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Melissa Silverstein

Melissa Silverstein

Posted: August 20, 2009 03:23 PM

Casi Divas: Interview with Director Issa Lopez

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Casi Divas tells the story of four very different women vying in a contest to become the next big telenovela star.  It is a story infused with dreams of changing your life and desires for celebrity and success but if you think it is all gloss you will miss the real point of the film.

This film manages to do what so many others miss — it manages to tell important stories and be entertaining.  Francisca (Maya Zapata) is a poor Indian woman from Oaxaca who deals with race issues in the Mexican culture; Ximena Lizarraga (Ana Layevska) is a rich girl who has remade her body to fit into the culture but is miserable and really, really hungry; Catalina (Diana Garcia) works in the factories of Ciudad Juarez and uses her platform to raise awareness about young girls who continue to go missing in her community; and Yesenia (Daniela Schmidt) is struggling with issues of gender identity.

The film opens tomorrow in San Diego, Miami, NY and LA.

Mexican Writer and Director Issa Lopez answered some questions for Women & Hollywood

Women & Hollywood: Why were you drawn to writing and directing this story?

Issa Lopez: Two things were immediately very interesting to me. First, this global obsession with celebrity that plagues us. As if the simple fact of being on a screen, any screen, could wipe away all of our worries. This need to become public, and being massively recognized, accepted, admired. As if the only true proof of our existence could be through celebrity.

Second, the chance to portray the radically different ways to be a woman in Mexico. The radically different struggles that women face in a maddeningly contrasting nation. And the very different motives that can lay behind this search for the spotlight. From finding love, to survival.

W&H: You manage to make a fun story and infuse it with many important political issues including issues of weight, class, gender and race as well as the important topic of young women who are kidnapped.  Why was it important to include these elements and how were you able to keep it light while making sure that people really also thought about important issues?

IL: This was the main challenge in Casi Divas. From the start, the producer of the film, Gabriel Ripstein, and I, realized that if we were going to talk about young women in Mexico, we had to address these huge, vital issues. And in that case, could we bring such serious business to the Mexican middle class, pop consuming culture that goes for Hollywood fare, romantic comedies and telenovelas? Because that is your movie ticket buyer in Mexico. Could we make these things the subject of coffee talk? We had to. Because it is increasingly urgent to bring back the eye of that Mexican and Latino middle class, that decision making group, to look back into these issues. And the one way to do it, was to make it… entertaining. And engaging. And fun. Without taking the finger out of the wound. The way that I describe this movie, is a cake with a blade inside. It was a constant fear, and a very fine line to tread. So we worked carefully together on the script, on the casting, on the general tone to keep this very fine balance between fun and content.

W&H: How did you get started in directing?

IL: I attended film school and directing was my primary passion from the beginning. I had to learn to direct – writing has always been natural to me. But after film school I had to write telenovelas. Very few films were made in Mexico. Slowly and very painfully I squeezed myself into film making, in the beginning as a writer. I was successful as a writer, but I wanted to direct and it was very hard to convince an industry that has  accepted and labeled you as a writer, (or as anything, for that matter) that you can be something else. It’s funny that these days it’s quite hard for me to sell a script without committing to direct it, too.

W&H: This is a film done by a studio clearly trying to break into the Spanish speaking market.  What is the goal for the film in the US?

IL: I think we ended up with a movie that addresses Latino issues but also universal issues. We’ve had very powerful responses from latino and non-latino audiences. Right now, it’s core target is the latino community. But celebrity obsession, media manipulation, women abuse, racism, and above all, women dreaming, can appeal to all audiences, I believe.

W&H: What are you doing next?

IL: I am both writing a comedy for the US, and a comedy for Mexico, with Gabriel Ripstein, with whom I worked on Divas. The one for the US is about men. The one for Mexico, about women. Let’s see which one moves faster!

W&H: What type of advice would you offer a female writer and director in the business?

IL: To be incredibly stubborn. If you are doing this it is because you believe you have something to say. And if that’s the case, stay put until you’ve said it.

For Film info, please visit the site atCasi Divas


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