Natalia Lassalle Morillo is a Puerto Rican-born filmmaker and experimental multi-media artist based in Miami, FL. In 2016, the Miami Film Development Project was proud to award Lassalle the MFDP Women’s Film Fund grant for her multimedia project titled Retiro, a hybrid cinematic documentary and performance project based on interviews conducted with women over sixty-five years of age in Miami, Puerto Rico and Montréal. This month, Lassalle will open the same project, Retiro, as a multimedia stage piece as part of the Miami Theatre Center's Sandbox Series. MFDP sits with the winner of its Women's Film Fund Grant to discuss the project, it's evolution in concept, and her exploration of her own role in producing this hyper-creative work.
Lassalle describes Retiro as reflecting “the natural territory between autobiography, the imaginary, and the surreal.” The work seeks to explore this complex emotional and biographical space, Lassalle explains, “by depicting a live yet cinematic portrait inspired by the interviewed women’s stories, while deepening on concepts of the volatility of time, the reconstruction of memories and the process of aging for women.”
Retiro has evolved substantially by Lassalle’s own admission, since she first conceived of the project in 2015. She describes, “When I returned to Puerto Rico in 2015 after my grandmother’s death, I began to interview my mother during her progress of grieving. She was sixty-two at the time, and our conversations quickly evolved into existential dialogues that involved her process of aging and her relationship to her body, her past,her future, her fears, death, time, and her relationship to nature.”
Inspired by the interview experience with her mother, Lassalle went on to interview multiple women of a similar age to her mother while working on other projects in Miami, Puerto Rico, and Montréal. The project would eventually be broken down into two aspects, the multimedia performance, and the hybrid documentary film. The two informing each other, for different reasons, in different ways, and towards different ends.
“The video component of this project focused on documenting the participants’ perspective on aging but also on recreating a memory of their life through film. These ‘video portraits’ also focused on capturing the act of remembering- an act that does not dismiss the possibility of reconstructing these memories or fictionalizing them,” Lassalle says about the film aspect of her multi-grant supported project. “Each woman was involved differently in the creation of these video portraits, but they had authority in the collaborative process and decided over the style, content and structure of these film portraits.”
Lassalle goes on to describe the performance aspect of Retiro as, “In many ways, an umbrella- a “theatrical coming together” of all these women and their stories in one space. It is the translation of a two year process that involves long conversations, hours of production.”
Yet, Lassalle is not without her own role in the project. As her previous works produced as part of a plethora of artist residencies in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Germany would prove, Lassalle possesses both a definite penchant, and talent for appearing in her own works. Yet, with Retiro, she found a different place for herself in the project, describing herself as “A confused listener trying to find new perspectives to her own questions about aging, time and what the concept of ‘womanhood’ signifies in our present-time.” Lassalle elaborates, “During the editing process for the video portraits, I began to question my role as an observer/listener in this project. I faced a crude reality: as much as I wanted to remain a bystander in this process and give the participants power over their narratives, I could not dismiss the fact that my own experiences, confusions, concerns and fascinations were influencing our conversations.”
Yet Lassalle’s experience, piecing this project together in three separate countries with just under two-thousand miles between them over the course of two years, did not come without its own sense of ownership. Lassalle ultimately realizes her role in the project would be defined by her role in the relationships held between the women she would intimately get to know. She explains, “I also realized that it was only thanks to my own confusing two-year journey that these women could be placed next to each other. I am the the thread between these women who lead completely different lives, thousands of miles apart.”
While the hybrid documentary film aspect of Retiro has entered post-production with the backing of the Miami Film Development Project, the film’s performance aspect has been slated to open this month as part of the Miami Theatre Center’s Sandbox Series, running from April 7th-22nd. Steeped in excitement for the upcoming opening (for which she is currently finishing up technical rehearsals), Lassalle describes this performance as ultimately, “[Attempting] an ecumenical understanding of our experience as people, not focusing particularly on one story, but on how all of these women and their journeys interject, intervene and converge.”
Natalia Lassalle Morillo’s upcoming performance piece, Retiro, part of her MFDP grant supported film by the same title, runs from April 7th-22nd, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, as part of the Miami Theatre Center’s Sandbox Series. Tickets available at the Miami Theatre Center website.