WIth the autobiographical documentary BEBARebeca Huntert is a filmmaker who creates stories that feel universal and yet are uniquely hers. The movie, Huntt’s debut feature, explores her identity through an intimate moving self-portrait.
Huntt is a Venezuelan mother and Dominican father. BEBA. The film follows her life as an Afro-Latina child growing up in New York as one of “the poorest people on the Upper West Side.” Through BEBA (“Beba” is Huntt’s nickname) she explores the universal truths that connect us, and the intimacies most families try to keep secret. Huntt is the anchor of Huntt’s story about finding a way forward as she navigates love, death and mental illness.
Nominated at the Berlin Film Festival for the Crystal Bear BEBAThe book will be available on June 24, Below, Huntt speaks with TIME about her identity, family, and what’s ahead for her career.
BEBA is a cinematic memoir that chronicles your life—from childhood to early adulthood—detailing both the intimate life experiences of you, and your loved ones, while also exploring your identity as an Afro-Latina growing up in New York City. Why did you decide to share this story in the first place?
Because of the time and space I was in it, I felt extremely isolated. It was a desire to connect with others. This was the driving force behind making this film. It’s easier to feel loved when people love you than when you are your true self. It felt as if, if only I could, I would feel that others could also be my honest self.
To 32-You are years old. BEBA now? Do you want to continue chronicling your life for the years ahead?
Because it’s torture. But also because it serves a specific purpose, the fact that it’s a sort of existential coming of age, in this moment, where we’re thrust into adulthood, and to an absurd society. It’s a world of absurdity. To go from that moment in your early 20s, when you’re constantly going through quantum leaps, but also having to navigate being fully responsible for yourself is fascinating.
Rebeca Huntt at BEBA
The film does not shy away from detailing incidents many people, and families, might try to hide from the world—especially as it relates to mental health and physical violence. Do you feel uncomfortable sharing certain stories?
It was. Each and every thing in the movie has an intended purpose. And that is what helped me move past anything that I was like, ‘Oh, no, I’m embarrassed.’ Doing all of it with as much love as possible made it so that those kinds of reservations felt small.
It can be very difficult to interview family members and close friends. How was it to interview those close to you?
My mother was very difficult. Like you saw on the film, it wasn’t even an interview. It was actually two interviews. That was the best interview. We had to talk for the first time. It was an extremely difficult moment in our relationship. So communication wasn’t at its best. Surprisingly, my dad surprised me. His natural ability on camera was amazing. All questions were answered by him. It was easy for me to interview him, and my sister too. She’s great on the camera. They have a strong chemistry.
Since watching the movie, the one thing I remember most is the way you apologized to your family after the ending. You promised not to do it again after you revealed so much personal information about your loved ones. Did you have to have difficult conversations with your loved ones before the film’s release?
Throughout the whole filmmaking process, I believed they would never speak to me again. In a sense, though, I found it a powerful driving force in making the film better. After that, I completed the film. The last day, I’m in sound mix, watching it, and I found out that we got into the Toronto International Film Festival. I hadn’t even told my parents yet. Naturally, I wanted my parents to attend the premiere. They agreed to come and see the premiere, which was amazing. [When they saw the film]It was amazing to be able, in so short a time, to see such a broad range of emotion in two of my closest friends. There was, in both of them, a sense of betrayal, anger, pride, unconditional love, happiness, gratitude, freedom—all these things at once.
Have you noticed a change in your relationship dynamics?
It’s very subtle. Just returned from Peru. My dad and I enjoyed hiking in the Andes. I called him on the final day. When I got back from the hike, I thought about my father and we had a great relationship. I phoned him to talk about it. I love my father, we have a great relationship, we’re very close, but it’s also a complex relationship. And so I told him something that was really true, and something he probably even two years ago before the film wouldn’t have been able to hear. He heard it. I don’t know what he’s gonna do with it. However, he did hear it.
Is this what you expected from your closest friends?
My parents’ reaction is a freedom and pride. My dad’s family did see it in Miami. The experience was loved by my uncles, aunts, cousins, as well as their parents. My cousins felt like it was super cathartic, because they were like, ‘Our parents can be like that, too.’ I was nervous about what my family would think.
Apart from its beautiful tale, BEBAThe film is extremely pleasing in aesthetics. It is very pleasing to the eye.
The very nature of 16 mm is limited, it’s limited what it can actually capture. When I visualize the concept of intimacy, it’s a limited and pulsating view. That’s what intimacy is. And when you’re shooting on 16 millimeter, it has this pulsating quality to it.
This film is eight years in the making—and for eight years only a handful of people have seen it at various stages. With the film’s release, I am curious if, in some ways, the hardest part has just begun. What does it feel like to know that these intimate aspects of your life and story will be seen by so many?
Other filmmakers, they weren’t really able to do the festival circuit last year, the way I was able to do it this year. I am very thankful to have been able to experience these experiences. I got to witness how people react to the film. This movie is more than what my fear of people thinking about me. Many people are coming to me with very personal and intense stories about themselves, their families and lives. I will get them talking about the relationships they have with their parents or shameful things in their lives. Having people come and talk to me about these things that otherwise would be shameful is like, that’s why I did this. How do I cope with that fear?
While making this video, what did you find out about yourself and your family? BEBA?
Humans are inexhaustible and complex. This is why people try to love all they can and give their best. As with all human beings, childhood is the beginning of everything. Family patterns, as well as generational patterns, are both real. This is something we as humans should be aware of.
Ich bin wirklich [learned] that I’m a lot stronger than I could have ever imagined. My love is very deep. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Being a film director this is where I’m supposed to be. It is a privilege to be able to share in your gratitude and acknowledge you.
You recently stated “In BEBA, I’m not asking for you to like me, or even for you to identify with me.” What do you ultimately hope people take away from the film?
That it’s okay to be authentic
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