A well-known Venezuelan director walks into a master class in Los Angeles and hears (arguably) the most well-known Venezuelan actress working in the United States doing a scene from a play the director has wanted for years to develop. What happens next? That serendipitous creative collision inspires the new film, Liz in September. Directed by Fina Torres (Oriana, Celestial Clockwork) and starring out actress Patricia Velásquez (Arrested Development, The Mummy, The L Word), the film will be released by Wolfe Video Nov. 3.
For years, Torres had thought about adapting the beloved play Last Summer at Bluefish Cove by Jane Chambers which follows a woman who becomes involved with a group of lesbian friends summering together. Liz en Septiembre as it's titled in Spanish - the film is in Spanish and stars a number of well-known Latin American actresses - was first screened at festivals around the world, including in Venezuela, where it got lots of media attention.
In the film, Velásquez's character "Liz" is a player who sets out to bed the straight girl who's wandered into their midst, but the actress has to balance the more fun and sexy aspects of the story with its more serious and moving themes related to the end of life.
Torres, from Paris, her former home, and Velásquez, from her home in Los Angeles, spoke with GLAAD about the film and what it's been like to share it with LGBT audiences.
"I always go to screenings, I like to sit in back and watch how people react and that has been wonderful," Torres says. "Lots of young people in Venezuela told me the film helped them come out to their families. If it helped some people, that makes me very happy."
That's not to say there hasn't been push back. Both the film's discussion of euthanasia and same-sex love have caused some debate. "You always know some people will love your film and some won't, and you can't worry about it," Torres says.
LGBT issues have been much discussed in recent years in Venezuela but, despite a socialist government that espouses to embrace equality, efforts by advocates to introduce relationship recognition went nowhere. "That will change sooner or later. But hopefully sooner than later," Torres says.
The film's screenings last year coincided with the release of Velásquez's book in which she came out as a lesbian. In the book, Straight Walk: A Supermodel’s Journey to Finding Her Truth (In Spanish Sin tacones, sin reserva), Velásquez wrote about her years as a super model and an early relationship with actress and comedienne Sandra Bernhard.
Velásquez says she's been surprised by the amount of mail she's gotten from fans after her coming out. Writing a book wasn't something Velásquez even set out to do. "I travel a lot, and I love film, so I watch movies when I fly. But because I love movies I only want to watch it on a good screen, so if the airplane screen wasn't good, I would turn it off. And there's only so much reading you can do. So I started to write my story on airplanes." Those stories added up to a 196-page book published in 2015 by Post Hill Press.
Velásquez says she wasn't nervous about coming out in the book until she read the Spanish-language version. Interestingly, she wrote it in English. It wasn't until editing the Spanish-language translation, with her partner Ileanna Simancas, that suddenly made it real. And personal. She says she wanted to help people live openly and, as a mother, felt a certain responsibility to guide her daughter toward self-acceptance.
"If I can help one person live their life honestly, then it's worth it."