From Visual Effects on ‘Machete’ to Winning a Grant to Make Her Sci-Fi Short: Meet Emerging Director Maru Buendia-Senties

With issues of diversity dominating the conversations surrounding the film industry, it’s always heartening to see film festivals supporting minority talent. Last week, at a Latino Reel panel at the Sundance Film Festival, NALIP (National Association of Latino Independent Producers) announced the winners of its 2015 Latino Lens: Narrative Shorts Incubator. Latino Lens is a new, exclusive incubation and media content production program designed to develop, nurture and produce a series of creative Latino projects.

“With Latino Lens, NALIP is thrilled to provide original production programming and support and promote Latino content creators and filmmakers. With the embarrassing and shameful lack of diversity seen yet again at this year’s Oscars, NALIP focuses on actions that directly address this need for change within and without Hollywood’s antiquated system,” said Axel Caballero, Executive Director of NALIP. Winners receive contributions for pre-production, production, and post-production tools, resources, and assets to support the successful completion of their short films.

Among the winners was Maru Buendia-Senties, whose short film Windows joins three others — One Halloween by writer/director Rebecca Murga, Swimming in the Desert by writer-director Alvaro Ron, and Dying Man by writer/director Rodrigo Reyes — as the finalists of this months-long search. The final shorts will screen in June at 2016 NALIP Media Summit.

Born in Mexico City, Buendia-Senties got her Masters at the University of Texas-Austin and has slowly been building an impressive resume, alternating between doing visual effects work for films like Spy Kids 4, Predators, and Machete, and writing, producing and directing her own shorts via her production company, Bloodbank Productions. Windows is the result of a collaboration with Glenn Eanes, who she’s known and worked with for over ten years—a friendship that was nurtured by their mutual love of genre films like Robocop, Lethal Weapon, The Thing and Alien. The deceptively simple short centers on “two isolated women who bond by sharing their lives from a distance through their apartment windows,” and without giving too much away, they teased it as a cool Black Mirror episode.

Fresh off receiving the news that her project had been named a winner, Buendia-Senties jumped on the phone with us alongside her Windows co-writer. They filled us in on how this twisty sci-fi short came together and shared some words about how the immigrant experience sneaks its way into their creative process.

On The Original Idea Behind Windows

Maru: We came up with the idea of Windows last year. We had been working on a pitch that we presented at Fantastic Fest for an action film, and I have been playing with this idea of two women that don’t meet.  My original idea was a bit more depressing and darker than what the film is now. One of the things I’ve always liked is when you’re sitting in a coffee shop or a restaurant, or when you’re driving, those glimpses that you catch of people’s lives through windows that can tell you something about who they are, their humanity, their struggle. My original idea was two women who are looking at each other but they should never meet and no matter what they try they’re never gonna meet. But the original pitch I gave to Glenn is they live in two different realities. And Glenn has a big background on writing sci-fi and he likes a lot of things that have to do with the near-future technology…

Maru Buendia-Senties poses with George Lucas. Photo via Bloodbank Productions
Read more

And It’s Sci-Fi Turn

Glenn: … Yeah. I had been circling around the idea of doing something about the technological singularity for probably three or four years. I had kind of pitched that idea to Maru. So when we were talking about these two women who can never meet each other, can never get together, it sounded like an episode of Black Mirror. And I said, we could go sci-fi with this. So we went in that direction and made it kind of like a technology piece. The reason the women can’t get together is because of technology. And that injected all the angst and solitude that Maru is so good at to it.

On Fostering Diversity On Screen

“Because we grew up in such diverse environments for each of us at different stages of our lives, that’s something we like to reflect.”

Glenn: For me, I grew up overseas so for me the connection back to the States was American film. And so I kind of grew up with that being my connection to home.

Maru: Because we grew up in such diverse environments at different stages of our lives, that’s something we like to reflect. For instance, in Windows obviously there’s always something there that’s Mexican, because I’m Mexican, so I’ll always want to incorporate that. The main character speaks Spanish, and when she interacts with… well, let’s call it, this machine, this voice, it’s speaking English and we never explain why. And the main character never speaks English – she’s always responding in Spanish and the machine always responds in English. It’s things like that that we really like.

On Her ‘Mexican-American’ Identity Crisis

Maru: Whenever people ask me where I’m from, it’s always very tricky because I’m 35 and I think that my life has been sliced in equal parts from the center of Mexico City and the border. In el Distrito Federal some of the people—not everyone, my family still love me!—don’t like those who live up north. And up north, they don’t like people from el DF. Both sides basically think the other thinks [they’re] better. And, I don’t know, it just makes you feel like you don’t really fit into anywhere that you go. Regardless of how much time you spend there. I’m a legal U.S. citizen and I love having that opportunity and I see everything that that’s provided for me, but at the same time I know that I’m Mexican at heart. And I don’t think those two parts need to battle.

On Making Windows Happen

Maru: We’re very lucky because we have an awesome team of people that we’ve known through the years. A lot of them we met at UT Austin. So it’s a group of people that we enjoy working with and who have always pushed us forward. We’re lucky that they love the story, and without this team none of these things would be possible for us. So that was our objective: regardless of what happens, to shoot it this year. And so when we got the news, obviously we immediately starting making calls to everybody that it was greenlit and that we needed to go! So we’re scheduled to shoot the first week of March and everything is rolling. We’ve been working like crazy and gone full-on production mode.

This interview has been edited for clarity.