The Spotlight: Constanza & Doménica Castro

FREE THE WORK creators Constanza Castro & Doménica Castro talk about their road to Sundance with “We Are Here.”

By Daisy Gonzalez, Content Specialist for FREE THE WORK.

Directors Doménica and Constanza Castro — “WE ARE HERE” — Photo by Homerknows

The Spotlight is a column in which we follow under-the-radar contenders as they break ground in the festival and awards space.

The distribution process for a project can often be grueling. Deals dissolve, festival admissions/rejections flood inboxes, and organizing finances for PR and marketing during a fest can overwhelm any emerging creator. How does a creator maintain faith during the process? Directors, and sisters, Constanza and Doménica Castro know a little thing or two about persevering through the odds. After their whirlwind tour at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival screening their animated short We Are Here, we sat down for a chat with them to talk about their experience and where they think Latine/x stories will go next.

What led you to “We Are Here”? Has the concept evolved since you first developed it?

Constanza: The concept started as a scripted short film that Doménica wrote in 2020, by a different name. It touched on the same theme — the journey of being an immigrant and getting trapped in a system that completely blocks the dreamer. We wanted to make sure that the writing connected to other immigrants like us, so we shared the script with a couple of people we knew, including those whose stories we ended up featuring. They resonated with the script and during those conversations, they opened up to us about their own stories.

Doménica: That particular short was way too ambitious to be produced during COVID, but their feedback furthered the urgency to tell this story and inspired us to have it told by them. In our conversations, we could hear the warrior inside of the people we’re listening to. We heard the sound of resilience in their stories, and we were able to feel, even throughout the challenges they face, the dreamer inside of them, that dreamer that continues to believe that tomorrow might be the day that they get recognized for their excellence. We pivoted from scripted and thought up a new idea that would convey the same message and would be feasible with the resources we had. That’s how ‘We Are Here’ was born.

Constanza: We created with the idea in mind to photograph a moment in time and in an attempt to deepen awareness and empathy.

As a directing duo, can you tell us about the journey to making this film a reality — what did the process of writing, financing, bringing together a crew, and all other steps leading up to the film’s production look like?

We created the treatment in about a week, as we had a grant to make the film. From the treatment we knew that we didn’t want to shoot the film but rather document it in an unconventional way, animation would give life to these stories by ways of lines, shapes, and colors. We wanted it to feel extremely human. Neither of us had worked in animation previously, so through animation pages on Instagram we discovered Cecilia Reeve’s work. We were captivated by a music video she had animated which seemed like a gorgeous painting had just come to life. We knew Cecilia was the animator we were looking for, so we DM’d her, pitched her the project, and she was in!

We were lucky to bring in some of our most beloved and trusted collaborators. Salvador Pérez Garcia, born in Guadalajara, Mexico, also an immigrant, co-wrote and edited the film. Jesi Nelson, born in Korea, raised in Wisconsin, and now living in LA, composed the beautiful music that accompanies the journey. Jill Bogdanowicz, who colored the film and made it really pop in her artistry and last but not least One Thousand Birds, who guided us through recording the interviews via zoom and some other software to make sure the quality of the sound was impeccable since the film relies so heavily on it.

We could not have asked for a more perfect, loving, talented, passionate team.

We produced and directed the film remotely while working on another project. All our free time went to the film. The film took about 2 months to make.

Still from “WE ARE HERE”

You founded your own production company 271 Films. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about and what your trajectory with it has been since starting it?

271 Films started as a dream. We wanted to build a home for stories that don’t always get made, by artists that don’t always get to make them, where the artists could feel safe to create. Technically, we wanted to build a home for people like us because we felt like we didn’t have a way into the industry, and we’d have to create that space ourselves. But it took us a while to go for it.

When we started to feel an imbalance in the work that pays the bills versus the work that fed the dream, and always grateful for our journey, we knew that in order to build a road to where we wanted to go, we would have to invest our time differently. And that’s when we went for it. We made a scary but exciting decision to focus on telling stories that push boundaries, challenge status quo, provoke, and inspire us; content we want to see. We have a commitment to thoughtful and original storytelling and to embracing artists’ visions, where creativity and craft can flow freely.

271 Films was founded, and we have been able to keep it going, through the immense support and partnership that Rishi Rajani and Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad Productions have provided us by believing in us and our work. Together, we are in Season 2 of the Indeed Rising Voices Mentorship Program, which uncovers and invests in BIPOC directors. The program provides 10 short films with mentorship, support and $100K production budget each, in addition to covid-19 safety costs.

Coming up next we have a doc-series we produced that will be released on a major streaming platform and are developing projects for both film and TV that we are producing and some that we are directing.

Netflix recently canceled “Gentefied” and this comes after a string of other Latinx shows were cut from their networks. What are your hopes for the future of Latine/x storytellers?

We don’t get discouraged because we believe in those filmmakers and recognize the enormous challenge that it was in the first place to have their shows get made. We celebrate them for pioneering the way for us all. Canceling a show won’t cancel our voices. Our hope is that one day the intangible borders that keep us from connecting to stories will disappear as we move forward into a world that sees everyone as a general market and we stop being niche.

What do you wish you knew when you started your career?

We talk about this often, we wish we had known to listen to our instincts and our voice and to value our perspectives. It took us both a long time to realize that we brought a lot to the table and to the stories that we helped create.

What advice do you have for any filmmakers that are new to the festival experience?

First, don’t get discouraged by rejection. Rejection is part of the process and you should use it to hone your voice and skills and try again the next year.

We’d been submitting our work to Sundance for such a long time, getting the dreadful rejection letter time after time, but we never gave up. We never saw rejection as a defining factor of our work or career and we found other ways to get our work seen.

Once you’re in a festival, make sure to prepare, to have a list of goals, but also be ready to let it all go, discover new films and make new friends and together build community and support each other.

Daisy Gonzalez is the Content Specialist for FREE THE WORK. You can connect with her via culture@freethework.com and by following FREE THE WORK on Twitter and Instagram.

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