Elia Schneider's film Tamara closed the 33rd Annual Chicago Latino Film Festival this year.
The film chronicles the real-life story of Tamara Adrian, Venezuela's first transgender person elected to that country's National Assembly. In the process, she encounters the difficulties of making that decision with a government and community that does not support her.
Adrian's story continues, as Venezuela currently does not allow transgender people to legally change their name and there is a ban for this film to be shown at some universities in that country.
Winner of the Nueva Vision Award for Spanish/Latin American Cinema, this motion picture is set to persevere over its challenges.
Venezuelan actor Luis Fernandez plays the lead role in the film. He is known for performances in Caracas, Love onto Death and Francisco de Miranda. His love interest in the movie Tamara, Ana, is played by Prakriti Maduro.
Director Elia K. Schneider and producer Jose Ramon also attended the festival, and they all spoke with Windy City Times.
Windy City Times: Where is everyone from?
Elia K. Schneider: I was born in Israel, then moved to New York and LA. I majored in theater at Tisch School of the Arts, but moved into film.
Jose Ramon: I was born in Uruguay. I live in Venezuela and did all the work producing the film there. We worked in New York and Los Angeles also.
EKS: We have had four years together, so whenever he directs and I produce or the other way around, as in Tamara. We have one son who is a director. He works with us.
WCT: Why did you want to depict this story?
EKS: All the films I go for always have social themes. I cover people that are excluded or are fighting for their rights.
WCT: And your history, Luis?
Luis Fernandez: I am from Venezuela. I have been acting since I was sixteen. After you turn 40 you can get very complex, juicy roles, but they are not very frequent. I met Tamara 10 years ago when I interviewed her for my radio show.
Elia approached me with the project and I have always wanted to work with her. It was a perfect synchronicity. I knew a lot about transgender issues. We had our first conversation about the movie and we just clicked. I thought it was an amazing story that needed to be told. I said yes immediately, but was frightened and scared. I wonder how I would pull it off.
WCT: What was the hardest part for you?
LF: The hardest part was not dressing up as a woman, because I had done that before in theater, but it was going to be hard to make people understand that this was not a man dressing up as a woman, but a woman who is trapped in a man's body.
Elia was very profound and detailed in the creation of this character that was inside my body as a man. Our goal was to make audiences feel that behind my face there is a woman trapped inside wanting to come out. That was the most challenging part to get that on the screen and people to understand that was going on.
Elia worked with me very deeply, profoundly, and painfully to find all the sordid little details of my private life that will work to create the character. I found the woman that lived within me. I let her out. That transgender woman you see on the screen is who I would have been if I were transgender.
WCT: You don't particularly look like Tamara Adrian. So no YouTube videos of her mannerisms?
LF: No, and I didn't imitate her. I am bad at imitating, so I did the woman I would have been if I were transgender. She is a character. She talks in a very particular way. I didn't do that.
WCT: You were also portraying a real-life character named Ana, Prakriti. How was that?
Prakriti Maduro: I met her. She was the wife of Tamara. My role was about the moment of my boyfriend taking off his private parts. It was important to have a conversation with her. She told me it was not about sex, but about love. It is a higher way to understand a relationship. This was fundamental for my character.
WCT: Did you see the movie The Danish Girl?
PM: Yes, but we made this movie way before that.
EKS: We shot it in 2013.
WCT: Pakriti, you were also in another film at the Latino Film Festival, playing a lesbian in Extra Terrestres. Talk about that.
PM: For me, it was interesting because they shot it in Puerto Rico. It is a very important moment in any lesbian's life with coming out. That was the main reason to do the whole picture.
LF: Were there sex scenes, Pakriti?
PM: No, this is a family-centered story.
WCT: Nudity was fine with you in Tamara, Luis?
LF: Oh, yeah. I have been doing that since I was 18 in the theater. When you have to shoot in front of the camera and a crew it is always awkward.
I think when you are doing a part of being trapped in the wrong body you have to see the body. We agreed that needed to be seen.
We had to have a scene with oral sex with Tamara's first wife because Tomas was fascinated by the vagina. We talked about that at the table read. I had to do it. I wanted to be real to the story. I wanted to make people understand what it is all about.
WCT: In Venezuela, people are not allowed to change their name today?
LF: They still can't. Same-sex marriage is not allowed, either.
EKS: There are no anti-discrimination laws there. The communities are very vulnerable there. In 2013 there ten transgender people dead because policemen beat them. They are made fun of and attacked.
JR: Tamara is a member of the National Assembly and cannot change her name.
LF: Legally she is a congressman. It is not right.
WCT: So, hopefully this film will bring more awareness to this.
LF: You guys in the States are dealing with political correctness, but at the same time kids cannot go to the bathroom they feel they belong to. It is a problem that is all over the world still. It is a fight that Tamara is pushing forward. She is doing a great job internationally as an activist for the rights of the transgender community.
WCT: What did [the real Tamara] think about this movie?
LF: She liked it.
EKS: She is part of the film. She has a cameo.
WCT: The film is winning awards already?
LF: The Santa Barbara Film Festival and Milan International Film Festival.
JR: We received nine nominations and three awards.
WCT: When does it come out officially in the United States?
JR: We are working on that. We may open in Los Angeles soon.
WCT: What are future projects?
LF: I was just shooting a film in Panama. I shot some in Rockford, Illinois. It is called Human Persons. It is a psychological drama in the frame of an organ-trafficking mafia.
PM: I am the lead in a film role that is in post production. It will be released next year. I have two new movies, one from Venezuela, and one from Mexico.
EKS: I have a film coming called The Black Stork. It is about a program in the United States where they sterilized 60,000 people.
JR: I am preparing a film follow up to something I did years ago about the sicarios cartel.
LF: No light subjects for us. We are a deep group of people!