Nolwen Cifuentes has had a booming career as a photographer, capturing a diverse array of subjects from Kamala Harris on the cover of Time to decorated portraits of auteurs like Floria Sigismondi posed in an expressionist lament. It was her touching and docu-stylied images of her friends which focused and illuminated a sense of beautiful humanity that really had us all becoming devotees. Implementing a sense of rigger and release the broad spectrum of her subjects was sure enough a great segway back to her initial passions of film making.
Having dived into the process of shooting on her spare time with little to know budgets, her quarantine has helped to inform and reflect on her previous works. She took a step back and re-incorporated her initial love of cinema and narrative film making. The results include a diverse and intimate portrait of every day life from 3 different vantage points each with its well framed understandings grounded in family and friends. A quick chat with Cifuentes strengthens the genuine response and interactions with her subjects.
A collaborative effort the depictions were made in a way which cultivates a free spirited improvisational manor which doesn’t impose but rather highlights the characters developments. Here we ask the newly minted director on her process and moves to highlight compassion.
Congrats on this new project, I had no idea you were into film as well! Tell me more, how did you get into this project it is so different from your editorial work.
I know!!! So I actually was really into filmmaking like back when I was 16 and made a few shorts. When I went to college, I ended up studying graphic design and the whole filmmaking thing took a back seat. When I found my love for photography I just went full force into that. Then last year I watched this Netflix show Easy, by Joe Swanberg, it’s all improvised and it just reminded me so much of the type of filmmaking I had wanted to do. Simple, human stories that felt very real.
I started watching a lot of his interviews and how he made films, he just shot whole feature films in like a week, it didn’t have to be great, and he didn’t even write a script for them. So I was like wait I could probably do that too.
That improvised aspect is so interesting as I do know that you are incorporating that performative aspect into the biographical aspect of it. Did you put together a script for each short?
Each story is really based on the people, they’re all friends of mine, it’s fictional stories but yeah all improv. No script, just like an outline of where I wanted the story to go.
So when we’re shooting, I’d direct them, like “ok I need you to get to this beat, how can we get there?” It was all super collaborative
I absolutely also love the contrasting cast of characters in each short from what I have seen so far how did you go about choosing them that really complement each other?
Yeah the cast is so good!!! They’re all real relationships. The first one, Born in a Chevy, they were both actual best friends who lived together. I met them a few years back and just was so charmed by their energy and their friendship. The story was based on something from my own life, but I just knew I wanted to make something with Ezra and Ruth (who star in that film) and they ended up being perfect. The other one, Sixty and Fabulous, I had photographed Khalif for a personal project and knew his mom was Vietnamese and deaf and just felt like that would be a really interesting story to see. I didn’t know she’d be SO amazing on camera though, in that one she didn’t really “act,” it was just them interacting how they would normally and I was just there capturing it and putting them in the setting of the market.
And the last one I just posted, The Waltz, I met those brothers at a party and instantly was like oh my gosh I need to make something with you.
Their whole vibe was amazing. We met for lunch and I learned all three of them were super into ballroom dancing so I was like ok perfect that’s the movie.
Is there also something you feel you are showcasing by framing these people life through your perspective, how do you see your visual language interacting with them?
It’s definitely interesting, especially with the first one, Born in a Chevy, because that story is just something that happened to me. I had this visceral need to express how I felt about something. So it’s like I’m melding my own experiences with the very real relationships of other people. I think especially with the improv aspect of it, it makes the whole story feel so real and defined. Like here I am baring a vulnerable side of myself along with the actors who are doing the same by sharing their real relationships.
I also really liked the way you shot these, was it all iphone ?
Technically they’re all shot on my iPhone, there was literally zero dollars for it, but I think it gives them all an even more doc/cinema verite feel.