Lela Nesheim, Staff Writer
“Frida’s story is my story,” said writer/director Carla Símon on her debut film “Summer 1993” (or “Estiu 1993”), a touching memoir about 6-year old Frida (Laia Artigas) who is orphaned and subsequently uprooted from her home in Barcelona to live with her Uncle Esteve and Aunt Marga on the Spanish countryside.
Símon, one of many special guests who attended screenings at this year’s Cine Latino, was at the festival’s opening night screening of her film and graciously answered audience members’ questions about the project. One person asked, “How did you so masterfully capture childhood and loss?” Símon, wearing a small smile, answered, “The film is entirely based on events from my childhood.” Or at least, how she remembered them. She explained how her film was inspired by photographs taken and memories from this time in her life in which her own mother died of AIDS. She explained how she wanted to recount her story and feelings as honestly as she could.
In “Summer 1993,” the viewer is anchored to Frida’s point of view. We experience what Frida experiences — life in all its quietness, tenderness, anguish and joy. The camera (affectionately handled by cinematographer Santiago Racaj) is trained on Frida for most of the film, picking up her every minute facial expression and body movement, allowing us to relate to and care about her. However, the film is not overly sentimental. Rather, it is subtle and realistic in its presentation of a child grieving — Frida, feeling alienated in a family she only vaguely knows, acts out, tells lies and bullies her new little sister, Anna. The film does not gloss over or sugarcoat anything; Frida’s frailty as well as her cruelty are on full display.
Símon described how she wanted to find an actress who had a similar background to herself in order to coax out of the child the most realistic and grounded performance she could. Newcomer Laia Artigas was the one. “Laia’s family had an unconventional structure, and we connected over this,” Símon said, and for that reason, she believed Artigas was able to play Frida with just the right amount of subtlety, silliness and believability.
“I did not have the girls read from a script or memorize any lines,” Símon said. She wanted her characters’ interactions and relationships to be as organic and authentic as possible. She spent a few weeks getting to know her actors before shooting in order to help them build memories and develop their own unique family dynamic. She described how she would even roleplay as Frida’s mom to help Laia develop the character of Frida and her complex relationship to her mother. This definitely shows in the final product.
“Summer 1993,” an indie darling, managed to win Best First Feature and the Generation Kplus International Jury Awards at the 2017 Berlinale, and it was also selected to be Spain’s submission to the 90th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film. Hebe Tabachnick, visiting artistic director and curator for this year’s Cine Latino, mentioned that Símon was the third woman chosen to represent Spain, noting Spain’s rich confab of talented female directors.
The fifth annual Cine Latino, which took place Nov. 16–19 at the St. Anthony Main Theater (the MSP Film Society’s hub), was proud to host several special guests and showcase over 20 of this year’s most lauded films from Ibero and Latin America. Festivities included an Opening Night Reception in which guests were invited to the Pracna Grotto to meet and greet Símon and Tabachnick before the movie screening and the Opening Night Party after the screening at the Jefe Urban Hacienda in which there were drinks, festival-themed food and Salsa dancing galore.
This article first appeared in the Friday, December 1, 2017, Edition of The Echo.