Carolina Rueda loves Oklahoma. Originally from Columbia, the film director has traveled, worked and resided in numerous locations around the world.
Rueda presently resides in Norman, and named her newest film “Oklahoma Mon Amour” in fond homage.
The 70-minute drama was selected as Best Family Film by the Silk Road Film Awards in Cannes, France, in December and was similarly recognized last month by the Chicago Indie Film Awards and International Film Festival. The Toronto International Women Film Festival has also named Rueda as Best Female Cinematographer for “Oklahoma Mon Amour.”
The film is scheduled to be screened at the 2021 Tokyo International Short Film Festival.
“I have lived in Oklahoma twice, first coming here in 1989 when I was in my early twenties,” Rueda said. “That’s when I met David Slemmons and a whole wonderful crowd of musicians and artists who hung out on Campus Corner.”
Slemmons is a poet, playwright and actor who is a well-known leader and opinion shaper in Norman’s arts scene.
“It was a beautiful time and that was my first Oklahoma experience,” Rueda said. “Then I lived in San Francisco, went back to Columbia and, later in life, in Pennsylvania, where I earned a Ph.D at the University of Pittsburgh.”
Rueda has worked professionally in film, video and television production for many years both here and abroad. Notably, she co-founded and directed 2006 Emmy Award-winning weekly TV show “LatinEyes” in California.
“Then my partner, now husband Marcello [Rioseco] got a job at the University of Oklahoma, which was fantastic, because we were coming back to Oklahoma,” Rueda said. “A person from Columbia being in Oklahoma twice is rare.”
Rueda re-connected with her old Campus Corner running buddies, with Slemmons being central.
“We had stayed in touch and now he’s one of my best friends,” Rueda said.
Slemmons is a key cast member in “Oklahoma Mon Amour,” playing U.S. journalist Leam Gaertner. The drama is about a family, including Gaertner’s British spouse, Fiona, and their children, Nico and Sebastian, who are scattered across the globe from each other.
Starting in the mid-1990s and cutting to 2016, the action occurs in Mexico, London and the fictional Oklahoma burg of Ava. Scenes depicting Ava were shot in Norman.
The plot involves political activism and a resulting tragedy that splits the family. Personal anxiety, search for identity and a mission of two brothers to reunite are at the film’s heart.
It was shot in black and white, with both Spanish and English dialogue accommodated by closed captions.
“Oklahoma is very dear to me, and that’s why it figures into the film,” Rueda said.
Making the flick particularly Okie is the fact that much of Rueda’s cast are prominent members of Norman’s creative community.
In addition to Slemmons, they include actor and photographer Richard Ray Whitman, singer/songwriter Katie Williams, actor/political activist Sydne Rain Gray, OU academic Arthur Dixon and others.
“So many Norman landmarks are in the film’s footage,” Rueda said.
The film’s fictional Gaertner couple meet in Mexico, but have to flee to a house the husband has in Oklahoma. Turns out they can’t reside safely here, either, and tragedy occurs. Rueda metaphorically incorporates the 2000 Oklahoma City Murrah Building right wing terrorist attack into her dramatic thread.
The film’s dramatic power is being recognized, as evidenced by critical acclaim.
“I think it won the Silk Road Best Family award because the film’s story is told in a very unusual way,” Rueda said. “It has an unconventional structure. The story is interrupted either by a voice-over that refers to other things outside the narrative or text appears in the film along with other outside references.”
Rueda explained her evocative allusion to Alain Resnais’ 1959 New Wave romantic drama “Hiroshima mon amour,” which used brief flashbacks in a nonlinear narrative style.
“The film steps out of the fiction to become a commentary or essay,” Rueda said. “‘Oklahoma Mon Amour’ is fictional, but it does step out and it’s an unusual way to tell a simple family story. But the way it’s narrated makes it more complex, which also adds to its interest.”
The film is entertaining, while providing plenty of reflective food for thought.
“It’s not a fine arts experimental film,” Rueda said. “It’s a little difficult to categorize, which I like.”
During production, the actors had a script to memorize, but Rueda allowed them a lot of freedom.
“There were natural and professional actors in the film and I treated everyone in the same way,” she said. “Giving them lines but allowing them to feel the character and get involved with the story so they could perform the way they felt was needed.”
Rueda felt this was enhanced even further in her editing room using voice-over. Facial expression is important to her, and she used it for maximum impact.
“It’s why I have so many close-ups,” Rueda said. “Reflecting emotions in the eyes which were very expressive through Richard Ray Whitman.”
Norman composer Geoffrey Burch created eight original pieces for the film. Sebastian Efler, who is Timpani Principal for Republic of China-Taiwan’s National Symphony Orchestra, also added music. “Flavor Blond” from Katie Williams’ album “Force of Nature” is included in the soundtrack.
“It makes me very happy that ‘Oklahoma Mon Amour’ is being watched at international film festivals,” Rueda said.
Those interested in a Feb. 11 online discussion of the film may register at artsandhumanitiesforumevents.oucreate.com/events.