Filmmaker Dalia Tapia’s debut feature, Silent Shame, premieres at the National Geographic African Diaspora Film Festival Saturday at 12:30pm: It’s a well-paced drama with tough subject matter—-a man confronts the HIV-related death of his mother, who contracted the disease from his estranged father—-that hits all the right notes. It’s suspensful, and its characters are authentically human: flawed, honorable, hard to dismiss.
Because writer Dalia Tapia is traveling, she won’t be present at the Film Festival. But she took some time for an interview via electronic chat, discussing her art (which comes first) and her politics (always second), and why she’d like to see a more diverse film industry that includes stories of all kinds.
How did Silent Shame come to be the title of your feature film?
“Silent Shame” was a title that reflected several of the characters’ feelings. Abel, Virginia, and in general many people who grow up in conservative cultures, are brought up to be ashamed based on religious and cultural expectations.
How long did it take to make Silent Shame?
I wrote the script on Christmas Eve of 2005 and did the rewrites up until 2006. We shot 2007/2008 and completed April 2009. So four years.
Silent Shame engages issues of sexual awakening, infidelity, the AIDS epidemic, and homosexuality. Did you have an agenda in writing this film?
I did not have an agenda when I wrote Silent Shame. My goal was to tell compelling stories that must be shared of real human beings. We often judge without taking the time to learn more about the person or circumstance. I’m guilty of it, too. This film must be seen from beginning to end. The way that Virginia was infected is based on a true story of my friend Lee Bohan, however, people often jump to conclusions right away blaming and not reflecting on a bigger picture.
You both wrote and produced Silent Shame. Did this dual role complement and/or conflict with the other?
Writing and producing was not a conflict; as a producer, I knew that I had a specific budget to work with. Thus, I did not mind making changes to the script.
How long have you been a filmmaker? Is there a community of Latin(a) filmmakers that exists to support what you’re doing?
I have been a producer for more than 10 years, yes we help each other. There is NALIP—-the National Association of Latino Independent Producers—-that’s an organization that supports the diverse vision of people. I was afraid I was not going to receive the support of my parents because of the topic, however, I was surprised when my mother told me, “These stories are important to share.” My parents are religious people and by taking a risk in telling this story they learned a few things, and so did I.
I am very pleased to see this film at the National Geographic African Diaspora Film Festival. It’s rare to see a “Latin” story alongside what is considered a culturally black showcase. This can be a point of frustration. Do you see crossethnic film festivals across the country like this one?
It’s my understanding that there are many cross-cultural experiences between Latino and African Americans in regards to AIDS, homosexuality, etc. I feel, at the end of it all, we all share similar experiences because we’re all humans.
This is absolutely true. However, those who are into marketing tend to designate names and audiences to certain kinds of art. So it’s great to see us all under the diaspora umbrella. How do you stay connected to your chosen art form? So often we hear how long it takes to make a film and all of the subsequent hoops one has to go through to get a film green-lighted. People of color especially have a difficult time.
I stay connected to my mission and that is to give a voice to stories that the mainstream does not include. By setting the example that I can do it, I hope and pray that others will follow and we’ll have a true reflections of people in our diverse country.
My commitment is to the next generation so that they have more acceptance regardless of color, sexual orientation, physical appearance, and so on. As a Latina, I have some disadvantages, however, I am working hard to improve it for those that are underrepresented and whose voices often are not part of the mainstream media yet we exist and we are real with real stories.
Silent Shame, directed by Juan Frausto, will premiere at the African Diaspora Film Festival at the National Geographic headquarters tomorrow at 12:30pm. Tickets can be purchased via telephone at 202-857-7700.