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With Beba, her feature directorial debut, Rebeca Huntt has created one of the most extraordinary autobiographical portraits in years. It is the kind of personal film that would seem to dispute the idea of cinema as a collaborative art, yet it’s also a film that reminds us that everything is collaborative. Not just the production of a documentary, even one as intimate and subjective as this one, but also the ongoing assembly involved in one’s identity. As individualistic as we may strive to be, all of us are influenced by outside forces, and that goes for even the most unique and internally focused artistic works as well.
Ahead of the theatrical release of Beba, I talked to Huntt about her collaboration with her producers (including Sofia Geld and executive producer Petra Costa), her cinematographer (Sophia Stieglitz), her editor (Isabel Freeman), and the film’s composer (Holland Andrews) and the making of both the self-portrait and her own self. Here is our conversation:
Nonfics: First I want to ask about Petra Costa. I was immediately reminded of her film Elena while watching Beba and only later saw Costa’s credit as an executive producer. Can you talk about her influence and how she came on board?
Rebeca Huntt: Elena was a huge creative influence on Beba. My producer, Sofia Geld, had associate-produced Elena. So I saw Elena in theaters, at the IFC Center. When the time came that I felt like we had something strong enough to show Petra, I jumped on it. We showed it to her, and she really liked it and thought it was unique. I asked her if she would be an executive producer. Or Sofia asked her, I don’t remember. We were all on Zoom. It was a really great moment.
Can we talk more about collaboration? Film is obviously a collaborative art, but how does that work for or affect a film as personal as this one? How do you work with others to not only achieve your sole vision but also so they add to it with their own individual artistry?
It was really just about finding people who were open, who were confident, and who had the talent and the patience and the emotional intelligence to work on something like this because it was incredibly personal and we would be working very close together. For Sophia and I, a lot of the shoots were us going on road trips around Mexico and spending a long time together. When it came to Isabel and I, we worked in the edit room together every single day, all day. And of course, she brought her magic to the film in such an incredible way. But what other way would you be able to make a personal film than like that? We were in this together. And with Holland, I was having long late-night conversations with her. I think the way to work on the film intimately was to have these collaborations that worked somewhat close and adventurous.
Did you envision everything we see in the film from the start, or did some of it come about in the assemblage of the edit?
There was an element of both. There was definitely a vision. The 16mm footage was done very intentionally and was supposed to bring the film together in a very intentional way. And I definitely had a vision for this film that I had to see for it to come together. And then Isabel in the edit came through with her incredible skill and brought in her magic and was also able to help execute the vision that I had for the film.
On the subject of collaboration, this film made me think about how our identities are sort of a collaborative effort, in that we’re partly made up of the influences of our parents, relationships with other family members, friends, classmates, co-workers — you have your professor in here talking about you, for instance. Do you see your identity as a composite of these things?
Especially with my family, they do make up part of who I am. And so it was really important to me — that was something that I had established very early on that we would have scenes or categories; like the film would be broken down to have a part for each one of them.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film involves a hangout that turns into a race discussion. I understand that this was all staged, but can you explain more about that? Was it scripted or improvised?
The choice to include them in the film was that it was something that was happening at the time, and the way that it came about was I said, “Let’s have a race conversation, and we’re all going to be the worst versions of ourselves. And that’s it. And we filmed it.
Was there ever concern from the friends who participated that people wouldn’t know it was staged?
All of my friends who did it definitely knew it was staged. We definitely didn’t lie to anybody in this process. That was very clear what we wanted from this conversation was very clear.
There is so much tension to the relationships and events in the story, yet you play it all in such a serene, poetic tone. Were you aiming for a dichotomous experience?
Isn’t that how life is, though? Don’t we live as these highly complex beings that can experience pain and joy and do things that we are not proud of and then also do things that we’re proud of? That was how I wanted it to come off.
After putting your whole life and soul into Beba, what’s next? Is there room for more personal work like this, or do you have ideas for more films on other interests?
I’m writing my first feature. And I think I will put myself in all of my work. As every artist does. There are no more sequels to Beba.
Well, thank you for talking with me today, and I hope the film does well and lots of people see it.
Hopefully, you can spend some time having a cathartic experience with the film, whether you like it or not.
Beba is now playing in theaters via Neon. Watch the trailer: