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Clara Como el Agua: Losing our innocence with filmmaker Fernanda Rossi

The film is streaming and in competition through PBS, and you can vote for it here.

Many of us in the documentary film world know Fernanda Rossi as the Documentary Doctor through her Trailer Mechanics workshops and one-on-one story consultations. She's also a filmmaker in her own right, and her new short Clara como el Agua (Clara like Water) is a tale about becoming a woman. The film was shot on location in Puerto Rico, and I invited Fernanda to talk to us about its themes of coming of age, loss of innocence and transformation. 

Tell us a bit about the film

Clara como el Agua (Clara like Water) is a 12-minute fiction film about the only light-skinned, clear-eyed girl in an all-black neighborhood. Tired of being teased about her skin color and contradicting tales about her origins, Clara ventures into the far away bay on her own and changes her life–but in a way she doesn’t expect.

You've described it as a film about bullying, but it also has a strong theme of self-discovery or awakening culminating in Clara's dive into the phosphorescent pool. Water is often associated with female sexuality and I'm wondering if that's symbolic for her as well?

It’s about bullying and so many other things: First love, the first heartache, the first questioning about who we are and where we come from. Ultimately, it’s that moment in life when we “lose our innocence” and go from being girls to becoming women. About the symbolism, yes, water is very feminine, and in this case it means purification and rebirth. Her losing her bandana underwater was no production accident. I leave it up to your readers to speculate what it means. I’d love to hear what they think.

Can you talk more about how you define 'loss of innocence?'

Having a background in film and semiotics, the phrase “loss of innocence” always mesmerized me. In fact, I didn’t understand its sexual connotation until my early twenties. For me innocence was the opposite of guilt, so I couldn’t fathom what innocence had to do with virginity! I would go around asking, "But wait, if she lost her innocence because she had sex, what is she guilty of? Of having sex?" I kid you not, I had these conversations trying to figure out how the two were related.

As I grow older I find more and more angles to this phrase. I think we lose innocence from birth onwards, by learning our mother is not an extension of ourselves, by developing abstract thought and leaving behind magical thinking, and so on. For me, losing innocence has become a synonym for becoming wiser. I think it was good that Eve ate the apple!

Were there specific challenges shooting in Puerto Rico, and how did you find the actress who plays Clara?

Shooting in Puerto Rico was great and I had a great production company behind the project. People are very well-trained there because they cater to Hollywood and TV productions. In this case, they were very moved by the story and even touched that I could capture something so local being an outsider.

It was quite a challenge finding the right girl to play Clara. We met with lots of beautiful girls but almost none who were almost golden with light hair and grey eyes. I really wanted a very specific type. Kathiria Bonilla appeared at the last minute after we combed the whole island and were on the verge of canceling the shoot. The other caveat is hurricane season, and we had to schedule the shoot around that. But local crews know how to work under the most scorching sun. They are tough and hard working and I felt very supported.

What do you like better: directing or doctoring?

Oh, such a tough question. They feed each other and I learn from both. Doctoring is very quiet and intimate. Directing is very physical and not quiet at all! Directing makes me humble and reminds me what the filmmakers I work with have to go through to make their films. I like alternating.

How can we support this film?

The film is in competition in PBS's first Online Film Festival. If your readers like it, please go to You Tube and vote by clicking the “like” button under the video window.

For more information, go to the website in English and Spanish, the Facebook page, or send an email.