During a visit to Mexico, the London-based creative director Sarah Clift chatted up a woman who was looking for a piñata modeled after then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Her amusement grew into excitement when her fiancé suggested she made a film around this concept. Seeing it as an opportunity to portray Mexico in a more accurate light than stereotypical representations, she wrote her debut film "La Madre Buena," showcasing the strong women, family unity and good heartedness that she has observed are central to the people of Mexico. Read ahead to learn more about Clift and the inspiration behind her film.
What was your inspiration for making this film?
Sarah Clift: At the beginning of April 2016, I was riding on a horse ranch an hour outside of Mexico City for a few days. One day I found myself in the middle of the cactus filled countryside chatting to a wonderful lady from Washington D.C. who was trying to locate a Trump piñata.
I didn’t realize they existed at this point and thought they sounded hilarious, and so when I got back to the city and excitedly told my biggest supporter (fiancé and director) Jorge Aguilera, about the idea he suggested I write and film something on a topic that had so engaged me. I started pitching the kind of visuals I’d like to see in the film together in my head and then wrote the story over the course of a week. During that time I would talk to my future sister-in-law Flor, who writes teen literature, about childhood in Mexico and how family really works there. This is how the idea of using a lime in the child’s hair came about, it’s what some Mexican people use instead of hair gel.
There was one idea above all else however that I was very clear about – I had to have a Donald Trump piñata on the back of a motorcycle! It was a great opportunity to take Trump piñata through the heart of Mexico, somewhere I’m sure the real Donald Trump has never been, and to see the wind whistling through his paper hair.
What do you feel is the relationship between creating films in Mexico that are seen here in the U.S.? What do you want audiences to take away after seeing this film?
SC: As an English person writing and directing a film set in Mexico using the backdrop of the U.S. election (for a worldwide audience), I had to think very carefully how the story would be told. It needed to be smart, observational and light-hearted.
I have spent equal time in both Northern American countries, and always found great hospitality and delight in both. To this point the film was not written with a specific political agenda in mind - in April 2016 I don’t think many people believed Donald Trump would make it on the ticket let alone be in office. However I did feel that the sincerity and good heartedness of the Mexican people I have had the pleasure to meet was taking a battering by the state of affairs and that the dialogue surrounding women was not acceptable to me. So I set out to create a portrait of Mexico you don’t often see out there, to offset the constant paper-selling stories of violence, and all led by a strong female character.
To me a mother’s love for her son is a brilliant illustration of the tenderness and caring of many Mexican people. And perhaps this is what makes it so watchable, because it portrays such a different interpretation of the country.
Can you describe a little bit of your filmmaking process?
SC: “La Madre Buena” is my debut short film. Prior to this I had worked in commercial advertising as a creative director for many years, in both London and Paris.
As this was to be the first thing I would direct on my own, I wanted to fully submerse myself in the process. The producers at Madrefoca allowed me to work, as would an experienced director, which also meant figuring a lot of things out on my own.
The production team I worked with were great and realized the urgency for the project getting underway, and so we started to get production off the ground as I was writing. I wrote the script in April, shot the film for 5 days in May, and brought the post-production back to the U.K. in June, where I attended Cannes Advertising Festival to meet people and drum up support. I then edited in July and finished post and sound in early August. I was the producer on all the post, which was slightly complicated as our sound was being created over in Sydney, while edit and color was finishing in London. But I’m very proud of everyone’s involvement both locally in Mexico and internationally. To my mind it highlights the support to this timely tale and the belief in first time female directors.
The entire film process has been a huge and rewarding learning curve for me – I set myself challenges I don’t think many first time directors with no film school training would have done. At every step I’ve just been thinking ‘I really want to do this. Okay how do I make that happen.’
What projects do you have planned for in the future?
SC: I am currently looking at short film projects to further explore ideas I have, while developing a couple of feature length ideas. I am also developing a web series set in Mexico, which naturally writes itself in English this time!
On the phone we talked about the proposal for Trump's border wall, how do you think this would affect you living in Mexico if it is built?
SC: I am a U.K. citizen and of course don’t speak for the Mexican people. I do however have a Mexican fiancé so I’ve been very close to all the politics and points of view. As I see it, the immigration policies of this administration will affect mostly the Mexican people living in the U.S. Historically, building walls has never had a positive outcome, and this time it seems to be more of a symbol of racial intolerance.
What did you do with the Trump piñata after you were done filming?
SC: There were in fact four Trump piñatas made for filming. Two fell to destructive ends during filming, one came face to face with an stick on the night of the U.S. elections and the other lives in our loft in case he needs to make a reappearance.