Interview with Lucy Mulloy Director of "Una noche"

Photo Credit: © 2013 - IFC Films
August 22nd, 2013

Director Lucy Mulloy has gained the attention of audiences all over the world for her new film “Una noche” which tells the story of 3 young adults in Havana, Cuba desperately trying to escape.  The film has garnered several awards including Lucy winning Best New Director  at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.  Lucy was gracious enough to sit down with Movie Room Reviews and tell us all about her epic journey to make “Una noche”.

Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews: Hello Lucy. It's nice to talk to you. I just got done watching your film “Una noche”.

Lucy Mulloy: Oh, you did? Thanks.

MRR: The film played the Tribeca in 2012, right?

Lucy: Correct, yeah.

MRR: Well you're the director of this new film, "Una Noche", and the film obviously like we just talked about it, played at last year's Tribeca where you won Best New Director along with several other awards. If you could, could you talk to our audience and tell us a little bit about this film?

Lucy: Yeah, the movie was shot entirely in Havana in Cuba. It's all... Well, it's all non-actors, so we worked together for a year, training them. We kind of built up an infrastructure from scratch because we worked outside of any institution that really existed in Cuba for making cinema. There's no labs in Cuba either, so we were really lucky and we got sponsorship to shoot on 35 mm. But yeah, we didn't have a lab in Cuba and we didn't really have the facilities to work with that, so we had to fly everything back to Toronto every week or every couple of weeks. We didn't get dailies for the movie, we got kinda weeklies. There were a lot of challenges making the film there because really, there was nothing there before we started. So it took us a little bit over a year to kind of get our production office up and running and to interview all of the crew out there and to start locations, searching. I had this desire to work with new locations that hadn't really been used in Cuban television and weren't kind of played out.

So we went all over the city and looked for brand new spots, but we didn't have location companies. We had to go and do that ourselves, and we went kind of door to door and knocking on people's homes to see if they would let us shoot in their houses because we thought it was much better to... I mean, I was at NYU Film School before, so I was very used to students' DIY style of film-making and I really just brought that onto this feature project. And nobody who was really involved in the project had really, on the production side, had really made a feature before, so we were all learning as we went along and we were all very kind of enthusiastic, maybe somewhat naïve. And we thought that it would not take that long to do and not be that much of a challenge but we were wrong. In a way, I think our naivety worked for us because we would come up against obstacles and we would find a way around them, so it kind of helped. Whereas maybe if we had done it before, it would have been like, "Oh my God, how are we gonna climb this mountain?" [chuckle]

MRR: Now that the film is based on a story, right?

Lucy: Yeah. I met this young boy. I'd been in Cuba and I went out there a few years ago and from the first time I went there, I was completely struck by the place. I hadn't ever seen Cuba or Havana, in particular, on screen before. The light there is amazing, and the colors, the textures, the city just has a real... In a way, like a very seductive charm to it, but in a way, there's a really tragic kind of decay as well, and it was that kind of contradiction that really made me want to wanna show the place though, 'cause the system there... The whole society in Cuba is very complex and I think that I was very interested in kind of investigating that complexity through making the film.

Basically, I met this young boy who was about eight years old, who was on the seafront and I had already been thinking about, a lot about people leaving on rafts because everybody knew somebody. Everyone was telling me a story about how they themselves had tried to leave, or how someone in their family had left, and it just seemed like this 90-mile stretch was so close but such a kind of dangerous journey to take for all of these people who were actually risking their lives to take it. And so, I really wanted to find out why and what was behind this, what was the motivation. And I had always been, at NYU, I had been working with young people and non-actors quite a lot, and I found that it was really fruitful working with young, non-actors because they could let go of reality and play easily, and kind of believe in characters and allow themselves to kind of be silly and just get into roles and get into improvising. So, it was really enjoyable for me to work with young people. And I had this idea that I wanted to make a movie in Cuba about people leaving and I was just curious to see if this young boy knew any young people who had tried to leave. And he started telling me this story about two boys and a girl who, at crack of dawn, one day, they got on a boat that they'd made and they set sail for the States. And that story that he told me was really tragic and really harrowing and disturbing.

MRR: One thing I wanted to talk about too is, I obviously I've never been to Cuba. But I wanted to know if you feel you accurately represented life in Cuba for people in these areas?

Lucy:  I think my prime objective when I was making the film was really wanting to make it feel genuine, so that when a Cuban person watched the film, they wouldn't be conscious of whether it was a Cuban who'd directed it, or someone from another country. That was very important to me that it felt genuine and not like somebody coming in and looking at Cuba and kind of portraying it through the tourist's eyes, as in so many movies that you see about, kind of "foreign countries" that aren't in the US or aren't in Europe that are kind of portrayed through the kind of, white man, male or female, going to that country and having their experience abroad, and showing it through their eyes. No, it was really important for me to actually, for the film to feel very genuinely Cuban and very authentic. And that a Cuban person could watch it and know that the kids were speaking with real voices.

And all of the locations that we used were real locations. So all of the homes were real people's homes. So, there wasn't anything that's kind of made to look better or made to look worse or embellished, in any way. I was really being as open as possible when I was there and kind of reflecting what I was seeing. 'Cause it's such an amazingly rich place that, that was really important to me. And that was actually my prime motivation was to make a film that I could show in Cuba and I was really thinking of a Cuban audience when I was making the movie.

MRR: And is that why you chose to do the film in all Spanish and have the English subtitles?

Lucy: Yeah. It didn't make any sense to me to do anything 'cause there's Cuban actors, so they can't speak English for a start. So, yeah, it had to be in their language.

MRR: I feel that some directors would choose to do it in English because they'd want it to be more of an American hit or movie hit, you know what I'm saying?

Lucy: Yeah, this maybe started out as my thesis film for NYU, so I wasn't thinking about a hit, I was just thinking about trying to make the best, maybe, that I could make within that country and making it genuine to people's stories, so that they would feel represented in a landscape where there's nothing that represents them.

And that's what, I think, is important to me in cinema, in general, is actually allowing for other voices. And, I think it's really important that there's kind of variation. A lot of people ask me about being a female director and all of this kind of thing. But I think that it's really crucial that there is a variety of writers and directors, not just female as well, but also from different countries and different cultures, and that people are being exposed to that 'cause there is a hunger, I think, in the world for people to see themselves and to see other people, not just from North America kind of thing. But hey... [chuckle] or Europe.

MRR: Right.

Lucy: So, yes.

MRR: I know you touched on this briefly a little bit ago, but was it difficult to film in Havana? Did you have a lot of problems?

Lucy: Yeah, it is very, very difficult to film there. I mean, honestly, to go out and buy a pint of milk is very difficult in Havana. So, to make a movie was... Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking [laughter] when I first had the idea, like I said, it started with a short film and it was just kind of a contained idea. We're gonna do it on the ocean and then I thought, "Well, that's crazy." We've got the whole of Havana, it looks stunning and initially, it was gonna be at night and then, I thought, "Okay, let's tell their whole back story before they leave, as well, so we can really understand what it is that's motivating them and see that world where they're coming from." And Havana is kind of like a character in the movie for me. So, shooting there is really hard because you don't have resources and you don't have equipment.We had to bring in over a ton of camera equipment from Ari the first time that we shot on the primary film shoot. So, you can imagine, we completely packed out the airport with boxes and tripods, and everything that we brought in. And then we didn't have access to steady cams and to dollies and to all of these things that are usually readily available when people are shooting movies. So, we had then to improvise a lot of staff and I had to shoot from my roller blades instead of using a dolly. We had to cut doors off the and take ladders to shoot the cycling scenes. So, we were shooting out of cars with no doors. We had to be really, really inventive.

Initially, we didn't have underwater shooting equipment. So, Trevor Forest, the first VP who came out, he created a periscope to shoot underwater, and that was just something that he dreamed up and we just made it out of a box, put a mirror at the bottom, submerged it under the water, and kind of like hung the camera above it and it worked, and those shots are in the movie. So, there were a lot of moments where we had to get really creative. We would lose a location last minute because somebody would change their mind or someone was ill, or there'd be black outs and we had chosen locations that didn't have any windows, for example, so we would have to move into a completely different apartment last minute and address that in half an hour, and things like that. And also, it was a challenging movie because we have, I think, over 100 locations in the movie, and a lot of characters. So, we were dashing around the city from place to place trying to get everything in.

So, there were a lot of challenges, for sure, [laughter] but we had an incredible crew. We had incredible support our there. In some ways, we were really, really lucky shooting in Cuba as well because people there were so accommodating and so kind of open and we didn't have problems with crowds, and we didn't have problems with people waving at the camera and things like that. People were really obliging and so, that made it possible to find those kind of magic spontaneous moments during the shoot that, I think, kind of gave it a different flavor and allow you to feel a bit more of what Havana's really like when you're watching the film.

MRR: I think the fact that you took the extra step, as hard as it was, is fantastic because I feel that a lot of directors may have filmed this on an island somewhere, down maybe in the Bahamas or something and they would have kind of claimed to be Havana, but it wasn't. So, it's really interesting that you took the extra step. I think it was worth it.

Lucy: Thank you. Yeah, that was never a question. The whole point of making the movie was to do it there. It's about Havana, it's about what's really happening there and there are genuine documentary moments in the film that is kind of really hard to recreate, kids playing together or moments that are just happening. 'Cause when you're walking down the streets in Havana, I think one of the things that strikes you first is that whenever you look around, there's always something going on and there's always some kind of action, and it's always so unique and original, and interesting. And there's like all of these little narratives that I was just, as a filmmaker, it's like, "Oh my God", you really wanna kind of include that. I could never have done that if we were shooting in Puerto Rico, or Jamaica or somewhere else.

MRR: So, if you could say one thing that you found particularly interesting or fascinating about the Cuban culture, what would you say it is?

Lucy: I would say that probably, I think, in a way, the lack of media presence in Cuba and the lack of the kind of the cult of celebrity that exists here in the States, it doesn't exist in Cuba. And I think that people in Cuba have a very strong sense of self-identity and I think that's really unique to Cuba.I would say that the people there have been through a lot and they're going through a lot. So, there's a lot of pain in that country, and a lot of people who are kind of separated from their families. So, there's a lot of tragedy which I think people don't necessarily always associate with Cuba 'cause people usually think of the cigars and the salsa, and rum, and all of the kind of cliches.

MRR: Well, you did a great job of it with having a smaller budget, obviously, and this is your first full length feature film, so as you talked about it, you did a lot of kind of tricks to help yourself out because may not have had the money or may not have had the resources. But at the end you've won several awards for the film and how does that make you feel as a director?

Lucy: Amazing. [chuckle]  I mean, the fact that the film has been shown in so many different countries is mind-blowing, considering that we went out there and I really wasn't thinking about that when I was making the film. I was thinking about, "How are we gonna get it finished? [chuckle] And then to be embraced in that way by film festivals and audiences who actually empathize with the characters and can relate to the story, that is incredible. That is something that blows my mind, that people in Russia will laugh at the same moments as people in Morocco.

And it's such a specific story that's so kind of unique to Cuba and Havana, but I think that it really made me realize that it does kind of transcend and that human emotions, you can understand them all over the world. I mean, it sounds kind of cheesy or cliche, but that was pretty amazing for me when I was traveling with the film and just hearing audiences laughing at the same places and being touched in the same way in completely different areas of the world was really inspiring.

MRR: Well, all these people out there that are gonna wanna see the film, I see that it comes out on August 23rd, is that right?

Lucy: Yeah. On Friday.

MRR: So, on what platform is that gonna be on?

Lucy: On Friday, it's coming out at the IFC Center downtown and Lincoln Plaza, midtown, and it's coming out in Miami that same day. And then it's gonna be expanding to 10 more cities around the US and it's also gonna come out on VOD on the 26th, and there's like a bunch of different other venues online.

MRR: Well, thanks a lot so much for talking with me, Lucy. I really appreciate it and I really enjoyed the film, and what can we expect from you in the future, you think?

Lucy: The next movie I'm working on is a script that's set in Brazil and New York, and I'm super excited about that. I'm writing the script at the moment and starting to think about showing it to people and I'm starting to take meetings on that. So, that's the immediate next step, is making that film.

I can't wait just to get back behind the camera and be working with actors again.


MRR: Well, best of luck to you and thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about your film.

Lucy: Yeah. Of course. Thanks for watching. I really, really appreciate it.