Tania Claudia Castillo on Shooting Her Short in Veracruz & Why We Need More Female Directors

A young filmmaker from Mexico City arrived at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year with a very personal story. Primavera is a short film about the person who shares your DNA, your underwear, your bedroom, but is often a complete stranger. Tania Claudia Castillo’s sister Isabel was the inspiration for a film that nicely encapsulates the paradoxical relationship between siblings: two individuals growing up together yet growing apart.

Elba is obedient and timid, and though she’s curious, she’s also cautious to explore the adult world before her. Her older sister Fernanda is a free spirit, who is sexually active and ready for an adventure to take her out of their home in Tuxpan, a small town in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. Elba struggles with what she believes to be Fernanda’s reckless choices, which go against the values instilled in them by conscientious parents. Also, Elba looks up to Fernanda; to witness her break out of the relatively safe existence they’ve grown accustomed to has greater implications for Elba’s own rite of passage. And yet, it’s these choices and eventual missteps that will allow Fernanda to grow into herself and will inspire Elba to do the same.

Shot in overcast Tuxpan, the image is overlaid with a soft and diffused blue that speaks to the melancholy of youth, the nostalgia of a past that is soon to come. Located along Veracruz’s coastline, the ocean is often in the backdrop, which at once gives the impression of breadth and isolation. The film has some nice compositions, with the two siblings often sharing the same frame but being pulled apart by planes of focus or spatial relationships. In look and feel, it’s reminiscent of Claire Denis’ impressive first feature Fat Girl. It’s a great little short showing a lot of promise for a young filmmaker who has yet to complete her graduate school film thesis.

Below, Tania goes into more details regarding the production of the film and the journey that brought her to this story.

Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?
I grew up in Mexico City. I attended public schools. I was an introvert. I liked music from the time I was a girl and learned to play a couple of instruments and participated in school bands. I was always a good student without being too much of a sap. Once I learned, I loved to dance salsa and cumbia.

What or who first got you interested in film?
In high school, I had a philosophy teacher who loved film. He spoke passionately about auteurs and we watched some great movies. I started investigating and was struck by the creative process of imagining a film and a story.

“All of the secondary characters were local people who did not have any acting or film experience.”

What was the inspiration for the character of Elba?
Primavera is a short film born of personal experience that occurred during my adolescence. It portrays the relationship I had with my sister and the effects it had on my growth. Elba’s character is based on the teenager that I was; she has many of my personality traits at that age.

Often we see coming-of-age stories from a male point of view. Why is it important to have a woman’s?
It was important to me to tell the story from a female perspective because that is the world I know and can relate to with great understanding. I think both male and female perspectives are necessary. However, since the majority of filmmakers are male, films with female protagonists – made by women – add plurality and balance to the stories that we see. This is always necessary.

“Since the majority of filmmakers are male, films with female protagonists – made by women – add plurality and balance to the stories that we see.”

Would you say that this is a story typical of Veracruz or typical of women in Mexico or typical of women all over the world?
I think it has elements of adolescence in general: emotional growth, maturity, and developing a personality according to the context and people around us. Elba’s transformation occurs when she has an interaction with her older sister. I think the majority of us who have gone through that stage remember situations that left a mark and that influenced the people we went on to become. It’s a time of growth and discovery. That is what is portrayed in Primavera.

What is Tuxpan like? What challenges did you encounter while shooting there? Benefits?
Tuxpan is a small town in the state of Veracruz. There is an air of melancholy and the weather is cold for most of the year. It is not as colorful and welcoming as the rest of the state. However, it contains cinematic and unique locations. That’s what caught my attention. One of the greatest challenges was that in Tuxpan, there are no film professionals, and since we didn’t have the resources necessary to bring a lot of cast members with us, all of the secondary characters were local people who did not have any acting or film experience. The only experienced actresses were those who brought Elba and Fernanda to life.

The film ends with a dedication to Isabel. Who is she?
Isabel is my older sister. At the end of the short, there is a small dedication to her because she was the person who I learned from, who helped me grow despite our having a distant relationship. We have very different personalities even though we grew up together, and we love each other deeply.