The 56th Chicago International Film Festival is excited to welcome cinematographer-turned-director Bruno Santamaria to our fair city for the premiere of his film Things We Dare Not Do. In the small town of El Robolitio, 16-year-old Ñoño has a secret that runs counter to the local culture defined by machismo; Ñoño loves to dress in women’s clothes. In Things We Dare Not Do, Santamaria reveals repression, violence, and beauty in equal measures as he chronicles the story of an individual who bravely defies the gender norms of their society. Below, Santamaria explains why he’s eager for Chicago audiences to experience his newest masterwork.
Tell us about the town of El Robolitio, Nayarit. How distinctive and how similar is it to other rural towns in Mexico?
I took a trip with a friend of mine, and in the middle of the trip, we were on a boat in a mangrove with many children around, and one of them told us a very nice story about a small island close by where a real Santa Claus — every December 25 — flies over the village in a sled-like plane to throw candy to the small children.
I thought that I had to see that, so I stayed until Christmas trying to find Santa Claus and in the meantime I met the people of Roblito. It’s a fishing town very similar to other small places in Mexico, many that seem as if adults are not present because most of them are working all day. They work too much to receive so little money. So during the day, in the town, you see just kids and grandmothers and grandfathers. A lot of kids also have to work once they’re about 11 years old.
This area of Nayarit and Sinaloa is also defined in relation to violence, but fortunately Roblito is, in some ways, protected by its geographical condition. It is very far from everything: there is no potable water, there is not too much internet, there are no hospitals. It is a very forgotten place within the country. But even so, the people are so alive, full of dignity; they know their situation. They are not happy with it, but they work to try and change it. They are organized and in the middle of this fight, we met them.
How did you convince Arturo to be the subject of your documentary?
I think because we were both living similar experiences in relation to our parents. We were keeping secrets from them. So she understood very well why it was so important for me to tell a story about this. She was the main character of the movie so while we were filming we were also accompanying each other during this process of coming out to our families.
Have the townspeople seen Things We Dare Not Do? And where did that title come from?
From the town, only Arturo has seen the complete film. The other townspeople have seen the most important sequences but not the whole movie because of the pandemic. We were planning to host a screening before March, but it wasn’t possible. And there isn’t enough internet to stream the movie in town. It’s also very important to me that everyone sees the film together, not each person alone watching it on a TV. So I will wait until we can go to Roblito to show it to them in the center of the town, and have a talk and a party.
The title is because the first thing I did when I decided to make a movie was to write down memories from my childhood, and I noticed that all of my memories had to do with repression. So I started to imagine what I wanted to explore, the things I was not able to do, or dared not do, or just did in my head. I decided to go far away from my city, from my family, and from my house to do research outside and inside of myself with just a close friend of mine. My only guide was the phrase “cosas que no hacemos” that in english is a little bit different but maybe also better, “things we dare not do.”
What other films are you excited to see at the festival?
I want to see Summer of ‘85 and Little Girl, but…the entire Out-Look competition looks great!
Things We Dare Not Do is available to stream Oct.14-25 in the Midwestern United States (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri).