Part of the line up of the 9th season of Motionpoems, Mariposa brings together Director Kristian Mercado Figueroa (who last joined us on DN with award-winning music video Pa’lante) and contemporary poet Rachel Inez Marshall for an exploration of single motherhood and the emotional gaps which exist between generations of Latinx women. Touched by this lyrical contemplation of the maternal bond, we spoke to Figueroa about remaining true to the original poem’s themes whilst portraying the Latinx experience on screen.
How did you come to create a film for the 9th season of Motionpoems and what was the process which led to you being paired with Rachel Inez Marshall’s poem?
It was a cool process since it’s pretty freeform. You get a list of poems and poets, and I picked two that I was drawn to cause they had themes that felt important to the Latinx community. I did a few scratch reads and ended up being drawn more to Rachel’s poem, as it kept feeling like a reflection on motherhood, and in turn made me think about my own mother and the mothers in my life, so I wanted to explore that visually.
The more I read and listened to the poem the more I felt it was important to show gaps, and have multiple women reading the poem. I think it’s meant to make you reflect on generations communicating, looping, and maybe even fighting against each other, even when driven by the same words. I was interested in showing Latinx woman of different ages and ranges and reflecting on the gaps and spaces between them.
As with Pa’lante before it, you return to your Puerto Rican roots here. Could you share the ways in which you felt the poem chimed with the maternal/female Latinx experience you wanted to depict on screen?
I def wanted to explore my own roots more, just been drawn to that more and more, and I want to carve out a path for more of that work to exist in the world. I think the Latinx experience is a very unique one that hasn’t been explored completely and I’m very interested in finding it. I think a lot of it came out of wanting to show a feeling that relates to my own mother, and how hard that life experience was, but how that is a story a lot of people can relate to.
I wanted to fluidly explore how we might find ourselves being closer to our parents than we care to admit.
I wanted to explore multiple women sharing a story, and overlapping between them seamlessly cause they are all living one narrative, so time and space converge in a strange way. Is the little girl the mother growing up, or is it a mother and daughter. I wanted to fluidly explore how we might find ourselves being closer to our parents than we care to admit. I think that’s always something interesting, either trying to recognize or deny the differences between one’s self and their parents.
How closely did you work with Rachel Inez Marshall when devising the film?
Her words lead it, and the film wouldn’t exist without her words, but with poetry, I felt it was important to create an impression of her words in an evocative way. We barely spoke till after the film was made, which kind of made the process exciting, cause I def felt like I wanted to give her words breath, and make them come alive in a way that she would be happy with the film being attached to her poem. I think in that way it felt a bit like an exquisite corpse, I think with poems it’s nice when someone projects their own read into it. Even in the film, I’m inviting people to make connections themselves and allow the story to become their own version of it. I think it’s important to allow the audience that space.
One of my favourite elements of the film is the multi-voiced reading of the poem. How early into the process did you decide on that delivery and how did the soundtrack, in turn, influence the flow of images?
It took a lot of weird exploring to find that. Originally I even played with the idea of a man and woman sharing the dialog to create even more mystery, but I ended up really settling on the idea that the voices should be telling one story and the men should be absent if possible to really focus on the notion that the men have failed these woman in different ways. I like when the voices go from child to mother, and even the sounds of the infant help create this narrative in a piece that’s really more a feeling, but the feeling is evoked by the subtly of having that generational gap tie together.
I really enjoy having things break in ways that are unexpected and keep viewers guessing.
Mariposa contains an animated glimpse of the butterfly from the title. Why did you choose to use animation for that sequence and what about Anne Beal’s style felt right for the film?
I love mix media, and I really enjoy having things break in ways that are unexpected and keep viewers guessing. I wanted to reflect on Motherhood and Spanish Harlem as a location, maybe because it’s not seen in film often, and in the same way I want to give the film a moment to breath and feel like a rebirth. I wanted to feel a mother and daughter connecting in a dreamlike way because it’s animated it’s not a fulfillment of that connection. That connect feels strongest in life when we’re a child, and our mother cares of us, but then the rest of our lives we’re building our own identity and in a way, we’re always separating, maybe sometimes wishing we could return to that moment.
For me having the moment animated with Anne Beal’s watercolor animation gave it all a dreamlike quality that helped show that we might all pine for that moment subconsciously, that we remember it but it’s not easy to get back to it once we are separated. I’ve been a fan of her work for a while and jumped on the chance to jam with her. I really love the gesture of her animation and felt we needed that gesture in the film.
What will we see from you next?
I’m def working on a lot, but I have more shorts in the works, and some other projects I can’t chat too much about but am super excited about!
Mariposa is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.