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Interview: The Filmmakers of Dominican Republic's Oscar Entry 'Sand Dollars'

Jose  here. In the sensitively told Sand Dollars, we see love become a transaction, as aging tourist Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) buys the affection of local girl Noeli (Yanet Mojica) who indulges the wealthy woman by providing her company and sexual favors. However soon we learn things aren’t as clear as we thought, and we realize there is much more than meets the eye in the relationship between these women. Directed by Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas, in their third screen collaboration, Sand Dollars explores sexual tourism in an unexpectedly touching way. Rather than being a “social drama” or a morality tale, it’s an acutely observed portrait of people optimizing their best way of survival. For the rich white lady, this comes in the illusion of regained youth, for the young woman it comes through economic benefit, but also in the sense of emotional safety provided by Anne.

Both characters are portrayed beautifully by the lead actresses, Mojica is a force of nature, and Chaplin has truly never been better. Sand Dollars has been selected as the Dominican Republic’s official Oscar submission, and with the film currently being shown in New York cinemas, the filmmakers were kind enough to answer a few questions I sent them via email.  

JOSE: Was it difficult to get funding for a film about an interracial lesbian romance ...?

LAURA/ISRAEL: Just as difficult as it is to finance any other author film in the Dominican Republic. Since it was supported by the Dominican Republic film commission it became easier for us to find Dominican private investors that would invest through the Dominican Republic cinema law.

JOSEHow do you go about splitting tasks when it comes to directing and writing? Do you each do a scene, does one of you deal mostly with actors and the other with technical aspects?

LAURA/ISRAEL: Laura works mostly with the actors, Israel does the camera and deals with technical aspects.

The women in the film are flawed, and that makes them a treat as characters, how was the process of developing the characters with the actresses?

The character of Anne, the old French tourist, was inspired by French author Jean-Noel Pancrazi’s book Sand Dollars, which depicted the relationship between two men, an old French man, who is the author, and a young Dominican man. For Anne, an old woman coming down to Dominican Republic, from Europe, looking for youth, warmth and desire, The melancholy in Geraldine Chaplin’s eyes and her apparent fragility convinced us she was perfect for the role. We wanted to oppose her ways to Noeli’s; who would be played by a non professional actress. We wanted her to be as raw as possible. So we looked for a girl who had a similar life to the one of the character in the script. We met Yanet Mojica one day in the village we were going to shoot, invited her to do a casting, Geraldine Chaplin was there that weekend so they did the test together; and Yanet was so at ease in front the camera that she managed to keep the part; even though she was a person with no structure in which we could not rely for a six week shooting. It was a gamble. She already had some connections to tourists and her mother was living in Europe. So she gifted us that authenticity.

How did Geraldine Chaplin come into your film?

She saw our previous film at a film festival and talked a lot about it; that reached our ears and we invited her to do a secondary role in Sand Dollars; which was originally a man-man story based on the book Sand Dollars by French writer Jean-Noel Pancrazi. When we met and confirmed how amazing she was and how much she loved the project we changed the script and the main character’s sex to women so that she could be the protagonist.

Ms. Chaplin has become a staple of Spanish language cinema in recent years, why do you think she has been allowed to do more in Spanish than in English at this stage of her career?

A great part of her career happened in Spain, she has worked with many Spanish and Latin American directors throughout her life. She’s been married to two Spanish speaking men. She is very open to working with emerging / young filmmakers; which happen not only to shoot in English, plus the Spanish market is opening up.


What are your expectations considering the film will be released commercially in the States?

We are happy to have opportunity to show our film to US audiences. It’s a new step in our career. Hopefully the audience likes our film and have a better understanding of the complexity of human relations in times of need.

What does the Oscar submission mean for your film and your career?

Being selected by the Dominican Republic to represent the country is already a recognition. We might not get nominated but being in the list of the pre selected is amazing. Dominican Republic cinema has hardly ever had exposure in the U.S. as its industry is very small but our industry is growing and little by little international audiences are getting more curious about us.


Sand Dollars is now playing in select theaters.

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Reader Comments (1)

This sounds fantastic, I hope I can find it playing!

November 15, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

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