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For the love of Margarita

Interview with directors Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert

Margarita is an entertaining feature film about a beautiful, resourceful woman named Margarita (played by Nicola Correia Damude) who works as a nanny. That is until the couple she works for discover they’re not as well off as they thought and decide they must fire Margarita despite the protests of their teenage daughter. If you’re wondering what else is tossed in there to spice up this story, you might want to know that Margarita herself happens to have a cute commitment-phobic girlfriend, some immigration issues and a fondness for hot tubs.

Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert are the directors behind Margarita. They are also the pair that brought us previous festival flick Finn’s Girl, as well as the documentaries Thank God I’m a Lesbian and My Feminism. Not only do Cardona and Colbert love film, they’re also in love with each other. When I ask if it was this shared love of film that sparked their romance, Cardona jokes, “We met at a lesbian party in Paris, so technically we met dancing. But the next day we did go to the movies!” It’s that same sweet lightheartedness that makes Margarita such an enjoyable film to watch.

Margarita is set to debut at this year’s Inside Out Festival on Saturday, May 19. So Queeriesmag took this opportunity to find out more about this charming Can-con addition to the festival lineup by chatting with Cardona and Colbert over email about their latest film.

Margarita directors Cardona & Colbert

Queeriesmag: What inspired your new film Margarita?

Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert: Dominique moved to Canada with me 22 years ago on a tourist visa, which she had to renew every six months. After two years an immigration officer would not renew her visa and told her that she had 10 days to leave the country. We were both in a state of shock – in love and completely broke (we had just finished our first documentary, Thank God I’m a Lesbian). Fortunately Dominique was able to return to France and apply to Quebec’s immigration program, which is separate from the rest of Canada’s. Eight months later she returned as a landed immigrant. We were incredibly lucky that she was from France, and Quebec wanted educated, French-speaking immigrants.

At that time, there was of course no such thing as gay marriage, nor was there any way to sponsor a lesbian partner without a lot of money. During this time we had gay friends offer to marry Domi, but it seemed a risky proposition after making a film about being a lesbian!

Dominique was never deported, but she was in Canada for two years in limbo, unable to work legally. And, it really was just a fluke that allowed her to finally get landed status. A lot of Margarita’s struggle comes from the helplessness we felt during that period.

As well, we both love the film A Day Without a Mexican. It’s a film that deals in a comedic way with the plight of Mexican immigrants in California, whose lives are taken for granted even though the state could not sustain itself without their illegal labour (especially with respect to childcare).

Another reason we were interested in the nanny experience was because of a number of East Asian nannies working in our neighbourhood in Toronto that we always greeted on the street. They could tell by looking at us that we were lesbians too. They all wore funky brush cuts and the same “uniform” – baggy blue jeans, white T-shirts, thick black belts with a key chain looped through. We imagined this dress code was like some sort of beacon to help them find each other in the parks when they were babysitting. We loved seeing them, and our story was inspired by our desire to know what their lives were really like.

QM: It’s not easy making feature films a reality. Would you care to share with us how this film came from concept to script, to a full feature film?

Cardona and Colbert: Once we had the idea, we quickly began to work with our co-writer, Margaret Webb. Together we fleshed out the project, working on and off for about two years before shooting the film. What we knew for sure was that it had be a very low-budget script with a handful of characters and minimal locations.

We planned to shoot in our duplex house with an 87-year-old tenant living on the first floor. With the help of our producer, Rechna Varma, we did everything we could to keep the film’s budget manageable.

With the generous support of some French friends who loved Finn’s Girl, we were able to shoot the film. The tax credits and Telefilm Canada made up the rest of the budget.

QM: What are some of the challenges of being a co-directing team, or do you find you often have an easily shared vision for the films?

Cardona and Colbert: We often argue with each other, but we’re always able to find a solution and move on quickly. Right now, many independent feature films are directed by siblings and couples. Money is often so tight that it takes two people to pull it off – a two-headed monster!

QM: Finn’s Girl and the Ben and Gail storyline in Margarita both deal with the challenges of connecting with family versus the weight of career and the struggle to balance it all. This seems to be a reoccurring theme in your feature films. What is so compelling about this tension that keeps you interested in exploring it further?

Cardona and Colbert: Dominique and I are constantly trying to find balance in our own lives, so I suppose we will continue to struggle, indirectly at least, with that theme.

QM: Did it feel politically important for you to touch upon marriage equality in Margarita, to contrast or offer hope to the LGBTQ community in the US right now who are struggling with it?

Cardona and Colbert: Yes. The right to equal marriage is very important to us. We are not married and have been together for almost 25 years, but this is not so much a fight for marriage as it is a fight for basic human rights for everyone. We are feminists and we will always be involved in the fight for women’s rights and gay rights. Without this fight, we never would have seen a sitting US president take a real, unequivocal stance in favour of same-sex marriage. Go, Obama!

QM: In what clearly looks like a chilly Canadian winter, there are lots of scenes that revolve around a backyard hot tub. What did the hot tub symbolize or represent to you? I’m assuming it wasn’t just an excuse to get everybody into bikinis – or was it?

Cardona and Colbert: Originally we wanted a big pool party with 10 lesbians going wild – music, booze a bit of weed – women really enjoying themselves together. Shooting in the summer was too expensive, though, so we decided to shoot in the off-season (November and December). The pool quickly became a hot tub, but the mood we wanted is still there.

Visually the hot tub became a great way of getting the story out of our house and into the backyard. The weather dipped to minus 10 during the hot-tub shoot and the actors and crew were freezing, but we all survived with a lot of hot chocolate and soup.

QM: Margarita had to be a really likeable character to carry this film and make everybody’s adoration of her believable. Nicola Correia-Damude is perfect in this role (I’m sure everybody who sees this film will get in line to marry Margarita). How did you find/cast Nicola?

Cardona and Colbert: We actually wrote the role of Margarita for Nicola. In 2008, she had one of the principal roles in The Clean House, written by Sarah Ruhl and directed by Alisa Palmer, at CanStage. When we saw Nicola on stage, we knew we had our Margarita. She was mesmerizing in that play and we loved working with her.

Nicola Correia Damude

Nicola Correia Damude who plays Margarita

QM: One of the things I love about Margarita is that I could see her character say, “Thank god I’m a lesbian.” Obviously, you both feel the need to bring strong lesbian characters to the screen. I’m curious as to who your favourite strong fictional lesbian characters are?

We love the feisty lesbians in DEBS, directed by Angela Robinson in 2004, but we just don’t see strong lesbian characters very often on movie screens. Dominique is an avid fan of Zena: Warrior Princess, and there are certainly many lesbian characters on television and some new internet shows, but those are different genres.

Margarita is the lesbian character we wanted to see on screen: strong, funny, warm and smart, and, above all, human and very real.

QM: Are you happy to have your North American premiere at the Inside Out Festival?

Cardona and Colbert: We were both programmers at Inside Out years ago, so we have a long history with the festival and we’re very happy to be opening here (despite the fact that openings still scare the shit out us)!

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Margarita screens at Toronto’s Inside Out Festival this upcoming Saturday, May 19 (2012) at 7:15pm.

* Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert will be in attendance, so not only can you enjoy a sweet, lighthearted lesbian film in a theatre filled with other lovely ladies, you can also chat with the directors about it.

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For those of you who are not able to attend the TO premiere, I’ll keep you posted on other viewing possibilities across the country.

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  1. Philippe Leclainche on Friday 18, 2012

    I am a catholic and a die hard conservative in general (and straight, of couse!)… Although I seldom agree with Dominique, I always enjoy discussing with her – and Laurie : they are NEVER stupid and I ALWAYS learn something that makes me more open minded or simply aware.
    Our discussions strarted… 40 years ago. It will probably take another century or two before we agree on something without first yelling at each other : where is the problem?

    Go see their movie(s), it simply cannot be a waste of time!!!