Director Flavio Alves and actress Carlie Guevara joined Solzy at the Movies to discuss The Garden Left Behind during the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
This interview got a bit crazy. Not in a bad way mind you but more so because a fire alarm went off while it was taking place. This was definitely a first to say the least. Anyway, we did the final minutes of this interview outside of the hotel. I would have loved to talk longer but I needed to get to another film.
The Garden Left Behind managed to take home a SXSW Audience Award in the Visions program.
The Garden Left Behind is such a beautiful film but it’s also so heartbreaking. What led you to tell the film in this way?
Flavio Alves: I had worked on the script for almost two years. I did that in consultation with the trans community. For me, it was hard to start out that way because—nobody was the reality. This was not the story that you don’t think twice before writing. We worked with the trans community in helping to shape the story of Tina, the main character. After interviewing members of trans community especially trans women of color, we realized that violence is a part of the experience. I think would be a disservice for me as a director and also a screenwriter not to have it as a part of the narrative and part of this story. That’s why I thought it was important to have it. I agree this is hard but let’s not forget that. The larger picture is that violence is part of the experience and that’s what I try to emphasize with the people and why it’s important to have in there.
One of the things that I love about the film is that all the trans roles are played by trans actors. How important was this?
Flavio Alves: Formal presentation as important. As a queer Latino filmmaker, I know what it feels like to be an outsider. I feel obligated to tell a story that we present that experience. So by having them work with us, we make it more authentic. But not just people that work in front of the camera but also people that work behind the camera. For example, Devin Michael Lowe is our associate producer. What’s interesting about that in making this film, I was challenged by Devin as well. As a filmmaker, I’m not used to being challenged by other people because I’m the director—I’m in control of this boat. But if you want to make a film that represents the life experience—that day to day life—if you want to give a voice to them, you have to let them speak. By having people in front the camera and behind the camera, my hope is that eventually they will shine. They will be able to be in control of their own narratives or even get in the director’s chair.
Can you talk about the role that GLAAD played in the film?
Flavio Alves: Having not just only GLAAD but also PFLAG and NALIP—NALIP represents the Latino voice—is important because to have them standing behind you, it is a good sign and a good indication that that you’re doing the right spot. Having their validation is so important because those are part of my community. I’m Latino, I’m a gay man, and having them is just like having the support to make sure that I’m in the right direction and I’m telling the right story that I’m helping to view this story in a positive way. Having GLAAD was the best partnership that I could ever had.
Carlie, this is your first feature role. How thrilled are you for the opportunity?
Carlie Guevara: Outstandingly thrilled. It was a really great experience to be part of my first feature film. I learned so much that it’s unimaginable what goes into making a movie that you wouldn’t think of otherwise.
What was it that attracted you to the role?
Carlie Guevara: I think reading the script and really identifying with Tina’s life. I felt akin to her and her actions and her thoughts. Auditioning for the role for me was very comfortable because I felt this is me. I see myself saying these things. I see myself reacting in this way. It’s really an extension in terms of I guess how I felt about the world at the time. The shoe fit basically for the role.
What are your thoughts on the current state of transgender representation in TV and film?
Carlie Guevara: That’s a very complex question. I for sure think that this movie and a lot of other movies are a step in the right direction. I do think that trans women should be playing trans roles and trans men should be—I mean not just because we’re trans but I think a lot goes into the transition that the physicality of it can’t really be replicated by someone else. I think that in terms of representation overall in media, I think it’s getting better. Even in society, we’re getting jobs and a lot of people are starting to see us as a part of society.
This is when the fire alarm went off and instead of waiting around, we did the rest of the interview outside of the hotel.
As a transgender actress, do you typically have a hard time finding work?
Carlie Guevara: I would say the fields that I’ve worked in, no. I come from working in fine arts so museums and different institutions related to fine art. For some reason, I’ve been able to find my way in the field. In terms of acting, I’ve had a few experiences and they’ve been very open and the doors have been there for me. But I know that it if it wasn’t for the work laid before for the girls and everyone who came behind me not just the girls but the men—everyone who did a lot of work—then those doors probably wouldn’t have been open.
This is a film that isn’t shy on the challenges facing the transgender community. We see both a happy and sad moment for Tina in the film. What was the reasoning in deciding to go in this direction?
Flavio Alves: I think being honest to this story. As I said, it would be it’s a disservice not to forget as a part of the narrative. As hard as it can be, I hope that people understand what the trans women and trans men have to deal with on a daily basis in terms of what they with violence in the streets. If I as a director who have done different films and worked with marginalized communities and I understood that if you write two stories—one about a cis woman and one about a trans woman of color—it doesn’t matter how we tell this story. The path that they walk would be different. I also understand that the conversation is changing and the landscape is shifting, which is good. I hope that eventually this film will help but shine a light on the specific needs and the struggles and help educate people about the plight. That’s my hope.
The Garden Left Behind is currently seeking distribution.
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