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.
Courtesy Daniel Armando Arlene Chico-Lugo as Adina in What it Was.
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.
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.