Anna Margarita Albelo is an out, Cuban-American independent director whose work ranges from documentary to comedy sketches to experimental fiction, but usually with a lesbian bent to it. Her most recent project, Who's Afraid of Vagina Wolf, actually ticks off quite a few of these boxes at once. It is a partly-autobiographical story following a filmmaker (Anna playing herself) as she navigates creating her own adaptation of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf, while simultaneously going through a mid-life crisis and living in her friend's garage. It combines rom-com with drama, and fiction with reality, as Anna uncovers what is stopping her from truly experiencing love and life.
The film was initially released in France March 19, 2014. It has received numerous awards at film festivals across the world including Best Female Performance at Outfest 2013, Best Feature Comedy at QFest 2013, Best Screenplay at QFilm 2013 and more. Check out the trailer below!
GLAAD had the chance to speak with Albelo about the inspiration for the film, the challenges she faced in production and the importance of bringing more diverse LGBT characters to the screen.
GLAAD: Given the title and the plot of your film, it's obvious that Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is a major component of the plot. What about the original play/film resonated with you?
Albelo: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf has always been one of my favorite films because of it's raw honesty. It's a story about concessions and people feeling they have failed: two emotions everyone (at any age) can feel when evaluating their life. It's main characters have created a fantasy that helps them get through life, just like a lot of artists and filmmakers do. Both Guinevere and I are big Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton fans. Their on screen and off screen relationship adds more to the film because everyone knew so much about them. In Vagina Wolf, the film within the film storyline, gave me an opportunity to show both her personal and professional life, and how they impact each other.
GLAAD: What inspired you to make this film?
Albelo: A couple of years before I wrote the story, I had inherited a vagina costume that I would walk around in for fun. It caused both positive and negative reactions so I would call it the "Vagina Wolf." It made me think about the fear we have of strong women, our own sexuality, and vaginas in general! Then, of course, there's the significance of Virginia Woolf as a writer, feminist, and sadly, a person who took her life because of unhappiness. It all came together when after 16 years of living in Paris, traveling the world, and making my films, I found myself staying with my parents again because I had no money. I had been completely dedicated to making lesbian films and documentaries but it's not the type of work that makes one rich (unfortunately!) So, I decided that my first film would be both personal and political, yet very universal as a romantic comedy. It gave me an opportunity to talk about lesbian culture in a fun, bitter-sweet way.
GLAAD: How long did it take to bring Vagina Wolf from idea to the screen, and what were the biggest hurdles you faced in the production process?
Albelo: It took about 2 and a half years. I wrote the bases of the story in a month, December 2010, then worked with screenwriter Michael Urban on creating the script for about 5 months and did a crowd-funding campaign in the summer of 2011. We began shooting in January 2012 and completed post-production in June 2013! Finding money for lesbian films is particularly difficult because it's still seen as niche. Cinema means money and financiers look at numbers. It's very important that we understand that to support a certain filmmaker or cinema that we love, we need to buy tickets, DVDs, rent and stream (legally) so investors see that it's a viable market. Vagina Wolf took a year longer than expected because I wanted to have a high production value for the film. We had an experienced cast and crew, a great script, so we shot on a Hollywood-grade camera making it an expensive endeavor. Lesbian film traditionally has a connotation of being scrappy, low budget or "do it yourself" and I wanted to show that we were a professional group of filmmakers making a quality movie. This will help it's distribution (a huge hurdle) and get us on more platforms and perhaps even programmed on TV!
GLAAD: Parts of the film are autobiographical, as you've said before. Which aspects of the film are based in reality and how did you pick and choose?
Albelo: I like to call it an, "auto-fiction" because I don't always have a lot of hot women running after me, unfortunately! But I did want to use elements from my life to create a character I never see in film: a Latina, lesbian, filmmaker, freshly turned 40, committed to LGBT culture and feminism. I wanted to tell a universal story about love, desire, and self-sabotage and have a lesbian character be our protagonist. It's important that we see all types of characters in cinema, especially flawed characters who figure out how to make their lives better. Anna has beautiful, smart women all around her, she's making her film happen, and yet she's unhappy and even more so, uncomfortable with herself and her unresolved problems. I think we are all, at one point or another, the hero and the villain in our lives. The problem is how do we change that?
GLAAD: Who's Afraid of Vagina Wolf isn't necessarily a "lesbian film" so much as it's a film in which most of the characters happen to be lesbians, since the plot doesn't hinge on sexual orientation. Did you take this approach on purpose, or was it just a byproduct of the story you wanted to tell?
Albelo: I make every film for a wide audience, it just so happens that they all have been about lesbians or lesbian culture. Now, making it universal doesn't mean dumbing it down or avoiding certain subjects, which is the common connotation with mainstream film. My goal has always been to tell smart and authentic stories that everyone can relate to but that include lesbian characters since we have so few in cinema. Labels help and hurt filmmakers, especially those dealing with subject matter that is still considered marginal because on the one hand, it helps those interested in lesbian cinema identify it and on the other, people think it's only for the group in question. Unfortunately, a lot of people will never watch my film and see how universal it really is because it has a LGBT stamp on it.
GLAAD: One scene that does actually stand out as something specific to being LGBT is the one where Anna confronts her mother about her lack of acceptance of Anna's sexuality. Was this something based on your own relationship with your mother, and why did you feel it was important to include?
Albelo: I knew I was a lesbian since I was 6 years old and I came out when I was 20. That emotional repression at a young age is hard to get over especially in your adolescence when you're living a big part of your emotional and sexual development. It's a problem that a lot of LGBTQ people face well beyond the coming-out period. I was fortunate to come out to my mother when I was in my early twenties and she was accepting of it. That doesn't mean that I didn't fear for years that she would still reject me. I wanted to include this in my story to show that there's a point when we need to confront and resolve our old fears once and for all. One of the main obstacle for Anna is that she is still holding on to fears and pain from her childhood and not accepting how she and others in her life have evolved. The mom starts out as the classic, over-present mom who calls you 10 times a day. But she loves Anna and when she is in trouble, who shows up from across country? We sometimes underestimate those who love us out of our fear of rejection. In this case, the mom reiterates for the hundredth time that she loves her and wants her to be happy, revealing to Anna the message of the film: sometimes we hold on to pain long after the problem has gone.
GLAAD: Is there an LGBT-themed (or just inclusive) dream film project you'd love to take on someday? What kinds of stories do you think still need to be told?
Albelo: My guilty pleasure would be to do Docu-pics on tons of different women who haven't received the attention they deserve. I mean, how many documentaries on dead presidents do we need? I'd also love to do a movie about the US feminist movement in the 70's with 2 main characters: A heterosexual, middle class feminist and a more radical lesbian-seperatist woman of color and how they love each other despite being on opposite sides of the movement. It would be a powerful comedy or rock opera starring A-List actresses so it would get a really wide release!
Who's Afraid of Vagina Wolf is avaliable to purchase on iTunes or stream on Wolfe On Demand, the largest worldwide LGBT movie watching platform. For more information on the film and on Anna Margarita Albelo, check out the official website!