”, India.
What genre of filmmaking fascinates you as a filmmaker and why?
As I mentioned, Mexico is my place of birth, and my culture has influenced my imagination and my preference for creating and appreciating stories. We have a story for everything. We have stories about how our city originated, stories of miracles, reports of a virgin that later became the nation's mother, ancient tales, good and evil spirits, celebrating the death, and much more. Consequently, I am fascinated by stories about alternative realities, magic, symbolism, the unknown, and surrealism.
What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker in the film industry?
There are many challenges, from legal, insurance, financing, finding the right talent, finding the story, writing the story, planning, etc. However, I think there are three significant challenges for an independent filmmaker. One is to find your team, people you can rely on because they know their job. The second is figuring out where to put your film, which festivals to submit, and what platforms are adequate for the film. And lastly, finding (or waiting for) the agent to help distribute your film.
How difficult is it to fund indie films?
I think nowadays with crowdfunding, and social media is a little easier (I haven't done crowdfunding myself, but I know a friend that reached his goal in a short period). I am optimistic that there will be more financial and mentoring support in the future for independent filmmakers and projects with diverse stories and diverse talent.
Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work?
Hard to pick only three. But I will mention some. Not to be biased, but I love the work of the "Three Amigos," Mexican Directors Alejandro Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro, and Alfonso Cuarón. However, I will select only one from the group so I can add two more. I appreciate Alejandro's work for his long takes, his way of interconnected stories within a story, and for his global themes and surrealist imagery. My second favorite director is Shirin Neshat because of her versatility as an artist, her use of dichotomies to convey her message, and her organic and earthy storytelling way. My third is Luis Bunuel because I watched his movies when I was younger.
What inspired you to work on Her Mother's Daughter and how did the film go into production?
Her Mother's Daughter was born from a personal family experience. For years, my mother and sister have had a conflicting relationship. I would always observe from afar to try to understand, intervened, nevertheless feeling helpless. I know they love each other, but they are unwilling to talk about the issues and confront them, yet both want the same thing: love and understanding from each other. This film was part of my end of the first-year MFA Film project.
How did you find the cast and the crew of the film? Tell us more about the production of the film and working on the set of the film to create this feature.
Many things were going through my mind when I was deciding who to cast for the film. I was hoping for two leading ladies with strong acting skills, strong dance backgrounds, Hispanics, of a certain age, and that looked alike to portray mother and daughter resemblance. After some thinking, I decided to go for the "person" versus the skills, meaning that I wanted to do this film with two leading ladies passionate about the project with a professional sense of work. Once I met Pricilla Regalado (played Mother) and Stephanie Bastos (played Daughter), I knew they were the right people for the film because they were both Hispanics, with dance experience, and were memorable. Pricilla was a 70-year-old dancer, and Stephanie was a dancer with a physical disability, and to me, that was what I was looking for; two people that were looking for the opportunity to shine and show their best. They didn't disappoint; they gave it all during the rehearsals and shooting days. I was so lucky to have found them; they were both fantastic individuals, had a passion for dance and the project, and had the right look. I am hoping to be as lucky next time. Jake Russell was my Director of Photography. I met Jake at a film festival a year earlier. He was living in Paris, and while interviewing for DP's, he kept popping up on my mind. I kept telling myself: if you don't ask, you don't get, so one day, I sent him an email, explained the story, the cast, rate, setting, and the opportunity to do a dance film. He thought about it for some days, but then he agreed to fly from Paris to San Francisco to shoot the film. I was thrilled because he had experience with steady cams, which I needed for the dance scenes. He was very professional and very giving to the project as well. I found the rest of the crew on Facebook. I posted a note about the film on a film group and responses of people wanting to be part of the film. On the first day of shooting, I was hoping they would show up, and they did, and the next day, and the next. I was delighted they showed up to work hard for the 3-day shooting. I felt incredibly lucky to have found people I never met yet committed 100 % for the love of filmmaking. I couldn't have asked for a better crew. It was a marvelous crew.
What do you recommend to other filmmakers regarding the distribution of independent feature films?
I recommend for things to happen, you first need to do something you genuinely believe in. It is the snowball effect where you start with the idea that is yours, developing the concept with passion, and then make it a reality. In the end, you feel proud of the result, and then you let the cards fall where they might, knowing you did your best. Opportunities come to you when you believe in yourself, and believe in abundance after you have done your part. Distribution is a bonus; the process is what counts.
What is your next film project, and what are you currently working on?
My next film project is an experimental short film call "H2O: Home, Hope, Origin" about identity, origin, and transformation told through the POV of a woman's experience, referencing her identity and the women in her life before her. The short film will also be a three-channel video art installation. I'm in the post-production phase of the project.
Why do you make films?
I make films and art because I believe we as a species need art to help us move through life, give us hope, and gain different perspectives of what is real and what is not. I hope with my films and art to convey messages of positivism and compassion towards others, the environment, and all living things. I believe imagination and creativity can take us to places and spaces of possibilities. Where there are possibilities, there is freedom, and where there is freedom, there are no limits. One can't change time, but we can bend it. We are part of the chaos, but art can help create order to live in disorder. The disorder means being in harmony wit time, changes, and the evolution of things.