A happy coincidence and a happy filmmmaker: meet Tamara Segura

Tamara Segura 

Tamara Segura 

This past July, the St. John's International Women's Film Festival put out a call for submissions for the 2014 RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award.

This past July also happened to be filmmaker Tamara Segura's twelfth month living in Newfoundland.

Tamara grew up in Cuba and came to Canada in 2010 on an exchange. During that time, she decided to become a permanent resident, which meant applying for political asylum. It's a complicated and agonizing process. For a while, she wasn't a resident of any country at all, and she was unable to apply for funding to make films or even legally have a job.

So her one-year anniversary in Newfoundland was a big deal -- it qualified her to apply for the RBC MJ Award. She applied with a script for a short film called "Before The War."

We were SO excited to tell her she'd won.

I caught up with Tamara to get her whole story and to talk to her about "Before The War." There is a salsa dance party fundraiser for her film this Saturday, at Turkey Joe's, beginning at 7pm.

How did you get into making movies? I got into the film industry by accident.

When I was 17, I was in high school, and it was a science high school. I’m from a province in Cuba where there isn’t much cultural life, so I never knew anything about film, or arts in general, but I used to read a lot, and I always knew that I wanted to be involved with the arts. I thought that I would be a journalist. But when the time came, I didn’t pass that exam.

A few months later, they opened a new career option, and they called it Audio-Visual Media. I didn’t know what it was about, but I knew it was related to the arts. I did the test, I passed, and all of a sudden I was studying film, but I didn’t know anything about film. I had been in the cinema there maybe three or four times in my life. But I realized that I loved it.

So you’re in Cuba, doing this program, and what happened? I started at the university for radio, television and film. I started to do my work in the school and tried to do things on my own. It’s very hard because we didn’t have the resources: you can have a lot of ideas and write scripts but you find yourself stuck because we don’t have the ways to produce movies, so it’s very hard. It’s very controlled by the authorities, they make sure that you talk about things that are politically correct.

But in Cuba, we also have the International School of Film and Television, which was created by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1986. It’s amazing, it’s totally incredible -- in Cuban society it’s totally different.

And it’s not controlled by the government? No. It’s a private school, but since it’s in the Cuban territory, Cuban students are allowed to study there without paying.

Did you go there? Yes.

So you got to do your own thing, for real. Yes, when I was in the fourth year of university, I passed the exams for the international school and I went there for three years.

Wow, was that amazing? Yes, it was, it was very important, it was a turning point in my life.

It must have felt so different to have all that freedom. It was so different. And the most exciting thing was knowing people from all over the world out of a political context. We were filmmakers. From Guatemala, Spain, all over the world. That was very inspiring.

Tell me about some of the projects you worked on there. In that school, I was studying screenwriting. I wasn’t being a director at the time, which was a very good thing because it gave me a good complement. I wrote screenplays for my classmates, that’s the way we worked, and also two documentaries.

So, you’re at this school, and then what happened, did you come here? This school had a program with an exchange with different schools around the world and one of them is Concordia University and I got that scholarship -- I was like, wow, this can’t be happening -- and that’s how I came here. My school applied on my behalf to the government, so I got permission to get out of the island. And I never went back.

I imagine you had family in Cuba, and you had to decide to leave all of them. That must have been awful. It was terrible. When I left them, I was just leaving for six months and they were expecting me to go back. My family is also very engaged in the revolution. Just my mom knows my situation, the rest of my family thinks that I am studying.

It was very hard living here [in Canada, in Montreal], I was alone, and I didn’t speak any English or French. I met a classmate at Concordia, from Brazil, and she was my support through the process. I went through it, and for some reason I just blocked some periods of that because I think it was so hard.

How did you wind up in Newfoundland? That’s another funny story. When I finished at Concordia and I had no more support from anybody, the money was gone, I wasn’t part of anything, I was on my own. I started volunteering and really pushing myself hard to not abandon filmmaking, but it was very very hard. It’s a hard world, there is a lot of ego, and when you are an immigrant and you don’t know many people, it’s very hard. So after a year and a half, I realized that it was almost impossible. In order to be a filmmaker there, I needed to learn two different languages, there was a lot of competition, there are four different film schools in Montreal, it was very, very hard. I would work wherever I could to make a little bit of money. I had a friend in Newfoundland who is from Cuba, and she wanted to produce a film. She asked me to come over and help her with the screenplay for two months. My husband and I, we talked and thought, well, there is nothing in Montreal to make me stay there, Montreal is kicking me out, so let’s try in a different place and see how it goes. So we came, initially it was for two months, but I found a job with the NFB. Then I moved to St. John’s because I was living in Mount Pearl, and I knew that I never wanted to go back to Montreal. So I moved to Newfoundland in June of 2012.

Tell me about your film, "Before The War." It's about a family torn apart when the father returns from war. It’s one of those ideas that's always in your mind, but you know it's not the time to tell the story -- you are not prepared emotionally so you postpone the idea. But after three years in Canada and after going through many hard moments, I felt I was mature enough to talk about these things. The story is not exactly autobiographical, but it has a lot of me in the story. My father went to war, and there are a lot of images and feeling from there in the story. I missed my family so much at that point, I wanted to talk about them, I wanted to talk about my family. And when I started learning how to drive, I used to go around the island and the landscape is so expressive. It gave me that idea of love and hate because it’s beautiful, but it’s cold and you can’t fully enjoy it -- it’s very ambivalent what it provokes in you. But I knew that was a moment, that was a moment, even though it was hard to put all that out.

But you did, and it’s awesome! And you’re going to make this movie. Yeah! It’s the right moment, I feel prepared and I feel like the environment is very supportive.