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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