Coming to theatres starting here in San Diego from director David Riker and Journeyman Pictures comes a riveting story of two side of the same world with THE GIRL.
This film tells the story of Ashley (Abbie Cornish), a young woman who can’t seem to get her world in order. After losing custody of her son, Ashley’s anger is strong and she doesn’t seem to care who knows it. While visiting her father Tommy (Will Patton), she learns he is smuggling illegal aliens from Mexico.
Realizing she needs money in order to get her son back, Ashley decides to do the unthinkable. After the plan goes wrong, she is left with Rosa (Maritza Santiago Hernandez), a young girl seeking her mother.
Ashley tries to think of a way to rid herself of this young girl. Instead, Rosa takes her on a journey not only through the beauty of Mexico, but on a journey through her own life. Both are looking for salvation and their reasons are no so very far apart.
FINAL WORD: Cornish portrays Ashley with an intensity that this role needs for viewers to be drawn in to the story. Her character is one of a woman who blames everyone for her lot in life, never accepting responsibility. If she were to do so, then the harshness of what she has done with her life, and the life of her son, might destroy her.
Young Maritza Hernandez is the spunky and tough Rosa. This young actress, and this is her first role, portrays the hardships of this young girl from a small village in Mexico. She also portrays a harshness that is needed to survive in the world she comes from.
Both of these actresses are amazing as they play off one another in a story that speaks of our own obligations to one another. Not as American or Mexican, but as human being to human being. This film brings about a larger discussion about the obligations we have toward one another.
Speaking with writer/director David Riker, I had the chance to explore these ideas with him:
Hi David, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. When I hear of a film and I seek out more information on it, I’m even more so drawn to it when it hits close to home. I live in the Southbay very close to Mexico.
I do know where you live! This really is very close to home.
So many events happen that way are just as sad as what happens in your film that although sometimes swept away news wise very quickly, your film puts it truly in the face. What motivated you want to make this worldwide?
As a filmmaker I’m trying to change my own understanding of what it means to be an American in the simplest way. To find a way to talk about this with my extended family and what the question of being American is as well as being uprooted from England or Poland or where ever it is you are from. This is not a political discussion but a discussion about our humanity. This film goes into how it is being shaped by others but by our own experiences because No parent can deny the pain of being separated from a child. It is so profound. It was actually that starting point that led me to create a character than in some way has experienced the same thing. The feeling of having a forced separation from her own family with social services taking her son. I feel like I will probably continue to explore this throughout my life. One of the beauties of being a writer is that you start out thinking what you’re writing about and discovering its something else. It was a complete revelation to me that the film was becoming as much about the border but also a story about what it means to be a mother and a woman’s awakening.
There is more than one theme in this film.
Yes, and I hope you can write that eloquently.
You have Ashley who obviously has a magazine rack of issues and when you start exploring her home life, relationship with her son – you think it’s going one way. Then you throw in Rosa, and the people and the decisions she makes which are so cockeyed – it’s as wide as the river they cross. Centrally, once you get through the film you see the humanity, our own humanity. When you were casting the film, what made you see that in Abbey Cornish?
Beautifully said. As a director I’ve been a great fan of Abby’s since her first film SOMMERSALT and subsequently CANDY with Heath Ledger and recently BRIGHT STAR with James Champion. I loved watching her as an actress and I’ve been struck, as many people have, by her sensitivity and her strength and her intelligence just watching her work. When I completed the script, Ashley as a character with three dimensional and alive for me. The biggest challenge for me was that I knew I needed an actress who could carry the film. She is in every scene. The story is more than anything is a subtle awakening that’s happening with her life. Like you said, she’s a train wreck and her own worst enemy. At the beginning of the film I describe the image that Ashley is in quick sand. You know when your in it and you move around you sink. Everything she does as a character makes her situation worse. The film at one level is this slow and gradual inner awakening that allows her to go from being a victim who blames everyone but herself for the situation to looking in the mirror and recognizing that she is also an architect of her circumstances. For all that I needed an exceptional actress but more importantly an actress who would make the commitment to work in difficult conditions and commit to learn Spanish. It was a very difficult challenge but it was amazing that I met with a number of actresses who wanted the part and excited because of the challenge. But Abbey at our first meeting bowled me over and told me that she wasn’t just interested in learning the dialogue in Spanish She wanted to learn Spanish, she wanted to speak Spanish and she brought that same intense commitment to everything in the film. She had described it as a life-changing journey for her and she decided to embrace it all. I was really honored to be able to work with her.
Opposite that you have little Maritza…where did you find this young lady?
My sweet Maritza! I found her in Wahaca and unlike Abbey it was extremely hard to find her. I had to go from village to village and I was casting for more than a year. I saw more than 3000 girls and I brought hundreds in front of the camera and ended up working with 12 of them for a period of time. The challenge was that I needed a girl from Southern Mexico that had the features from that place but also be extremely strong. A girl who has a tower of strength who is fierce and mischief and it was hard to find. Once I found Maritza the job was done. When your casting a non-professional you’re not looking for someone to play or to act another char4acter, you’re really looking for the character. When you find them you want them to be the way they are. Maritza is a little force of nature. She was one of the only girls who from the first time I saw her was totally irreverent and mischievous with me.
I saw a toughness in her that was very similar. If you put Ashley and Rosa are in a scene together, it’s like looking in a mirror at each other. Was that intentional? They were bouncing off each other and I thought they are looking into each other as a mirror image!
I love that you felt that! I don’t know if I would say if it was intentional but I do know that I needed in little Mariza I needed Ashley to meet her match. The little girl is the driving force of the story without whom Ashley wouldn’t go on this journey. I guess its funny because the fact that after screenings I sometimes ask who the audience thinks the title is referring to. I was always aware that the title referred to both characters but that in some way Ashley is the girl and Rosa is the adult in the relationship. The film is about coming to a recognition, both of them, about their similarities. Maybe more consciously than Ashley so it’s interesting that you describe it as each other’s mirror. It’s probably subconsciously been there.
Its almost like the had a world size chip on their shoulder but from different points of view. Ashley created her own and Rosa didn’t but they both had them. It was almost a challenge to see who was going to take down who first. My bet was on Rosa! There is something about someone who has lived in that culture has a different strength. Ashley may complain but she doesn’t have it that bad. Rosa’s world is a little different because being tough means surviving. For Ashley being tough is just putting up with stuff she doesn’t like.
What I love to say about Maritza is that I have two little girls and I feel like her performance and her ability to hold her ground at the center of this international motion picture that nothing in her life prepared her for confirmed my sense about the incredible potential each child has. But most children don’t have this opportunity and she’s a dear, dear friend and we are close now. I am so proud of her now to see how she’s grown, how she tapped into emotion and the crazy schedule.
The grandmother, lets talk about her. It was so interesting that the same time she was on the screen she had this amazing quiet and amazing forgiving spirit. It makes you wonder, would we be so forgiving? Would we do what the grandmother did? She was the force that broke down the wall between Rose and Ashley. Yes, it was breaking down but this woman was amazing. You chose so well, her face said it all – no words were necessary.
That’s interesting. What did you all decide? Would you be so forgiving?
I still don’t know. Part of me says my kids have grown up and your perspective changes but I really don’t know. Maybe that’s what I felt, jealous because I’m sure she hurt and the loss tremendous yet she doesn’t live for anger. Once again living in a different culture where holding on to anger just isn’t part of her nature. This woman wasn’t something Ashley had experienced before. She was use to waking every day with anger, like it was her attached companion.
I wrote the script after being invited to stay in that village. I was invited for one of their holy weeks. I was so amazed by it all. When we were getting close to production and with the film I made a commitment because the girl wasn’t from the village but I made the commitment that the grandmother to be. It was a small village with about 35 grandmothers that were older and most incredibly shy, including Isabel. The character she plays is really based on the experience, like you said, the culture is forgiving in the way I am not and certainly not as Ashley is in the beginning. The character is true to many of the people that I came to know when writing it. I’d also add one thing, which is that the question of quilt and responsibility, all of us face it in some shape or form and as a writer I don’t know what it’s like as a viewer watching it for the first time. As a writer it isn’t all black and white for me because I’m not sure if Ashley is really responsible for the death of the mother meaning that when they are at the rivers edge and they don’t want to cross without inner-tubes. Ashley says she’ll take them back if they didn’t want to cross. Clearly she feels responsible but whether she is responsible in the same way when she was driving the car and crashed isn’t clear to me. But what is clear to me is that she’s responsible to save Rose from a life in the orphanage.
Watching it, we talk about Ashley is responsible for her actions but if you pull back a little further you see more of the responsibility. Everyone is responsible for the decisions they make and you focus on Ashley and Rose but you have to look at the bigger picture. Where is the line of who is 100 percent responsible, we are…for ourselves.
Those of us who don’t actually facilitate people crossing the boarder but need their help in our homes with dishes etc. In Mexico, the press have be written about the film in simple terms in that Rose represents Mexico and Ashley represents the United States and the US has always taken advantage of Mexico and never taken responsibility for it. As Ashley’s father does in the beginning and then Ashley, it needs to be an awakening for the United States to start looking at the reality of the relationship. That’s how the Mexican press wrote about it, which was interesting because I didn’t write it that way. There is a way in which I myself have a sense of what Ashley’s responsibility is to the mother yet I’m crystal clear that the orphanages along the border are devastating Jeri, its unbelievable.
I see how the children live and I see how the woman are. So here is my responsibility, do I stop going as a tourist? I means again, you’ve brought in some complex issues that have many layers. Some of the movies you know like EL NORTE, SIN NOMBRE and A BETTER LIFE – the interesting thing between your film and there’s is you have finally brought both sides of the coin. How do you feel being compared to these films?
I know that my starting point as a writer, beginning in Chula Vista and Tijuana, starting my research there (website www.davidrikersthegirl.com video section). If you go to milestones you will see short videos of the making of the story behind the film. You’ll get the sense of the journey going from there to Arizona. You get a sense of the struggles. I went the whole length of the border and my journey started like the other films. I wanted to tell the story of crossing the border and the sacrificing and I started to realize that there was a mythology of the border. The idea that hope is just in the US and if you could only make it to the US a better life awaits you is completely inadequate. This is not a criticism of the films but that there is not just more hope in the US. It’s not true. I don’t know your experience in the South Bay but all across the borderlands I spent time with families in the US who felt shut out, who felt trapped, totally uncertain, facing foreclosure and not filled with hope. So I realized that hope is not in the US but hope is in the one making the journey, being carried across the border. So I wanted to take that myth and turn it upside down and to begin looking at how and what it would be like for an Anglo character in the US to head south. Would it be possible for her to discover a new life and a new set of possibilities? I want to find a way to generate a discussion around these themes and not just a story that makes us think ‘oh those poor people’ or ‘wouldn’t it be great if everyone could be an American having the American dream’. Well the American dream is a nightmare for some people. In the villages of the south I personally believe there are essential ingredients for our future that we all need to learn. Lessons about sustainability and about things that are lost when we are uprooted – language and culture. So I wanted to make a film that turned the border upside down – so I hope it’s offering a beginning of a different narrative to the films you’ve mentioned. Not being critical but adding something to the discussion.
TUBS OF POPCORN: I give THE GIRL four tubs of popcorn out of five. This truly is a film that not only needs to be discussed but thought about for some time. There is such a bigger issue here and, as David says, it is time to begin a different narrative about what is happening, for some of us, right next door on the border.
At the San Diego Latino Film Festival beginning this week, audiences will have the chance to see David himself as he introduces the opening of his film THE GIRL in San Diego. It truly was an honor to speak with David and for those attending the festival, make sure you check out THE GIRL with Abbie Cornish.
Other cast include: Austin West as Georgie, Annalee Jefferies as Gloria, Giovanna Zacarias as Enriqueta, Luci Christian as Sally, Harold Torres as Isidro, Javier Zaragoza as Felix, Abel Lopez Marroquin as Pancho, Joaquin Maldonado Bolanos as Cheko and Angeles Cruz as Rosa’s mother.
In the end – the journey will change them both forever.
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