[Interview] Co-Director Laura Amelia Guzmán Discusses Her Documentary CARMITA

Director Laura Amelia Guzmán (right) with her documentary subject Carmen Ignarra.

Director Laura Amelia Guzmán (right) with her documentary subject Carmen Ignarra.

By Laura Langer Rossi

Carmen Ignarra, a raising latin diva from the 50’s which never reached her full potential as a movie star, is homaged by this deeply touching and courteously intimate documentary by Dominican filmmaker Laura Amelia Guzmán and her partner Mexican filmmaker Israel Cárdenas. 

Guzmán, active on screen throughout the film in a close relation with Ignarra, has shared her thoughts on Carmita in an exclusive interview for TropicalFRONT, as the film is the next scheduled exhibition of Cinema Tropical’s on going series ‘If You Can Screen It There’, which features remarkable Latin American films making their local premiere in New York City. 

In previous interviews, you mentioned this shooting was in fact a research for a feature film that never came to be. Can you tell us about the film you first envisioned and how the project ended up taking the form of a documentary?

Upon meeting Carmita, we came to her home and could feel her desire to be in front of the camera, to tell her own story; we were envisioned the possibility of making a feature with her. However, not long after, we realized it would be more challenging that we had initially anticipated. Carmita is not satisfied by being recorded with a small camera and a few lights. To her, cinema has to have magic, lights, and fantasy; filming in any different way would seem like a waste of time. Given that, we started shooting what we called development footage or research material. Little by little, we began to build what eventually evolved into the documentary, into this film.

There is an intimate bond between subject and filmmaker. You were not only a participant on the film itself but you also appears playin an active role in Carmita’s daily, practical life.

Like anyone with a similar advanced age, Carmita always needs help. Visiting her implies lending a hand with the tasks and chores of the day to day life. It was normal for these activities to transpire in front of the camera during our conversations and while we filmed her. 

The film is undeniably a nostalgic portrait of the life of a forgotten star. Did the proximity with the subject made it difficult in any way to finalize this film? 

Yes, it was difficult indeed. In fact, it took seven years from the shooting to its premiere. The photographs that appear in the film, crossed-out, scribbled, and corrected are a fit illustration of that the editing process was like. Every time we considered abandoning the proyect, Carmita would write or call us, urging us to carry on.


Carmita's relationship with Laura seems to be have been broken during the film. Did the tension we see on screen came in the way of finalizing it?

It’s a film and emotions have a tendency of becoming more acute during a shoot. As time carries on, however, they subside. What certainly remains is the fondness we have for Carmita.


Carmita is screening next Thursday, July 20, at Anthology Film Archives. Learn more here.  This screening is part of 'If I Can Screen It There’.