|East Coast Premiere|
|Director: Susannah Greenblatt, Raphael Linden Susannah Greenblatt, Raphael Linden|
United States, 2018, 15min
Format: Digital (screening) - RED (shooting)
Festival Year: 2019
Category: Short Narrative
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2019 SHORT NARRATIVE FILMS »
|Cast: ||Olena Caldero, Marián Aguilera|
|Crew: ||Producers: Rachel Day - Screenwriters: Susannah Greenblatt, Raphael Linden - Director of Photography: Kelsey Talton - Production Designer: Mariah Rachel Burke - Art Director: Cornelia Lorentzen - Costume Designer: Kumie Asai, with pieces by Joanne Petit-Frere - Music: L'Rain
In the shadow of the Spanish Inquisition, a blind peasant woman named María Cotanilla, known in her small village as "La Ciega," sees what no one else can: silver-tongued suitors dripping with pearls, donkeys and maidens frolicking in forest clearings, the Virgin Mary's gown billowing twenty-five feet off the ground. But María's visions take a dark turn when, late one night, a mysterious intruder enters her room and assaults her. She tries to put the vision behind her, but finds the boundary between fantasy and reality crumbling before her. When she can no longer ignore the fact that she is pregnant, María must find a way to reclaim control of her life.
Susannah Greenblatt is a writer, translator, and filmmaker from scenic New Jersey. She is a contributing writer for Words Without Borders Daily, an online magazine for literature in translation, and has had work published in Words Without Borders, Lithub, and Ramona: revista de artes visuales. She graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in history where was awarded the White Fellowship for Excellence in History and wrote a high honors thesis on the life and trial of María Cotanilla. Recently, she co-directed a music video for "I Love You // Like the Sun" by New York-based electronic artist Qire. She currently works at Anne Edelstein Literary Agency and lives in Brooklyn.
Raphael Linden is a writer, filmmaker, and animator born in the Bay Area and raised in San José, Costa Rica. He graduated with honors in Film and Creative Writing from Wesleyan University, where he met and began working with Susannah. He has been making short films since age 13, with a focus in stop motion animation. While at Wesleyan, his work was featured at Zilkha Gallery's "Be the Art" exhibit. In 2015, he completed his thesis film, Wald, a stop motion and live-action film based on a classic Italian folktale as told by Italo Calvino. This past year, he has collaborated with several musicians on music videos, including "I Love You // Like The Sun" by Qire and "Desert Song" by YATTA.
The story of La Ciega—the events, the visions, characters, and even some of its dialogue—is taken directly from the transcription of María Cotanilla’s 1675 Spanish Inquisition trial. While doing research at the Archivo Histórico Nacional at Madrid, Susannah (co-writer/co-director) came across the original document—hundreds and hundreds of yellowing pages stacked tidily in a box, nearly untouched since it was first penned by the courtroom scribe. The Spanish Inquisition put María Cotanilla on trial and ultimately banished her for thinking and living outside its repressive norms. But ironically, it was the Inquisition’s own meticulous record-keeping that preserved María’s story for us almost 350 years later. As María’s neighbors testified before the court, they were, in a way, dictating what would become the only documentation of María’s life. And when the Inquisition called upon María Cotanilla to testify on her own behalf, they were unknowingly giving her pages and pages to tell her own story, to write her own life into the historical record.
History has tried to erased subversive women like María Cotanilla. Records were (and still are in large part) reserved for kings and lords—not for blind peasant women. To come across a document like this is to unearth a forgotten life, to find a window into stories untold. Even in the lifeless folios and the stuffy courtroom proceedings, María’s strength as a storyteller shines through. It was her power to captivate an audience that rendered her a threat to the Inquisition, and it was this same gift that compelled us to make this film.
Stories of women like María—especially poor and disabled women—are still excluded from our conversations, our politics, our history books, and our art. As we sat down to brainstorm one afternoon, we realized that we couldn’t name a single film that starred a blind actor. Films that feature blind characters often cast sighted actors to play them. In our film, we want to work against this practice of “disability drag,” which excludes talented disabled actors from the industry—actors who could bring talent to any role and who could add more depth to portrayals of disabled characters. We were determined to take responsibility for representation in our film, and decided to cast a blind/low-vision actor in our lead role. We reached out to the community—observing blind theater troupe rehearsals, talking to blind actors in the area, and consulting with our friends at the Braille Institute—to learn how we make our set an inclusive, accommodating, and safe work place for our actors. We were incredibly lucky that Olena Calderon came and auditioned for us. She brought so much to the role of María with her talent, thoughtfulness, and dedication, and through her work, she expanded what this role could mean.
Although María Cotanilla was born almost 400 years ago, her story is incredibly poignant in our world today. It speaks to our current conversations on women’s bodies, on sexual assault, on abortion, and on believing women when they share their stories. As a woman living in the the 1600s, María had so few options for her livelihood, career, and her body, and likely resorted to attempt a self-induced, home abortion. Even in 2009, studies indicated nearly half of abortions performed worldwide were still unsafe due to limited access. The kinship we feel to María and her story is a reminder of how far we have yet to go. It also reminds us of our intergenerational camaraderie—that so many women before us have resisted, and that we must continue to resist as well.