Aurora Guerrero set out to make a film that people like her could relate to. Determined to challenge Hollywood’s lack of diverse stories she embarked on a seven year journey. She wrote and re-wrote the script, raised some plata on kickstarter, and with a clear sense of the exact película she wanted to make–took her cast and crew to shoot in Huntington Park, Los Angeles.
She wanted to tell a story that reflected her own identity as a queer woman of color. The result is Mosquita y Mari, a sensitive, bold and thoughtful portrait of two teenage Chicanas whose budding friendship begins to slowly become something beyond just friends. For Aurora, it’s a personal story rooted in her own experience, “When looking back, long before I identified as queer, I realized my first love was one of my best friends. It was the type of friendship that was really tender and sweet and sexually charged but we never crossed that line.”
In the film Mari is a rebellious bad girl who’s failing math. Straight-A student Yolanda–who Mari nicknames Mosquita because she looks like, “a pinche mosquita”–offers to tutor her. They hang out, ride bikes, swap music, and do homework. As they spend more and more time together, their friendship subtly transforms–evoking that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling that a only a first crush can. It’s a beautifully told ‘almost love’ story set to the music of local ska bands, the melancholy vocals of Carla Morrison, and other genre-remixing Latino artists. Mosquita y Mari premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and is now set to play in theaters. It opens on this Friday August 3rd and runs to August 9th at Cinema Village.
You’ve stated in a lot of interviews that the film was inspired by your own personal experience. What was the writing process like – was it an emotional one – since the story was so close to you?
It was definitely emotional. I was writing about feelings and experiences I had never talked about, particularly with my BFF at the time. But it wasn’t a bad emotional process. It felt very liberating. I think that’s what drove my process forward. What got complicated were all the other layers that I wanted to talk about. I had to figure out how to weave in other elements without taking away from the girls and their growing love for each other.
Are you still in touch with the woman whose friendship inspired this story? Did you ever worry what she might think about it?
Let’s just say that I didn’t make it for her. I made it for me.
You grew up in the Bay (so did I) but most of your films take place in L.A. What’s the deal? As a Bay Area native shouldn’t you hate L.A.? Why did you choose to set this story in Huntington Park – as opposed to obvious choices like S.F. or East L.A.?
You’re funny. I don’t want to take away the fact that Los Angeles has been my muse ever since I moved there to attend film school, but I did originally set Mosquita y Mari in San Francisco’s Mission District. After putting together an initial S.F. budget I quickly learned that I didn’t have the means to shoot there. And I wasn’t so married to having it be the Mission. I just really wanted it in an immigrant setting.
East L.A. has been played out so much on films. It’s gotten to the point where people across the nation, and even the world, think East L.A. to be the only Latino community in California. Nothing against East L.A., but I wanted to capture a community just west of East L.A. that had its own unique history and vibe. I want to bring Huntington Park out of the shadows.
I’M CONSTANTLY ON SOUNDCLOUD OR REMEZCLA
LOOKING TO SEE WHAT NEW MUSIC IS BEING PRODUCED
BY LATINO ARTISTS.
Music is a big part of the story. In a lot of the scenes the characters play songs for each other and hang out listening to music. How did you choose the music?
I connect to specific music early on in my process of writing. I’m constantly on SoundCloud or Remezcla looking to see what new music is being produced by Latino artists. I’m not interested in producing soundtracks or scores that have been recycled in U.S. Latino films throughout the years. I’m looking for music that’s cutting-edge and contemporary. That’s how I see the worlds and characters that I put on screen so the music has got to somehow add to the texture of that world. Outside of the tracks I chose for the film I worked with a wonderful composer named Ryan Beveridge. When we started working together I remember emphasizing to him, “Please, no strumming guitars.” I didn’t want people to recognize the score. I wanted it to be specific to Mosquita y Mari. He was wonderful. I sent him bits of music I was hearing and I was sending him pictures of the neighborhood and he just ran with it. He created something really unique.
There is this beautiful moment in the film where Mosquita is riding on the back of Mari’s bike and “Esta Soledad” by Carla Morrison is playing. There are closeups of her face, of her hand gliding through the air; she looks so happy and free. The song is so sad and kinda dreamy. What made you choose it?
I believe love is bitter sweet, especially young love. Carla Morrison, the score and the opening song are all meant to subtly bring that tone to the film. When I think of Carla Morrison’s voice it feels haunting. Her music always stirs melancholic feelings of loss in me that end up lingering for days. For that specific scene I thought she was the perfect choice to juxtapose Mosquita’s youthful excitement of feeling alive and in the world.
I THINK STAYING AWAY FROM LABELS IS WHAT MAKES THIS
FILM REFRESHING.AUDIENCES ARE PLACED IN MOSQUITA Y MARI’S
WORLD –THEIR WORLD IS LATINO,XICANA, IT IS IMMIGRANT.
THEY DON’T HAVE TO STOP TO REMIND THEMSELVES OF IT.
The word gay is never spoken in the film. The characters and setting are Latino – but no one directly comments on being Latino – they just are. Why did you choose to tell the story this way?
I think staying away from labels is what makes this film refreshing. Audiences are placed in Mosquita y Mari’s world – their world is Latino, Xicana, it is immigrant. They don’t have to stop to remind themselves of it. They have grown up bicultural. It’s their norm to go in and out of Spanish and English without having to point it out. It’s how I was raised and I thought it was important to depict young people comfortable in their own skin and world. Mosquita y Mari’s story is meant to capture the moments that maybe be down the line, maybe in college, they will come to discover were their first moments of queerness.
The story is based upon the friendship of these two girls. The success of the film obviously hinged on casting the two leads. What was the selection process like?
Casting was intense, mainly because we had one month to find all our cast. But I was determined and hopeful that my girls were out there. I just had to somehow get the word out to them so they could find me and this movie. Between my casting director putting word out to managers and agents and organizing word-of-mouth community open casting calls we found our cast. I saw about 300 or more young Latina women for the leads and las cuatas. It was a really validating experience. I mean to be so specific in my breakdown, “Must speak both English and Spanish fluently. Must be open to story of two girls and their developing feelings for each other.” It was amazing to get so many young women identifying with the breakdown and wanting to be part of this film. I think the hardest part was saying “no” to most of them. I had to be very picky. I had to find girls that only identified with the story personally but that also had the chops to carry it on their shoulders. I was nervous going into the first day of shooting. I wondered if I had made the right choices, especially with only two days of rehearsal prior to shooting. But after our first day I remember thinking to myself, “these girls are really something special.”
The film is about to open in theaters. I imagine it’s a struggle to market a film that doesn’t have big name stars. Does this make you nervous at all?
Yes, Mosquita y Mari opens on August 3rd and runs to August 9th at Cinema Village in NYC. I’m very excited about the whole thing. I can’t say nervous, really. I’m really just trying to do my best at getting the word out and hope that folks will want to come out for it. It’s really out of my control after I’ve done my part so I can’t get worked up into a ball of nerves about it. I’m just feeling really blessed to have an opportunity to have a film with no known actors play theatrically. This film has had huge momentum not because it’s gotten traditional press, though the Bing commercial did help, but largely it’s been driven by word-of-mouth. It’s been doing its rounds on social media platforms. That’s really our marketing world. My producer and I have no real budget for traditional marketing outlets so we rely heavily on the internet. We really have no choice. So despite not having known actors I think we’ve managed to get a buzz going on the film because it’s a good film with an interesting storyline and great artists attached to it.
What’s next for you? Any new projects?
Well, right now I’m very excited to be flushing out an idea I have for what I hope will be my second feature film. I don’t have it all worked out yet but what I can say is that it will continue to center on characters with intersecting identities.
Playing at Cinema Village for a week-long engagement. Opens August 3rd and runs to August 9th.
There will be Q&A’s with Director Aurora Guerrero after the following screenings:Friday August 3rd: 7:00 PM and 9:15 PM
Saturday August 4th: 7:00 PM and 9:15 PM
Sunday August 5th: 1:00 PM and 9:15 PM
And swing by the after-party on Friday!