Director David Pablos on How Talking to Sex Trafficking Victims Shaped His Cannes Hit ‘Las Elegidas’

A few months back, we spoke with Mexican director David Pablos about the Cannes premiere of his second feature, Las Elegidas. The lively conversation took us from talk of his hometown, Tijuana, to the pressures of a follow-up hit, and of course to the difficult themes explored in this true-to-life tale of organized crime and human trafficking. The film was fairly well-received by audiences and critics following its debut as part of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard competition back in May, and since then Las Elegidas has been running victory laps through the global festival circuit.

So, in a way, the film’s recent screening at the Los Cabos International Film Festival was a homecoming celebration for the Tijuana-set feature, and Pablos was on hand along with his cast to field questions from festivalgoers following the screening. We’ve gone ahead and picked out some highlights from the Q&A to get even more perspective on the process behind the latest from one of Mexico’s most promising young filmmakers.

On Talking to Actual Survivors of Sex Trafficking

“What was most important for me with the cast was to make sure it was a process that was healthy and enriching for their lives.”

After doing all of this research, I began to speak with young girls who had been victims of trafficking. They had already been freed, which is to say, I went to a number of foundations. These conversations gave more nuance to what I was writing, mostly because in speaking with the first girl who told me her story – it was a two-hour conversation – I was very impacted by something she said. She spoke about the boy who had forced her into prostitution. He was 17 [and] she was 13, which is why it was clear my characters had to be of this age – and she told me what this boy told her the first time he hit her: “Please behave so I don’t have to beat you.” It was the father who obligated the son to do this. I was moved by this very personal situation, and seeing how in very different and incomparable ways, both were victims of this situation and this context. So that’s the heart of the project and it’s how the film starts out: as an adolescent love story that then transforms into something very different.

On Preparing Non-Professional Actors

Once they were chosen for the film, we put them in a month-long acting workshop, four hours a day, from Tuesday to Sunday. And that was what gave them the tools necessary to do the job, and I’m not just speaking about acting per se, but about trust and familiarity, so they could have positive communication. I think that was the key to making this film.

On Creating a Safe Space for the Actresses on Set

What was most important for me with the cast and crew was to take care of them, and make sure it was a process that was healthy and enriching for their lives. I always told my team when we were making the film that the process is one thing, the film is quite another. And the process was very distinct from the film: it was very beautiful, touching, and enjoyable. This is really a great crew, and I think that was the best, or the only way to be able to make this film. This trust and complicity among the cast and crew.

Actress Leidi Gutiérrez on Doing Nude Scenes

“It’s a film with a very difficult theme, and there’s no other way to get the truth across.”

David was always extremely attentive. I have one scene in the film where I show my breasts, and I was in bed with (co-star) Pepe Chuy and he said, “I’m not going to turn around and look at you.” And it was entirely my decision. David said, “Are you sure you want to do it? If not, there won’t be any problem.” But I put my trust entirely in David, because I know it’s a film with a very difficult theme, and there’s no other way to get the truth across. People who have sex don’t do it with clothes on. It was very difficult for me to see it right now, but in the end, I saw it as something very natural, very artistic.

Las Elegidas is playing during the Hola Mexico Film Festival at 9 p.m. on May 20, 2016 at the Regal Cinemas LA Live. Buy tickets here.