The Truth is in the Telenovela – The Return of Director Georgina Garcia Riedel
Lies, betrayal, death and deception, Telenovelas have it all.
They are one of the most celebrated forms of entertainment in Latin American countries, from Mexico all the way to Brazil. In striking contrast to their American counterparts, the daytime soap operas, which have all but disappeared due to their declining popularity, telenovelas have exploded in popularity here in the United States, having averaged 5.7 million viewers per week in 2011- according to Nielsen data. Part of this increase has to do with the changing racial landscape taking place, and the fact that for the Latinos immigrating to the U.S., watching telenovelas serves as a means of staying connected to friends and family back home.
There are many cultural references highlighted in telenovelas, specific to the country the program was produced in, which is why Director Georgina Garcia Riedel had such a plethora of material to draw from while co-writing and directing her film ANA MARIA IN NOVELA LAND, having just opened in select theaters. I had the pleasure of speaking with Riedel during a rare gap in her schedule.
“This film definitely pays homage to telenovelas,” she said. “And we were poking a little fun, but it was from the heart and from a good place because I grew up loving them.”
ANA MARIA IN NOVELA LAND centers on Ana Maria, a dissatisfied young woman, struggling to make something happen for herself after just losing her job. And with a myriad of things not working, she disconnects by losing herself in her favorite telenovela Passion Without Limits.
Suddenly, lighting strikes while Ana Maria is totally engaged in the make believe world, and she switches places with the shows vixen Ariana Tomosa, who’s cheating on her rich, older fiancé with his son just days before their wedding. Now Ariana must navigate through the normalcy of Ana Maria’s dull life while Ana Maria gets to experience the high drama and passion of Ariana’s world. It all makes for a comedic and endearing tale about a young woman searching for herself, a common theme among Riedel ‘s work.
“These are the stories that interest me,” she said. “I’m always fascinated by the idea of women of all ages constantly out to discover who they are because the journey never ends.” Riedel demonstrated this beautifully in her film How The Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer, where audiences were treated to witnessing life through the eyes of three Latin women from three different generations- all ranging from 20-something to 70-something- as they each sought out love during a summer in Arizona.
“And with ANA MARIA IN NOVELA LAND, a lot of the focus is on Ariana and Ana Maria, and they represent the millennial generation,” she said. “But at the same time, there’s a mother character who’s also trying to find herself as a mother and discover what constitutes being a good mom. So these are the themes that really interest me because I am also on my own journey.”
For ANA MARIA IN NOVELA LAND, Riedel shares a credit with Jose Nestor Marquez who wrote the original script.
Riedel was brought in to do a rewrite, and due to Jose’s trust and respect for her, she was able to capture the essence of the original script while still bringing in her own themes and ideas about the characters that, ultimately, made them jump off the page. “I think that’s why I’ve always been able to attract such great talent,” she shared. “The feedback I’ve gotten from actors has always been very positive because they feel like the characters I write are such strongly drawn out roadmaps that everything they need to know to breath life into the character is there on the page. And they’re very attracted to the material, so I’ve been very lucky in that respect.”
Riedel’s success probably does entail some luck, but it mostly comes from the tireless work ethic she picked up from her parents as a child, watching them grow a small business into a much larger one. In fact, she has her parents to thank for putting her on the filmmaking track to begin with. “My mother is a huge movie fan, and she introduced me to The Godfather at a young age,” she says. “And my father watched everything from westerns to Steven Seagal movies, so the experience growing up in my house was very broadening.” But it wasn’t until she came across Jean-Luc Godard ‘s Breathless that the idea of film shifted from something outside of herself to something she could actually take on.
“I saw Breathless, and I experienced this very Wizard-of-Oz type moment,” she said. “It was the first time I realized that someone was actually behind the camera, and I immediately knew that’s where I wanted to be as well.” From there, she went on to study media arts as an undergrad, then landed a prestigious internship with Women Make Movies, the non-profit film arts organization, based in New York- that was established to combat the distorted number of women in film. And upon completing with Women Make Movies, she got accepted into the graduate program at AFI Conservatory at the American Film Institute.
“The biggest benefit of grad school is the fact that you’re in a shielding environment where you can make all the mistakes without any real consequences. And you’re learning to find your voice,” she commented. “And probably the most important thing is that the people you’re going to school with are the people you will end up making films with.
Yes, after completing her graduate program, Riedel walked away with a wide network of other talented writers, directors, and cinematographers. And from those connections came films One Night It Happened, How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer, and ANA MARIA IN NOVELA LAND. And ANA MARIA attracted no shortage of talented performers, from veteran actors Luis Guzman (How to Make It in America, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), and Elizabeth Pena (The Incredibles, Off the Map), who each have over 200 credits between the two of them- to rising stars Edy Ganem of Devious Maids fame and star of the CW’s 90210 Michael Steger.
Next, Riedel is taking her performance to the next level, turning her debut feature How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer into a television series. And seeing as how far she’s come, a television series will only be the beginning.
“I just really want to entertain people, and I get joy from making people feel something, so when I’m writing a comedy, I’m wanting to make people laugh. And if I can make people walk away having felt something, I feel like I’ve done my job, and then I get to feel good.”
For more information on and ANA MARIA IN NOVELA LAND, check out http://www.anamariamovie.com/.