Latino Public Broadcasting

When Docs and Fiction Collide - An Interview with Fernanda Rossi on her LPB funded short 'Clara Como El Agua' (Part Two)


In part one of 'When Docs and Fiction Collide' featured last week on the LPB blog, Fernanda Rossi gave us an insight into her journey to becoming a filmmaker and her inspirations behind her short film 'Clara Como El Agua'. In part two, Rossi delves deeper into the issues she addresses in her film and the symbols she utilizes to convey them. Rossi also shares what she hopes to accomplish with this coming of age story and her future plans.


'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. CLICK HERE to watch 'Clara Como El Agua'. If you like the film, you can vote for it by 'Liking' it on YouTube or on PBS.org. The film with the most votes will receive the People's Choice Award!   


The film has multi-layered meanings that are symbolically illustrated, specifically racial and gender discrimination and bullying. Can you identify the symbols you used to depict them?

Oh, can I call my lifeline? Yes, there are many layers, so many I don’t know whether I can go into all of them. We had a nice conversation with the production designer team about that. We wanted the duality of girl/woman, black/white, magical thinking/science and the presence/absence of parents, the locals/tourists and so on, to permeate every aspect of the film. That’s why Clara, played by Kathiria Bonilla, wears pants and a dress, until the final scene where she wears just a dress. A subtle way to show she is moving away from an asexual identity to become a woman, toward her first love and heartache. Also, the losing of her bandana underwater is no production accident. I leave it up to readers to speculate about that one.

Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.

I like the opening and the final scenes. The opening for its rawness. For the end, I like that ghostly feeling of the villagers looking for Clara on the beach, the way the community descends into some sort of limbo. My favorite moment is when the grandmother sees Clara dead. We worked with non-actors, which is a blessing and an incredible challenge. Sixta Rivero, who played the grandmother, had a lot of experience as an extra in American TV series but had never acted with lines. After several takes of her “breakdown,” I was losing hope that it could be done. So I asked her if she had grandchildren, and it turned out she had 14. I asked her what if all her grandchildren took a ferry and that ferry… and let her imagine the rest. She nodded and we started to shoot. The scream was bloodcurdling. I was on the verge of tears, feeling remorse for having suggested such an image. The crew was speechless and didn’t move. She turned around and in the most nonchalant tone said, “How was that?” We fell over backwards. My God, she was truly performing. That’s, of course, the take that’s in the film.

As a filmmaker and as a Latina, what impact do you hope your film will have with these issues? What is it that you want audiences to take away with them after they have watched 'Clara Como El Agua'?

I hope 'Clara Como El Agua' can spark debate about all types of made-up dualities, about what’s it like to be a girl and a woman, about race and gender, violence and the role of the family and community in these issues. I thought these were ambitious goals for a short, but the Facebook discussion on the PBS page and the comments on the YouTube channel demonstrate that a fiction short can engage people, because it’s right there on their computers, tablets and phones. I get loads of emails and comments on Facebook and I’m happily addressing them all.

Will there be any follow-ups to the film? Do you have other projects in the works?

'Clara Como El Agua' is the first installment in the 'Trilogy of Empowerment', which I hope to finish shooting this year. I’m also in development for a feature-length film about a mother-daughter relationship gone awry. It’s an adaptation of the novel 'Elena Sabe' by the Argentine bestselling author Claudia Piñeiro. And I continue consulting and lecturing on story structure and fundraising samples. That never stops! Now with even more knowledge and renewed enthusiasm.

What advice do you have for any aspiring filmmakers who are trying to produce a narrative short?

Again, can I call my lifeline? That’s tough. I don’t want to create false expectations, but on the other hand, with the technology available, we can all tell our stories in any format we want. I would say before you go for it, ask yourself why you want to tell this story and is it really a film or is it better as a blog with photos or in some other format. Everything is possible, but the bigger question is whether it is appropriate. I ask myself this all the time: Is it appropriate for this time, for this team, for this audience, for this format? Does it make sense? If it doesn’t, I correct my strategy, but I never stop moving.

To read part one of 'When Docs and Fiction Collide', CLICK HERE.

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Tags: Clara Como El Agua, Fernanda Rossi, LPB, PBS, PBS Online Film Festival, Profile, Puerto Rico, biracial, bullying, multiracial

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