In 2020, Cambridge-based independent flamenco dancer, artist, educator, and now independent filmmaker Laura Sánchez created her first short film, After Dark. In six minutes, the experimental short combines her personal background with her experience during quarantine as a new mother, woman, and immigrant to tell her story. It incorporates elements of flamenco, poetry, visual art, drama, and creative expression. With the collaboration of international choreographer Belén Maya and advice from Boston Latino International Film Festival director Sabrina Avilés, Sánchez produced, directed, and filmed After Dark by herself. She wants to inspire others and bring hope to those who see the film.
After Dark has won the Los Angeles Film Award for Best Dance on Camera. It’s also been a finalist for both IndieX Film Fest and Montreal Independent Film Festival, as well as a semi-finalist for Indie Short Film Festival. On top of that, the short has received official selection at multiple festivals worldwide.
Sánchez sat down with our interviews editor, Megan Doherty. They talked about her inspiration for the film, its creation and process, and how crowdfunding helped her complete the post-production.
You said that After Dark was an artistic response to all the emotional states that you’ve experienced as a woman, an artist, a mom, an immigrant, and a trauma survivor. Can you tell me a little bit more about your inspiration for creating this film?
Yes, so when the pandemic hit back in March – I’m a flamenco dancer and an artist and educator. All my classes and all my work was canceled due to the Covid restrictions and the lockdown. So, I had to reinvent myself and find new ways to continue sharing my art. In terms of the teaching, I moved everything online, which was a very challenging and very exhausting process because I had to become an expert in just a few minutes.
Also, just being in the pandemic and going out and going to the grocery store was very scary. I was experiencing severe anxiety, from everything that was around me, from the fact that I couldn’t get out of the house, and also feeling scared of everything going on. Also my family lives in Spain, and in Spain everything started a few weeks ahead of the United States. So I was kind of living here, but experiencing what was happening – or living in the future somehow.
I was invited to create a video performance for a company. I started to explore, just recording myself, moving in the space, and recording myself dancing. I always say that the dance studio that I created in my house, it was my secret, sacred space where I could go and the world would disappear. I will put my lipstick on, and I will just connect with my body and connect with myself and let all of that anxiety go. I was also a new mom at the time. So just everything around was like, “Oh my goodness, how we are going to get out of this? And how am I going to protect my baby? How am I going to not be able to share?” It was just very lonely, as everybody was home alone. I’m grateful because I have my husband and my baby, but at the same time, it was very stressful.
So, I created a project for this company I’m talking about. Then, in the process, I discovered that I was enjoying it very much, and it’s been very helpful to me to just be there, in the space, and create. I’ve been wanting to tell my story as an immigrant woman for a very long time, and I found that maybe it was the time to do it. Like now that I’m home, let’s see if I can create something out of this experience that can tell not only the experience I’m living now, but what goes beyond that. And I can really bring myself and tell the story of how the life of an immigrant woman – a Spanish-speaking immigrant woman – is here.
Then I connected with the other person who supported me in the process. That’s when the process started. I created the whole theme. I became the cinematographer, the videographer, the performer. And then, it was just born. It was just like, “okay, this is it.” The inspiration was the time of like, I need to do something. I need to focus on something that is creative, something that is not the pandemic, the news, the anxiety, the stress, the fear. I need to find something that brings me a little bit of light.
Did you start making this towards the beginning of the pandemic? What was the timeline?
Actually one of the first things I started recording was – a very famous singer in Spain created this song about bringing hope, about how one day we will hug again, how we will get out of this, how we will love more than before. And, he was asking for videos about how the pandemic was. I think that this was April, April 1st or so, like the very beginning of April. And I started recording then, and that’s where part of the process was born. Like, yes for the inspiration, because they were asking videos for a film that they were doing, so I started there. But, in April it was a very rough draft. I had a poem. The poem had some movement and had some ideas of the story that I wanted to tell, but it was just a draft. The timeline that I used to really create it, I think it was mid-April until the end of May.
How’d you go about making the film?
In the making of the film, I’d say the aspect of recording, as I said, I became everything. The film has four different sections. Each one of them were very attached to all different elements of nature, because I wanted to also represent the elements of nature. And every one of those had one of the deep and profound emotions I was feeling in each one of those stages. So, I would get in the closet for example, and put the camera in one angle and then create some movement and record. And then go in from another angle and record, and then another angle and record. I have tons of hours of recording. But again, I was alone, so I would go and change the camera, and then watch the whole thing, and then share with my partner like, “what do you think?” And they will say, “okay, why don’t you explore more about this movement?” Then, I will go back and explore the movement.
So the creative process of creating the material, some parts of the film were very difficult because I had to go back and do it again and again and again. Because this was very personal, going back to certain emotions was difficult like, “I don’t think I want to embody that again.” So, some parts were recorded just once. Some parts were just, “okay, let’s see what happens in this space, and we will figure it out.” The part where there are more flamenco movements, that took longer because it’s a more choreographic piece. That was a part of creating the material. Then putting all the pieces together, and the sound, and how to connect all the pieces, that was also hours of editing and changing here and there.
Yeah, I noticed that in one part there was some very rhythmic panning, back and forth. Was that inspired by flamenco? What influenced you to design the sound the way you did?
Okay, that’s a great question because when I created the film, I had no budget. I did it with absolutely no budget, so I couldn’t hire anyone to help me with sound or anything. So, the sound design was created at home with very limited resources and with elements of nature, like the elements of water, finding something that was water, finding something that was repetitive in some specific moments. It was not until I ran the crowdfunding campaign where I raised some money, I could hire a sound designer and engineer who worked on that. I had no idea that was actually a real effect. I didn’t know that that existed. But when she did it, I was like, “Oh, wow, it’s amazing,” because, as you were saying, it’s rhythmic. It’s also moving you through, it’s bringing more intensity into the piece. Because even if not the whole thing could seem like a dance, there’s movement all the time. The fact that the sound had movement was very important to me too. So that was her creation, but absolutely aligned with my vision of this work.
Yeah, you mentioned crowdfunding, and I saw that your GoFundMe is still up. What are your plans for those funds that you’ve raised and for the film in general for the future?
I used some of the funds to finish the film. I also hired an editor who helped me with some of the images, like the transitions from one image to another. I also used some of the money to submit the film to different festivals. It has been selected at several film festivals worldwide and nominated to different awards.
My idea is to continue presenting After Dark because one of the things that I’ve been doing is I have been sharing the short film with other self-identified women worldwide to get responses from them. Some people have been writing poems in response to the film. Some people have been drawing art. Some people have been moving. Some people have sent me videos of what this film meant to them, which for me, it’s important because it’s not about what my story tells them. It’s how they interpreted this story, while living in the pandemic. So my idea of this is to continue raising money through GoFundMe and different grants. I’m applying for different grants to present After Dark in a real production where all different parts of the film can be translated into a piece of movement. It will also be multimedia in terms of combining different poetry, visual art, and in the process continue sharing After Dark with different groups and getting responses from them, so those responses can be incorporated in the production.
What are your hopes for the film?
My hopes for the film had always been, and are still, to bring hope to other humans worldwide. This film brought me hope. It brought me joy in the process of creating. It brought me light in a moment of a very dark time. So for me, the hope is that I can present it in as many places as I can, so I can inspire other people that there is hope during the pandemic and after. This can be interpreted in many aspects of life. For me, the hope for this film is that it will continue being alive, so it can help other individuals worldwide to find hope, to heal somehow, to experience their bodies. It’s just to bring a little bit of light into other people’s lives through this short film.
Yeah, that’s really sweet. All right, last question: What has your experience been like as an independent filmmaker in Massachusetts?
That’s also very interesting because this was actually my first film. I’m an expressive artist, and video just became another platform to present and create work. So, now I have a film – should I be considered a filmmaker? I don’t know how to answer because I am just an artist who is using video and film to share my story and to share my art. Because with the pandemic, I had to reinvent myself. And video became the only form that I could actually tell my story and get to people without being in the same physical space.
But, it’s been an amazing journey because I have some friends who are film directors. I have family, also, who is into film. So they helped me with, “okay, why don’t you try this? Or want me to try that?” So I really asked the people, the experts in my community to help me. Their support has been very, very important. Like, “Laura, you should try and go to see all these film festivals. This is the process that normally people do. You should consider the sound.” This friend really helped me too – she’s the executive director of the Boston Latino International Film Festival. My friend is Sabrina Avilés. She helped me figure out what a filmmaker should do with a film, with a short film, like go and try to find the festivals you wish to apply. Make sure that it’s experimental. Make sure that it is either expressive, like experimental, or dance on camera or something like that. And figure out how to move in the space and navigate.