Paloma Petra: decentralization as actress and producer

Fabiola Santiago

*Special thanks to Oralia Torres

Disclaimer: this interview was done at the beginning of February 2021, almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Watching movies, without understanding what I was seeing but with the certainty that it caused me something was how I decided that I did want to be an actress. And a movie actress.” For Paloma Petra, the desire to dedicate her life to acting was always there, but the movies she saw with her father defined that mass of possibilities to one: what she wanted was to act in movies. Her path in the industry is her own, traced by herself as an answer to those doors that won’t open when one doesn’t restrict themselves to certain parameters. She studied dramaturgy in Monterrey, took formative courses in Casazul and began to combine her histrionic talent with a great production skill. 

In 2020, she was selected in Berlinale Talents for her work as an actress; recently, she participated in Sundance Festival with the short film The Longest Dream I Remember (Carlos Lenin), in which she acted and produced, and is about to release the prestigious film The Dove and the Wolf, in which she starred with Armando Hernández and that was also directed by Carlos Lenin, graduate from the National School of Film Arts (ENAC, also called CUEC), with whom she founded the Huasteca Casa Cinematográfica (Huasteca Film House) production company. 

In her own words, from an interview with Lumínicas, this is how Paloma Petra’s journey has gone:

Lumínicas (L): Talking about your acting in the short film The Longest Dream I Remember, in which you play Tania, we saw several common points with Paloma, from The Dove and the Wolf, as they are women marked by their environment and that have a foot outside the door. How did you separate each character and prepared Tania?

Paloma Petra (P): Actually, this short film came before, we filmed it a while ago, in 2016 or 2017. When we were in postproduction, the filming for The Dove and the Wolf came through, we won a grant for a film debut, and we said, “Now is when we can film it, it is what it is”, and we left the short in standby. Tania as a character was like a warm-up to get to Paloma. For Tania, Lenin had interviews with a girl called Tania, who’s the daughter of Rafael Ramírez Duarte, a man that’s been missing since the 70s. She told Lenin of the longest dream she remembered, and I held to that to feel the presence of the absence. I believe it’s more about building the feelings that break through her more than building her character.

Courtesy Sundance Institute.

L: The most visible face of your work is acting, but I’ve seen you’re very busy as a producer, boosting cinema in the state of Nuevo León and its decentralization. From your experience, what do you think we’re lacking to reach a more decentralized film industry?

P: I think that we need to listen. It’s obvious, cinema is centralized, right? And the struggle for decentralization is just that: a fight. For example, I don’t want to throw shade at IMCINE (Mexican Film Institute), but for all their talk about “yes, our goal is decentralization”, they’re still an institution based on that, right? So, despite their intentions, it’s not up to them; I feel it’s the duty of each state to take the spaces or even create them, and not wait for them to be given to us or to wait for the opportunity. And this is something that the people that do benefit from those privileges should stop and listen instead of imposing. That’s what worries me, it’s like when men start talking about feminism and go “Feminism is very important and women, you have rights” and you think “dude, shut up”. I feel it’s exactly the same, but with people from Mexico City. Obviously, there’s less money and everything that is being cut from culture, but it’s also something political from ourselves, to start deconstructing our centralized gaze and understand that we also have things to say, it is what it is, and people are going to see us. We need to force them to see us. 

L: You were now mentioning feminism, and I see that’s another thing that moves you, production and working with women in cinema. How did you arrive there? Did your experience as an actress had something to do with becoming a producer?

P: Eh… yes. I mean, I started producing because I didn’t find opportunities to act, specially in Monterrey. What do they tell you when you want to become an actress? “Go to casting calls”. But, to which ones? There were barely any, and then deciding if you wanted that work. That’s another thing, it took me a lot of years to realize that I didn’t have to act in whichever thing I had the opportunity to be in, that I could also act in something that actually interested me. How could I do it? Well, I had to produce, because these projects aren’t appearing. Even when I moved to Mexico City, there was no way I could access, there’s this weird filter. Plus, this was over 10 years ago, before narco-series became a thing, so my accent was a big turn off and now it’s the other way around, all chilangos make a terrible northern accent. 

And that’s why I had to produce. And, well, back then I was thin, but compared to the early 2000s ideal figure I was fat. I was 53 kilos instead of 45. I arrived at casting calls in Mexico City, and they’d say, “Why are you fat?”, and I’d replied “well, I don’t know, it’s genetic, I guess, and I’m in another town, anxiously eating. Do you want me to talk to you about my eating disorders, do you want to do the casting or what’s the deal?”

L: That’s another thing that we’re lacking, right? Diversifying outside of the center, but also other bodies and stories…

P: Other bodies! That’s why it’s incredible that, for example, in The Dove and the Wolf I have several nude scenes and I’m glad I can enjoy my body as it is. Actually, I think I feel more comfortable being fat onscreen than in real life. It doesn’t make sense, it’s very weird, I like to see my fat body onscreen and it took me a long time to get there, but I think it’s very important. And the feminism came because I’m a woman and understanding that there was a violence that was constantly oppressing me in a thousand ways. I ended a very violent relationship and that’s when feminism arrived for me, from there I’m trying to get it everywhere, in my movies, my life, in everything.

L: What are your plans with the Huasteca Film House? I’m interested in where you want to take it, because it has other projects that I don’t see in other production companies.

P: I didn’t study film and everything I’ve learned was the hard way. What I’d thank from film festivals is that I’d learn a lot. That’s what frustrates me right now with Sundance, I could’ve learned a lot. But oh well, it is what it is, we started with 24° 51’ North Latitude, which was Lenin’s CUEC thesis, and it did amazing, it was in a lot of festivals we did go. In each project I make, I get new outlooks about which tools exist to make movies that I didn’t know about, but that I could access because I was inside the small group that was selected in such festival. It’s a bummer that you must get there to know that these things exist. 

L: Are they like group secrets?

P: I don’t know if they teach them that at schools, but I did have to get into those small groups with my job and learn there. What we’re trying to do with Huasteca is to level down those things that are not as accessible as they should be so people can film whatever they want and send them wherever. I didn’t know there were platforms like FilmFreeway, or that you could apply your developing project to different submissions. I want to give access to that so other people can do whatever they want. 

Courtesy PIANO Distribution.

L: And how’s it going with the God and the Devil’s Cumbia project?

P: Very cool, we were at the Los Cabos Film Festival, and we won two awards (inside the Gabriel Figueroa Film Fund for developing projects). Lenin is writing and it’s very cool because the pandemic has helped us create those spaces for the projects to grow. We finished The Longest Dream…, Lenin is writing this script, I’m doing another, and we have a documentary we want to release soon. What we want to do now, let’s see how it goes, is to not participate that much into festivals and hit social media. We just uploaded North Latitude to YouTube and it has almost 70 thousand views (right now it has over 300 thousand), and we did that so people could see it. We’re trying to rethink the short film’s lives. So that cinema we’re making, which I think it’s not commercial cinema, also has spaces and can also exist. 

Paloma works without a manager and claims she still doesn’t understand how the medium works, because she hasn’t finished shattering the crystal ceiling above her. Despite it all, her projects don’t stop and, besides the future release of The Dove and the Wolf, she’s looking for funding for her first short film and is waiting for filming another movie. “Right now, I have a project with Alejandra Márquez (director, The Good Girls) and I’m very excited, it’s amazing because the producer wrote to me and said ‘Hey, Ale saw you on The Dove and the Wolf and she wants you to be this character’, and that’s just how I’d always want to work. But I know it’s harsh”, she shared about her next role in the movie Northern Skies Over Empty Space.

Text available in Spanish here.

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