At the Tribeca Film Festival in New York this year, two standout movies portray Latino communities in ways that have seldom been done before. Lucy Mulloy's Una Noche follows three Cuban teens who flee their homeland on a raft, while Macdara Vallely's BabyGirl focuses on the relationship between a Puerto Rican teen and her mother.
Set in the Bronx borough of New York, Babygirl was both written and directed by Vallely, an Irishman. Interestingly enough, the filmmaker has lived in the Bronx for seven years and is married to a woman of Puerto Rican descent.
Vallely was inspired to write Babygirl after he witnessed a man hitting on a daughter and her mother while riding the No. 2 train. The International Business Times had the chance to speak with the talented director about his unique illustration of the Bronx and Latino characters.
Is it tough for you to process the fact that the Tribeca Film Festival is coming to an end?
I have mixed feelings, to be honest with you. It's been a tremendous experience and a great festival all around. I'm glad that it went so well.
How did you manage to authentically portray the Bronx as well as Latino characters?
Obviously I'm Irish, but when I first moved to New York, I didn't really gravitate toward the Irish neighborhoods. I gravitated toward the more diverse neighborhoods. My wife is Puerto Rican, and I have many great friends that I've met through her, so the process felt very natural to me. I wasn't really trying to make a film about the Latin experience because obviously I know it secondhand. It was more that I set out to make a film about human beings in a particular predicament.
Many don't expect Latino characters to be brought to the screen by anyone other than Latino directors and producers. Do you think that's unfair?
From my experience, one of the best films to come out about Ireland, particularly Northern Ireland, was Hunger, directed by Steve McQueen. He's a black Londoner, and he did a fantastic job. I don't think because you carry a certain identity that it gives you a license to tell a certain story. I don't think cultural identity plays a huge part. When you tackle a project like this, it's very important that you have a very open eye and that you observe, communicate, and empathize with the characters that you're trying to portray.
How does your film differ from previous stories set in the Bronx?
I think the Bronx has been misrepresented in other films. When I first moved to New York, I was taking a train to the Bronx, and someone told me not to go up there. Even when I first moved there, I was apprehensive, but having lived there for seven years, I wanted to make a film about the decent aspects of the Bronx. I wanted it to be true.
The next time you witness something on the 2 train, is it going to lead to a movie?
It's been four years since the first incident, so it's a big time commitment. It would need to be something very interesting. [He laughs.]