‘Wolfpack’ and ‘Betty’ Filmmaker Crystal Moselle Interviews Rebeca Huntt About ‘Beba’

·9 min read

Acclaimed on the festival circuit and enjoying a summer sleeper release as only Neon can mount, the hypnotic portrait “Beba” takes no prisoners and leaves no casualties in its director’s searching portrait of her own NYC-born, Afro-Latina roots.

Filmmaker Rebeca Huntt, in an exclusive conversation hosted here by IndieWire, sat down with “The Wolfpack” and “Betty” filmmaker Crystal Moselle to discuss the groundbreaking debut feature. The film follows Huntt as she undertakes an unflinching exploration of her own identity through the format of a cinematic memoir. Reflecting on her childhood and adolescence in New York City as the daughter of a Dominican father and Venezuelan mother, Huntt investigates the historical, societal, and generational trauma she’s inherited and ponders how those ancient wounds have shaped her, while simultaneously considering the universal truths that connect us all as humans.

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Throughout the movie, Huntt searches for a way to forge her own creative path amid a landscaped of intense racial and political unrest.

In his review for IndieWire, Robert Daniels wrote:

First-time filmmaker Rebeca “Beba” Huntt opens her eponymous debut “Beba” — a complicated and bold self-portrait, exploring identity, internalized anti-Blackness, and generational trauma — with a declarative statement: “You are now entering my universe.” Her world, initially, is visually translated via a shaky cam walking through a twisty, moss-smeared forest. A woozy horn hypnotizes over a collage of images: Huntt swaying to the sea, people at the beach, her hand in the sand — all shot on a gorgeous 16mm. Her spoken-word poetry, wherein she says “violence lives in my DNA,” lays the groundwork for the next 79 unflinching minutes.

Read the full conversation with Moselle below.

Crystal Moselle: There’s a few films in this world that when I watch them, it kind of reminds me that we can do anything in cinema because they’re so bold and it’s just like, very brave filmmaking and your film is one of those films. No, bravo for that. Seriously. Sometimes I think in my head, ‘Sometimes I have to do it a certain way.’ But your film is one of those films that instantly reminds me of a certain way like no, no, no, just do what you think and feel, first and foremost.

Rebeca Huntt: I honestly feel that way about “Wolfpack.” I love your work in general but “Wolfpack” for me was a moment of transformation for me as an artist on so many levels. Personally just being able to relate, seeing this very live in apartment, like the broken window for some reason. There’s shots in my film of the wall being broke and you don’t really know what happened but something happened and it’s lived in, and it’s also…the sensitivity that it was made with and the nuance and also just the exploration of strength and emotion and mental illness and mental health and love and resilience and family, is just like…like the brain that you have to have to make something like that is just extraordinary, so thank you for that because I think perhaps “Beba” wouldn’t have come out the same way if “Wolfpack” didn’t exist.

Crystal Moselle: Aw, thank you. When did you know you were making a film? Let’s talk about process.

Rebeca Huntt: Well there was a moment like shortly after graduating when I was like 23, turning 24, where my producer Sofia Geld and I were like, this is a film. And I was like yes, I’m going to run with this. We started looking at my journal entries together and from there I started writing what turned into the voiceover. The voiceover isn’t like extracts from journal entries. It’s inspired by them and then sort of just original writing that’s based on looking at journal entries from specific parts of my life and sort of breaking them into categories which later on became chapters, things I wanted to explore. So after we started putting the journal entries together and coming up with what, in my mind and I say that to this day, is a three-act structure. But it’s an existential three-act structure, what sort of the writing for the film is led by. Then it was either my producer or myself or hiring some cinematographer to shoot certain things or me turning on the camera and just leaving it on. So the amount of footage that Isabelle, our editor, had to work with, especially in terms of the early days, was so much.

Crystal Moselle: Same with “Wolfpack.” We had like 1,000 hours or something.

Rebeca Huntt: Once you start getting into creating and filming and recording, certain things are revealed to you. Certain things were revealed to me in what needed to be shown and what the process was and how I wanted to say certain things and how I wanted to portray certain things. There was something that I understood that there had to be a balance between the stylization of the film and the rawness of what was actually being shown in real-time.

Crystal Moselle: When I made “Wolfpack,” I had this whole idea of what the film was and through the process of making it, it turned into a completely different film. How was your process, in terms of the initial idea versus what the film actually was?

Rebeca Huntt: The complexity of being also the subject and going through the sort of quantum leaps and existential setbacks in real-time and so much of production was…there was a level of self-acceptance and acceptance of what I didn’t know was going to happen but what I did know I was going to show, right? Like, for example, I knew that we had to get me and my mother’s dynamic onscreen. I just remember saying, ‘Don’t turn the camera off, no matter what happens. Just leave it on.’ So there was that level of it, accepting my blind spots with myself. And then there were visual aspects I saw very clearly, that I envisioned very clearly, and as soon as I was able to get the resources for that, it happened. And that’s where the 16mm comes in.

Crystal Moselle: What influences you?

Rebeca Huntt: I like observing other people a lot and so anything from like just the way somebody looks, anything from a conversation to the way someone looks away or nature…I would say very much human beings and nature. Human beings I think are absolutely fascinating and I can watch them all day. I love feeling other people’s energies and being around people, especially people that I find fascinating or cool or even not, actually, because then it’s interesting in a different way. Anything from the way the light hits a sign in New York to like listening to somebody’s conversations about a pizza spot, anything and everything.

Crystal Moselle: Oh my gosh, you have to see it in a theater. These days with COVID and theaters closing, it’s just probably the most heartbreaking thing because we as artists, we’re trying to bring people into a world and as you said, sound is such a big part of that. And you want someone to sit within it and it’s hard to do that if you’re looking at your laptop or your phone or whatever. There’s too many distractions at home. You being put into a dark room and being forced to experience something is so important. Congratulations on having a theatrical run. It’s not easy to get that these days. So what came easy for you in this process? What was something easy? What felt like second nature?

Rebeca Huntt: That’s a really good question. Was there anything that felt like second nature? I think one of the things that I really enjoyed was taking pieces or taking inspiration from films but also just like poetry, literature, art, visual art that I loved and explaining that vision to my collaborators. That point in which you meet and you’re like OK this is what I’m thinking, this is how I want it to feel. I don’t know, I feel like I’m good at communicating that. I think with the right collaborators, I love that piece. And I think I’m good at expressing myself even in all my blah.

Crystal Moselle: Let’s talk about putting this film out in the world. How was that for you?

Rebeca Huntt: Honestly, it’s intense but it’s overall amazing. I think showing it to my parents was the most insane because I really believed that they were never going to talk to me again. And once I realized that I got their support and that they love me and were there for me, it just…it opened up something in me that was so…it taught me something not just about my parents but about love and the resilience of community and it just made me even more excited to share it with other people, even if they didn’t like it because my mom at first, I think, the first time she saw the film didn’t like it. It’s a growing thing for her

Crystal Moselle: Oh yeah, I mean, I know this just from…

Rebeca Huntt: Like it’s a slow build. And sometimes they like it more than other times and sometimes they see it and they’re like, ‘Why did you…?’ And I’m like, but you’ve seen it four times already! But it was really cool to experience that level of love from them and it just gave me like a whole new…talking about self-acceptance because one of the most important aspects of the film and that journey is the ability to accept other people for who they are, especially people you love. So that was cool. Because I went through this excavation with my parents and myself, it’s like, yo, this is what I did and this is how I did it. Period. I did it to share with whoever is interested.

Crystal Moselle: Yeah, I love that. Just letting everything on my terms. It’s the power of the people. Whoever connects and wants to take something from this, they’re the ones that are going to need it.

Rebeca Huntt: Exactly. It’s not mine. I’ve given it away. It’s out now, doing its own thing.

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