Fernanda Rossi is a writer, filmmaker and story consultant. She has written eight feature-length screenplays, most recently an adaption of the novel Elena Sabe by the Argentine best-seller author Claudia Piñeiro. Rossi has doctored over three hundred fiction scripts and documentary films. She completed her degree in Film Production at the University of Buenos Aires.
Rossi's film 'Clara Como El Agua' premiered Monday, March 5th on PBS.org as part of the PBS Online Film Festival. Set in Puerto Rico, the 10 minute short fiction film captures the experience of bullying from the point of view of Clara - a light skinned black girl who is teased because of the color of her skin. A week after the world premiere of 'Clara Como El Agua' we interviewed Rossi where she shared her thoughts about filmmaking, the important issues she tackles in her short film and the vital role symbolism plays in this coming of age story. CLICK HERE to view and vote for 'Clara Como El Agua'.
Your short film Clara Como El Agua premiered last week on the PBS Online Film Festival. Tell us about the journey and how you balance being a filmmaker, writer, story consultant and mother.
I think we learn from everything we do and all we do informs the other areas of our lives—if we pay attention. My fictional writing and directing have enriched and continue to enrich my work as a story consultant. That work has also kept me humble, because I am reminded time and again how hard it is to get a project going. As a story consultant, being a collaborator on so many projects and working with so many accomplished people, including Academy Award© nominees, has taught me a lot about how the business works. I am a witness in the front row, supporting and learning with each project.
As per adding mothering to the above mix, [exhale] it’s a challenge. I’m a strong advocate of “integration,” which means supporting women in pursuing both their jobs/careers and motherhood, rather than creating the false choice that only one can be done. We can do both if the infrastructure is there. Imagine if our ancestors on the African savannah had pondered whether to stay home with the kids or go hunting and gathering—we wouldn’t be here. In fact, all over the world, women go to the fields or stores with their kids in tow. I am lucky I work in an environment that allows me that “integration,” and I hope it soon becomes the norm rather than the exception. You can see in the photos of the shoot, I was nursing while directing and I have nursed on stage in front of 50 people when lecturing as a story consultant. I had to show a lot of boob to get my career going!
Since ‘Clara Como El Agua’ premiered, it has been well received and has generated a lot of discussion. Why did you choose to present the film on a public media platform?
I think it’s a very universal topic, so public media was the natural match with its broader approach to themes and broader audience. I would love to continue working with public media.
Was it always your intention to produce the film as a short? Why did you decide to tackle these social issues through a drama and use fiction as a way of telling the story?
I have written many feature length scripts and written and directed shorts here and there, including a feature length documentary. The first script I wrote in film school touched on topics similar to those in 'Clara Como El Agua', if vaguely so. A short gave me the opportunity to focus on one single story line and get it done faster, with less time and effort than it takes to do a feature. So, yes, it was conceived as a short, but it was informed by everything else I did before that. Now it has become a trilogy, which I call 'The Trilogy of Empowerment', depicting three girls: Clara at 10, biracial, who lives in a natural setting; a 15-year-old, white, in a city; and in the third installment, a 20-year-old Native American entering college, so in an institutional setting.
All stories follow the same arc of a young woman facing a challenge and growing through overcoming that challenge.
You chose to base the story in Puerto Rico. Why did you choose this location instead of your home country, Argentina?
Puerto Rico is closer to where I live in New York. [laughs] Actually I conceived the story after teaching a workshop in Puerto Rico, and even though it’s a story that could have been shot anywhere in the Caribbean, I wanted to honor the place where and the people with whom it was created. The film was actually the result of a bet. When I was visiting, I asked if the bioluminescent bay was close enough to reach by boat (yola), but because of my accent I said “shola” instead of “yola,” and I asked if there was a “plasha” instead of a “playa” (beach), and I said “cashe” for calle (street). When producer Frances Lausell heard my question about the bay, she burst out laughing and told me no, it can be reached by ferry only, and then she kept teasing me about my strong “sh.” Finally I told her, “I’ll write a story about the bioluminescent bay with tons of ‘ssshholas’ [boats], beach and streets, and you’ll have to hear me saying the ‘sh’ in production for three days in a row.” She said, “Deal, tell me when you’re done.” I wrote it on the plane on my way back and sent it to her the following day. She loved it and said, “Let’s do it.” And we did. Though on set I did try hard to soften my accent—to no avail.
'Clara Como El Agua' is a coming of age story of a biracial girl who is searching for her identity. Since it has a universal theme, who is your target audience?
I conceived the film for young audiences, their parents and educators regardless of color. It’s a story of overcoming challenges. At that age, kids struggle with all kinds of hardships about who they are and how to fit in. Whether we are black or biracial, chubby or skinny, smart or dreamy or pretty, we all try to fit in but also try to find ways to stand out and be different. It’s a tough balance to negotiate as a child.
In part two of our interview, Fernanda Rossi discusses the multi-layered meanings in 'Clara Como El Agua' and the symbols she uses to depict them. (Watch the film and see if you can identify those symbols.) Rossi also shares with us the impact she hopes her film will have and closes the interview with her advice for aspiring filmmakers. Stay tuned...
(To read part two of When Docs and Fiction Collide, please CLICK HERE)