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Lina Rodriguez and Brad Deane, Senoritas

The writer-director and producer talk about crafting their story of a young Bogota woman finding her place in the world.

Lina Rodriguez’s Senoritas, which had its world premiere this week in Cartagena, is about a young woman, Alejandra, growing up in a comfortable middle class life in Bogota; she has a “close but complicated” circle of friends. Rather than focus on hugely dramatic events, the film explores her time navigating the world in different ways – from her time alone to time with friends and flirtatious boys to time with her mother; and the transition times in between when she’s putting on make-up or simply walking down the street.

The film could be a Colombian cousin to Lena Dunham’s Girls (which Rodriguez hasn’t yet watched) – although wildly different stylistically it also shows young women trying to navigate their place in the world. The carefully crafted film certainly feels like something completely new in Colombian cinema.

Rodriguez, who grew up in Bogota and moved to Toronto to attend university, has previously made shorts, experimental video, performance art and installation work. She is also a senior publicist at the Toronto International Film Festival. Her partner and producer, Brad Deane, is a programmer for TIFF and Toronto’s Bell Lightbox.

Of the inspiration for the film, Rodriguez says: “I think it came from my own experience growing up as a woman. I entered my 20s when I was in Toronto, and it made me think about what kind of person you want to be… [The film is] very specific, set in Bogota, I wanted to base it on some of my own experiences growing up as a woman and wanting to know how women are negotiating expectations of themselves and each other, and their families and friends and the men they meet.”

Making the film in Bogota wasn’t a question for her. “Shooting here was just natural. I wanted to make a film in Colombia. It’s also about the curiosity I have of how women experience this now. Colombia is a huge part of me.”

Rodriguez and Deane’s Toronto-based company Rayon Vert produced and self-financed Senoritas, which went on to receive a grant from the Ontario Arts Council. They say the film was mostly made “outside the system in both Canada and Colombia.”

Casting calls took place at the house of Rodriguez’ grandmother. They cast a mix of professional and non-professional actors (as well as the director’s mother, deftly playing Alejandra’s mother).

Casting also played a valuable role in development. “I also wanted to use casting as a research tool to feel the temperature of young people right now, what kind of music are they listening to and what kind of places are they hanging out,” Rodriguez explains.

The actual shoot encouraged the actors to work within a framework, but not with all the dialogue strictly scripted. “It was about having actors and non-actors being open and trusting me. I really wanted to be surprised by things and find things during the process,” Rodriguez adds.

She and Deane edited the film together. “We made very specific choices with the edits,” Deane says.

Adds Rodriguez: “Even if the conversations seem banal or even if their worries seem trivial, I wanted to focus on those moments. It’s not about big dramatic moments; it’s about the quotidian in everyday life.”

As a work in progress, Senoritas won the Sinsistema Award at the 2012 Buenos Aires Lab at BAFICI. Deane says: “It was nice to have that support to keep things moving along.”

The film-makers were impressed by packed houses at the premiere at the Festival Internacional de Cine Cartagena de Indias (FICCI), Latin America’s oldest film festival. “I’d love for young people to see the film and respond and see themselves,” the director adds.

Rodriguez and Deane have other feature ideas in the works. Deane plans to direct a film to be shot in Toronto and Rodriguez is writing a second feature to be shot in Colombia. She says: “It’s a family drama. It’s still going to be an intimate story but it’s about a father trying to figure out what to do with his life when something changes. He’s trying to move forward and relate to his daughter. It’s continuing my interest in intimate moments that you can tell from gesture and body language.”

Senoritas continues screening in Cartagena on Feb 26.

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