Kara Headley (Women and Hollywood) interviews Gisela Rosario Ramos, director of Perfume de Gardenias, which is part of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, taking place June 9-20. [Also see previous post Perfume de gardenias.] Here are excerpts from “Tribeca 2021 Women Directors: Meet Macha Colón – ‘Perfume de Gardenias’”:
Macha Colón is Gisela Rosario Ramos, an undisciplined artist currently based in Puerto Rico. Her award-winning short documentary “El Hijo de Ruby” has been shown in international festivals. Recently, Colón won an international documentary competition to film “Love Letters to an Iconess,” a documentary about Lucecita Benítez, a Puerto Rican queer diva who’s now in her seventies. In 2020, received the inaugural William Greaves Fund for mid-career filmmakers from Firelight Media for the development of her next feature.
“Perfume de Gardenias” is screening at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, which is taking place June 9-20.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
MC: Somebody told me recently that “Perfume de Gardenias” is like a tale. I never thought about it before, but it makes sense. I love the way tales work because their message is simple. “Perfume de Gardenias” is a simple story with lots of shades, thematic and aesthetic. It walks a line between drama and dark comedy using a familiar visual language to talk about an uncomfortable subject. It’s full of worn out bright colors that create an intimate space around the main character and that reflect her loneliness.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
MC: First, the thought of it made me laugh. Second, it was a chance to shed light on a group of people that are essential in society but are often invisible. And lastly, my own fear of death. Influenced by my work in documentaries, I pause within my daily routine to observe the absurdity of many moments we live through. One day, while visiting my mom, she was happily chit-chatting with some neighbors. They told me that a neighbor had died, electrocuted when cleaning the garage with the water hose. They were making plans to go to the funeral home with lots of excitement.
My mom was a very active person in her church, but when my father became bedridden she took care of him and didn’t leave his side. On this day, with her eyes glistening, she asked me if I could stay with him so she could go to the funeral home. I said yes. These women seemed to be intoxicated about the idea of having something to do. And I wondered, would they be willing to kill to have more funerals to go to? That was the original spark for the idea.
Around the same time, a young man visited a local funeral home and asked them to place him standing up in a corner of his apartment. He wasn’t sick; he worked in the drug cartel and knew his days were counted. He was killed a couple of weeks later and the funeral home complied. Local news media outlets went crazy with “The Standing Dead Man.” A new trend was born.
I decided to give the film’s main character this space to express creativity at a time when it seems her death is near. Death as a new beginning. The obsession with staying young makes us fear death. Preparing for our death should be part of our upbringing. It is my intention to inspire this idea into our own customs, to become more balanced individuals, capable of enjoying fuller lives with less regret.
[. . .] W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
MC: I didn’t feel like I belonged. Films allowed me to travel into another world and into spaces where I could dream of another me or a place where I was accepted. I wanted to give this same experience to others. Also, I loved photography, music, and stories. At some point it was pretty obvious that film is where those elements could live and interact harmoniously.
My growing political side understood the importance of representation, and I knew that the stories that I wanted to tell were not being told. The people and bodies I wanted to see were not there, and I couldn’t just expect for someone else to do it. [. . .]
W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?
MC: Surround yourself with people who believe in your work and make sure your artistic sensibilities are aligned. Have a support network of friends and family that have nothing to do with filmmaking. Also, don’t be afraid to redefine the traditional film/work model. Find something that works for you. Make it your own. [. . .]