I had the privilege of conducting a Q&A Interview with Julia Solomonoff; Director of “Nobody’s Watching“, which is the third feature film by this distinguished New York-based Latin American director. Nobody’s Watching will have its World Premiere as part of the official International Narrative Competition at the 16th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival, running April 19-30 in New York City. As the national debate on immigration focuses on border crossing, Solomonoff presents an original take on Latin America-U.S. emigration in which her protagonist overstays his visa—a phenomenon that accounts for 40% of the undocumented immigrants in this country. It’s an unexpected tale of immigration that offers a moving portrait of New York City.
Q&A with Director Julia Solomonoff about “Nobody’s Watching”:
Arthur Glover: SO I could probably think of a hundred reasons why you would want to make a film story such as this. But what do think ultimately led you to directing NOBODY’S WATCHING?, and what was the path that led you to that?
Julia Solomonoff: “Nobody’s Watching” is like a personal journal to me… one I have been taken entries to for over a decade!
It is a character study, of a man in a time of crisis, but also a cultural study, of how we immigrants adapt to new environments, how we negotiate our identity and voices, trying to avoid stereotypes and often getting lost in translation…But of course, it is also a story of Nico’s heartbreak, and his re-defining of his own path.
Why did you decide to place this story in NYC rather than LA?
Julia: I have lived between New York and Buenos Aires for almost two decades… I have only visited LA a few times. I shoot what I know intimately, I would hate to do a “postcard” film or a cliché of a city I barely know… the film has an insider’s perspective, the city life is seen from the eyes of an immigrant who, because of his looks, has the “privilege” of navigating different worlds, from nannies to artists and top producers…
What do you think the differences to the story would be if it were based in LA?
Julia: Cars are not photogenic, but in NY we ride bikes, we walk… it’s a lot more alive and dynamic visually! and for dramatic effect, you cannot beat the subway!
“La la land” needed superimpositions to show change of seasons… I had the luxury of naturally catching August’ s blazing sun, October’s golden foliage, Christmas decorations in midtown and even a gorgeous blanket of snow!
I came to NY for the indie films …Hollywood is not my mecca and I don’t think is my protagonists’ either.
Do you think immigrants and civilians alike who pursue being a part of this kind of industry, tend to get distracted more with survival as oppose to just focusing on their creative drive and craft?
Julia: How can they focus in their creative drive and craft when there is permanent cutting of public funds to arts and education in this country? Paying rent and loans is the first obsession of most American writers, filmmakers, artists! It is hard to take risks and explore when the debt accumulates…so filmmakers, actors, artists, musicians are pushed to produce something marketable all the time or take many day jobs… many peril in the battle, may become cynical and bitter, a few come out stronger and bolder. Overall, I feel that equating success with box office, valuing marketability over risk or originality has crippled the once very creative US film industry. Most studio films are based on old formulas, they are awfully predictable and complacent, they taste like perished canned food to me.
As a filmmaker who’s from Argentina, what led to you to being a New York City based director?
Julia: Personal, family choices… I came on a Fulbright scholarship to study Film at Columbia University… met my now husband, who was working at MoMA… we moved to Argentina, had two kids, made two features and then I was invited to teach at Columbia and we came back… Making “Nobody’s Watching” was a way to figure out my creative place here : we gathered a very international, young, diverse and passionate crew and cast, with my collaborators (many of them were my students!) I found a community, a home.
What advice would you give to others coming into this country to pursue the similar desires that your character in this film does?
Julia: New York is great for learning and discovering… but if you find yourself sacrificing too much, giving up space, time, health and creative growth… think it twice…I see so many people holding onto the city, it looks like an abusive relationship.
So, particularly for actors: come explore the city, learn, bartend, expose yourself to the amazing energy and diversity of the city, to the unavoidable (and healthy) cracking of your ego. But if after a few years, you feel shrinking too much, allow yourself the freedom of choosing again. Paths change.
What is the ultimate thing that you hope your film influences on your audiences?
Julia: That they feel for Nico, they identify with him, that they embrace a character that is complex, ambiguous and fascinating.
After premiering your film at Tribeca and moving thru the festival circuit, what projects do you have coming up on the horizon?
Julia Solomonoff: It’s kind of a noir film. “Off- Peak”: an exploration of a woman’s mid life crisis and how her “best intentions” end up unwillingly but fatally increasing racial tensions.