Interview by Ruby Reelout
Over the holidays I had the opportunity to speak with director Laurie Colbert. She has co-directed multiple documentaries and one feature film (Finn’s Girl) with her partner, Dominique Cardona. After working and living together for almost two decades, their most recent film has been selected as part of Reelout’s 2013 programme. Margarita, which has already received awards from Canada and abroad, stars Nicola Correia-Damude (Degrassi: The Next Generation) as the illegal Mexican nanny working for a Toronto family that’s facing some challenges of their own. As if parenting a teenager (Maya Ritter, Finn’s Girl) wasn’t enough, parents Gail and Ben (Claire Lautier and Patrick McKenna) are now facing some major financial issues after their amateur investments leave them broke. Even though Margarita has effectively raised their daughter and kept their home from falling apart, the parents decide to let her go in the hopes of saving some money. Hopelessly devoted to her commitment-phobic partner (Christine Horne) and suddenly facing deportation, Margarita uses humour, passion and strength to overcome the social injustices that affect so many of us.
You [and Dominique] have been working together for two decades, plus managing the ups and downs of a relationship off the set – did your personal life serve as an inspiration for the struggles that Gail and Ben face during the film?
Laurie: Oh, the parents? They really have nothing to do with us whatsoever. [Laughs] We were more interested in well-intentioned people parenting and then hiring someone to do that as their job… but not that sort of ‘California story’ where the nanny has to sleep out in the barn, can’t touch the kitchen, etc. It was very Toronto-centric in that way – families integrating nannies into their homes and initially, not quite handling the situation, but not out of any kind of malice or meanness; They actually quite love the nanny. In fact, I have friends who have nannies and even after their children have gone off to university, the nanny has stayed to sort of cook and clean which is very ‘Canadian’
Ruby:The character of Mali, played by the brilliant Maya Ritter is certainly emblematic of today’s youth who are growing up in a world where the gay rights movement is continuing to grow and gain support from young people. Since the theme for our festival this year is YOUTH, what is it about your film that may appeal to younger audiences and what should a younger audience member glean from this complex story?
Laurie:We’ve showed [the film] to quite a few teenagers and they’ve actually loved it for very different reasons. I think from a youth perspective they really loved Mali’s character and I think that she’s just sort of a very typical teenager in many ways. I think they could even relate to the parents as being sort of funny and silly and distant, but well-meaning. There hasn’t been a huge teen audience since the film has been running the gay and lesbian film circuit and especially in the international circuit I doubt there will be anybody under the age of 18 in the room…Every teen I’ve shown [the film] to has been able to tell me all the themes in the film.
Ruby:Yes exactly – I found that it was still very much a film for adults but there were a lot of themes that a young person could understand, especially Mali’s character.
On a lighter note – what are some of your favourite ‘youthful’ memories? Any tips for our younger readers trying to navigate this crazy thing called life?
Laurie: It’s interesting because I think I always knew I was gay from the time I was like, maybe 10? And Dominique didn’t necessarily define it like that but she also knew at a very young age. And I went to school with a whole pile of girls that were all lesbians. It’s not that we were out as teenagers but we were pretty much heading in that direction. So we aren’t that interested in coming-out stories, we are more into characters that are integrated in the context of whatever is happening…I don’t know, we were just kinda born ‘out’. Yeah… COME OUT. That’s the one thing I can say to young people – if you’re gay or whatever you are. How old are you?
Ruby: I just turned 21. Actually, today is my birthday!
Laurie: Oh, happy birthday! I’m glad you called today because we were just talking about you. [When I called, Laurie and Dominique were in the middle of getting ready to travel down to Palm Springs for seminar and, more importantly, trying to figure out what to wear] Today’s an interesting time because, for example, our friends keep coming to us and asking “Is my kid gay?” and we’re like, “I think so.” So the parents are way ahead of the kids and I find it really sweet. They just want their kids to be safe, you know?
Ruby: Yeah, totally. My parents were very much concerned about my happiness and even said, “I hope that doesn’t make your life more difficult.”
Laurie: That’s exactly what [my friends] have said. They just want their kids to have as easy and as happy a life as possible.
Ruby: And that’s exactly how it should be. Thank you so much for your time and best of luck with your travels!
Laurie: Thank you and happy birthday!
You can catch Margarita on Saturday, February 2nd at 7pm in Cinema 2 of The Screening Room. The star of the film, Nicola Correia-Damude will also be in attendance!! Tickets will be available at the door fifteen minutes prior to the screening. Ten Dollars for non-members, nine dollars for members and eight dollars for youth ages thirteen to twenty-four with photo I.D.