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BFI Future Film Festival 2023
Interview

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Emilio
Vazquez Reyes
Honeybee

An undocumented immigrant receives a heartwarming yet heartbreaking phone call from his daughter across the border.

Hi Emilio, it’s great to talk with you, how has everything been going?

It's great talking to you as well. Everything has been going well! I am incredibly excited to share my film with audiences attending the BFI Future Film Festival. I wish I could be there to witness all the other extraordinary films in the program.

Honeybee has had a great festival run winning multiple awards including a SXSW Grand Jury Award, did you imagine you would get this type of reaction for your debut Short?

Absolutely not haha. I submitted Honeybee to SXSW the same way people buy lottery tickets, so seeing it snowball from SXSW to other festivals has been so surreal to witness.

Congratulations on having Honeybee, part of the Future Film Festival 2023, how does it feel to be part of such an incredible line-up of short films?

I feel so honored to be able to share the screen with other incredibly talented filmmakers. While I was viewing the other official selections, I recognized some names as filmmakers I looked up to on social media platforms. To be able to be in the same film festival as them is something I am so appreciative to be a part of.

How important are festivals like Future Film Festival in creating a platform for short films?

Film can seem like an incredibly daunting and intimidating career path for many aspiring artists. Festivals such as Future Film Festival can offer so much to young filmmakers in a way that no other festivals could in the past. With filmmaking being more and more accessible to younger ages, filmmakers can start their careers earlier.

Can you tell me how Honeybee came about, what was the inspiration for your short film?

When I was 15, I was sent into a screenwriting frenzy since the COVID-19 pandemic kept me locked in my room. With all the free time I had, I attempted to write a feature about a father and his daughter illegally immigrating to the United States. One scene stuck out to me, which was a scene where the father explains to his daughter how, although many people perceive them as dangerous, bees are peaceful insects that contribute to the environment, serving as a metaphor for how people perceive immigrants in contrast to how they really are. Although I never finished the screenplay, I kept that idea until the next year in 2021, when my broadcast teacher offered me an opportunity to make a 3-minute short film for a broadcast competition. I figured that, if I had just 3 minutes to say something, I would have enough time to say that message I wrote in that unfinished script.

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"Being in the middle of a parking lot on a cold and windy November night with my close friends will always be more fun than thinking about the finished product in my head."

Did you have any apprehensions about writing and directing a short film that deals with such a powerful story?

I was incredibly nervous about how people would perceive this film to the point where I started to have many second thoughts on if I should even make this film. It’s impossible to not stir controversy when it comes to political topics, especially one as hotly debated as immigration. As a result, I decided to write and film Honeybee from a humanistic standpoint, focusing on emotion and universality. I figured that people can debate and criticise the politics of this film all they want, but they can't deny that these sorts of events happen.

As an Mexican-American filmmaker how essential is it for you to be able to use your filmmaking platform to be able to share such important stories?

Film is such a powerful tool and can be used to amplify the voices of those who have been silenced. People aren't willing to read an article or a statistical report about violence towards immigrants, but they’re willing to watch a 3-minute short film about it. Because of this constant consumption of film by all ages, races, genders, etc., it’s not only easier to spread a message but to have your voice heard. I hope to use film to spread awareness on more issues that I am passionate about, however, I don’t want my purpose as a filmmaker to be directly tied to my ethnicity or race.

Were you able to be flexible with your shoot once you started going into production or did you prefer to stick to a plan?

Since we filmed Honeybee over 3 days and were on a strict deadline, I originally had a very detailed production schedule and an extensive shot list. However, I was very open to the inevitable location changes, wardrobe changes, and spontaneous/freeform camera movement. I treated production as getting as many shots as I could and finding a way to splice all of them in post since they would all be comprehensively structured together through the voice-over.

Looking back, what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you’ve taken from this experience?

Even though I had a lot of fun filming Honeybee, I felt like I was in such a rush to complete each filming day so I could go home and edit the film. Looking back, I wish I enjoyed the process of filming more than the idea of it. Being in the middle of a parking lot on a cold and windy November night with my close friends will always be more fun than thinking about the finished product in my head.

Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?

Absolutely. I had many different story ideas to make a 3-minute short with, but many of them felt too “traditional” to me, whether it was a repetitive story idea or a cliche story structure. Whether it's through editing, directing, cinematography, or anything involving how the finished product will look, I believe that any artist should push themselves beyond whatever “traditionalist” practices they are confined to. The balance between experimentation and comprehension is what leads to good art.

What top 3 tips would you offer a fellow debut filmmakers?

I would say I have one tip for the 3 different stages of production.

1. Pre-Production - Study more than film
Honeybee didn’t come to me by watching hours of cinematography video essays, film analysis videos, or even by watching other movies. Instead, it came from the hours of me researching topics of immigration and racism. There’s importance in studying and watching other films, but studying real-life topics will open your worldview to new story ideas or specific details to authenticate your story.

2. Production - Be open to change
During production, there were constant changes like mentioned before that I was not ready, nor willing to change. However, it is important to decide what is easier for the crew versus what will satisfy the image you have in your head, and for me, I will always prioritise a positive filmmaking experience over a mindless detail in the final cut.

3. Post-Production - Don’t take yourself too seriously (even if your film is serious)
I would constantly find myself growing a bit too egotistical and pretentious after the film festival success of Honeybee. It can be easy to fancy yourself as the next big thing, but it’s important to have enough self-awareness to humble yourself. Keeping your ego in check leads to better relationships on set, stronger connections, and an overall more positive experience for anyone who works with you.

And finally, what massage do you hope your audiences will take away from Honeybee?

I believe that the message of Honeybee can go far beyond the topic of immigration. I hope that audiences look deeper into preconceived notions instilled into them by society rather than blindly agreeing with whatever stances their peers or family members believe in.

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