There’s been a lot of attention lately in the news on the Dreamers, undocumented individuals who came to the U.S. as minors. Actress Maria Corina Ramirez tackles the subject in her feature film Bridges, for which she also penned the screenplay. Ramirez gives voice to Dreamer feelings through the thoughts of Maria Cecilia during the days leading up to the character’s high school graduation. The film screened this year as an official selection at both the Miami Film Festival and the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, with more events to follow soon. Ramirez joined me on a call to discuss the development of Bridges and the responses it’s received so far.
What’s your favorite Venezuelan food?
I’m going to have to go with tequeños. It’s like a cheese finger on fried dough. We have arepas, but I say tequeños because that’s a thing I can never deny if I’m at a party and I’m watching what I eat. It’s so good!
What’s a lesson you learned in acting that’s really stayed with you through today?
To take criticism well. Not to take it personally or as an attack on your person.
When did you start developing the script for Bridges?
The birth of it can really be traced back to a playwrighting class I had [in my] junior year of college. I wrote a one-act play about a family that sat around the TV, hoping to win the lottery. That was a little seed for it. Then I kept writing it for many years from a play eventually into a screenplay.
How would you describe your approach as a director?
I like to be friends with the people that I’m working with. By that, I mean make things natural and like a collaboration, not like I’m the boss and I have the final say. I like for it to feel like we’re all working towards a goal together.
There’s a lot of focus on films about the Latin American experience right now, like West Side Story and In the Heights. How would you say Bridges fits into this rich tapestry that filmmakers are building?
I think it’s an exciting time that we have all of these stories. Bridges fits in because it’s the perspective of an adolescent, of how it feels to be like you’re between here and there. It’s also a different color culturally. Normally, we get Mexican or, like In the Heights, some Caribbean, Puerto Rican and Dominican. But this is a Venezuelan family, which is also part of the tapestry.
At the same time, a lot of the themes relate across the board with most Latin Americans. I think it’s a good time for it. I just rewatched In The Heights last night in a theater. It’s very upbeat and fun. My film is a little more contemplative and quiet. I love that we’re in a time that we have the room and the space for both, for more than one [film] to exist, and for us to be represented in a myriad of ways.
What were your favorite scenes to shoot?
My favorite scenes to shoot were all the rooftop scenes that I had with Julissa Calderon. When we were up there all the time, the sunsets were really beautiful. We laughed a lot but we would also be brought to tears because we were so grateful we were telling the story. The setting helped us put that into perspective. We’re both Miami girls. The Miami sky was really coming through and showing off.
Was there anything special about the color palette you chose for the film?
I was really inspired by the colors that I see in Miami on my day-to-day. There’s something about colors in Miami that are hopeful in this city full of people. It’s like we have a lot of strife in common and a lot of pain in our background. A lot of the time, the reason that we’ve come here is we’re evading something. Yet we’ve come to this city where all these colors are present. These colors in the city almost make everything okay. It’s almost like the line where my character says, “The sunsets almost make everything worth it.”
Are there other specific choices you made about the film that you’d like to highlight?
A special note about the film is that I really wanted to propose a language where we took our time in the pauses and silences, even if it felt uncomfortable. It’s a film that doesn’t cut where you would normally cut in other films. The moment lingers past its welcome sometimes, but I feel like that’s so much of what the experience is like. When you are undocumented, it feels like the moments go on forever and you’re uncomfortable. I wanted to put the audience in that place, too, and not run away from the discomfort.
Where did you get the idea to incorporate the sayings and proverbs?
That’s based on real life. My dad was very much that kind of a person who would speak in verse almost. In real life, he was so poetic, cultured, and well-read that he had all these sayings for everything. It was almost like, “Okay, but can you stop saying the sayings and be with me!”
It’s almost a form of holding on. For example, Gaby’s character, her grip on hope is the lottery. The grandpa’s grip is in these sayings. Let me hold on for dear life and repeat them every moment. I feel like my dad did a lot of that in his life. That’s why they felt natural, because in many ways I was writing my dad.
I was particularly moved by the portrayal of the mother, Violeta. How did you and actress Marialejandra Martin collaborate to develop the character? What did you want viewers to take away?
I was really blessed. Marialejandra is obviously a very gifted actress. We acted together in a play years before. She’s also gotten into filmmaking herself, writing and directing. When I told her I’d had her in mind for it from day one, would she be down for it, she said of course. I was so honored because she really is a big deal in Venezuela. I was super excited to have her. She met my mom and they would talk a lot. Essentially, she was portraying a lot of things that my mother went through in real life.
What I wanted the audience to take away the most is: wow, our parents aren’t perfect and sometimes they make decisions that seem not to be the best decisions. Everyone is trying their best. With Latina moms, they are looking out for their kindred and to defend them at all costs. They even put themselves in danger. I wanted to portray that, but also the love that was there. One may not be always fully upfront about what’s happening to the others… I was very blessed to work with Marialejandra. I was very honored to give my mom’s story a voice and have it complex, not one-note.
What’s been the reaction at film festivals? I know you’ve been in Miami and Los Angeles recently.
Those two places specifically have been very meaningful. They are both cities full of people that could see themselves reflected in a story like this. It’s been very special after the screenings to do Q&A and talk to the audiences directly. To be honest, a lot have been very emotional. I’ve received a lot of letters from people even days after. In LA, there were a couple of Dreamers in the audience. One of them raised his hand and said, “I was not expecting to be attacked by this movie today. I didn’t know what to expect, but I feel very moved and seen.”
He went on to say it’s one of his new favorite movies. I feel like that’s really what it’s about and why we do the work; not for people to say your movie is their favorite movie, but for people to feel seen and less alone in their experiences.
The Venezuelan diaspora in both cities is huge. We had a lot of Venezuelans in the house. Our exile is sort of fresh and we’re still in the thick of it. [For] people that are here from Venezuela, those feelings are very much at the tip of the tongue. Seeing the experience reflected has been very moving to them and very special. Again, it has made them feel very much less alone. I think, if we’ve done that, we’ve achieved something special. That’s all that really matters. When I got into storytelling to begin with when I was young, that’s what I was mostly interested in. I was interested in that exchange in soul and heart that happens when somebody tells a story and someone else feels connected and identified. That’s what’s been the most special about premiering in Miami and LA and being in front of people [whose] stories are very similar to the one in the film.