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Cuban, Young, and Desperately Dreaming

Beautifully filmed on location in Havana, Lucy Mulloy's debut feature Una Noche tells the heartrending tale of three teens looking to make their escape to an imagined better life.

Tribeca: Congratulations on your first feature film! How do you describe Una Noche in your own words?

Lucy Mulloy: Thanks! In Una Noche, three Havana teens risk everything for love. 90 miles of treacherous ocean stand between them and the dream, Miami.

We shot it in Cuba, so it was not an easy production. Resources are scarce because of the embargo, so we had to get really creative to make it all come together. We had a lot of amazing support and we were lucky to shoot on film—but in a country that does not even have a lab. It was very tough, but when resources are scarce I think it makes people get really inventive and resourceful, so we pushed ourselves really hard and did not compromise the script.

I cannot believe that the actors are actually going to be arriving in NYC the day of the premiere. I’m excited.

Tribeca: What inspired you to tell this story? Did the story come first, or the issues you wanted to raise?

Lucy Mulloy: The story came first. In Cuba, everyone has stories about leaving or being left—and that sense of isolation as a country. The electric energy in Havana, the whispers and secrets in the streets, the pain of separation, losing someone you love through distance, not appreciating them enough or expressing all that you wanted to while you still could. Those sentiments were strong in my mind when the script was forming. It's a personal story on many levels and conveys a lot of things that I was feeling at the time. It’s not about issues for me. It was about expressing emotion and pulling from what I was seeing around me in Havana.  

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Tribeca: Your leads were just fantastic: vulnerable, intimate, and feisty when they needed to be. What can you tell us about the casting process?

Lucy Mulloy: All the professional actors I met were trained more for theater and were not that subtle in their acting, so we went to the streets. We gave out thousands of flyers for huge casting calls every weekend. I would walk down the street in Havana and know all the kids because I auditioned every one—over 2,000 teens. The main characters stood out straight away; with each one of them, as soon as I saw them I knew that they were the characters. Dariel Arrechaga was outside his school surrounded by girls when I gave him a flyer. I knew he had the part, but I wanted to see him act, so I had him do three audition calls.

Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre was spotted on the beach by a casting assistant. When she walked in, Dariel and I looked at one another and we just knew she was Lila. He met so many girls before we found her. (He loved it.) It was almost spooky how Anailin had all the traits of Lila’s character. She’s even a Taekwondo champion in real life.

For Elio’s character, one of the producers, Sandy, went to all the Havana high schools and took photos of the boys who looked like they could be Anailin’s brother. Javier Núñez Florián stood out. Even in his picture, he just had amazing charisma and sensitivity. They all fitted together perfectly. They are exceptionally talented, and we were very lucky to find them. 

Tribeca: What can you share about filming in Cuba?

Lucy Mulloy: We shot in Havana and Cien Fuegos, and it was amazing—we had such great support. So many people made this movie come together. When we screen in Havana, everyone will be there because everyone knows someone who is in the film.

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Tribeca: What's the craziest thing that happened during production?

Lucy Mulloy: There were a lot of very crazy moments. One that comes to mind is when we were shooting pickups on the beach one day with the raft and suddenly twenty military men in fatigues carrying AKs crawled out of the bushes. An informant had tipped the Coast Guard that someone was attempting to leave the country illegally. We had to explain the raft was just a prop.

Tribeca: As a first-time feature writer/director, what’s the biggest lesson you took from the experience? Any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

Lucy Mulloy: People will tell you “no” and that you can’t do it. It’s too big, too small, too many people, too few people, no dolly, no license, no permit… etc., etc. Find another way. If you know what you want, work it out and make it happen. Try not to listen to the people who tell you how hard and impossible things are, because even if things are hard, you can find a way, step by step. Somehow you need to listen to that part of yourself that is strong and keep going.

Making a feature really is like running a marathon. That's what I was told, and it's true. You have to have stamina. Also, keep people informed. If there are problems, let them know; if there are delays, let them know. Often, people want information and it is hard to remember to give it when you are in the thick of things, but it’s important, whether it’s investors, crew, actors—everyone involved wants to know what's going on. This is probably obvious to everyone else, but it’s something that I learned whilst making the movie. 

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Tribeca: You received support from Tribeca Film Institute for Una Noche. Can you tell us what that relationship meant to you and the production?

Lucy Mulloy: I am so thankful for their support. When you are making a feature, it can feel lonely at times. Not when you are working with your crew and actors and prepping or shooting—that time is amazing and people are there with you—but I was editing alone for a few months, and that was brutal. Post is hard. I am so, so grateful for the support of Tribeca Film Institute for pushing me through. IFP were also amazing in guiding and giving advice. There are these incredible institutions and labs that I had no idea existed before I started to make the movie, and when you are at your weakest they appear and help you get through. Their support changed my whole personal experience. I am so deeply thankful.

I met Cindy Lee, the editor of Una Noche, through the IFP lab, through another filmmaker, Andre Dosunmu. This was a real turning point for the movie. I was very lucky in that we got to edit the entire movie at NYU because Una Noche is my thesis film, which was also a lifesaver, and The Adrienne Shelly Foundation was also really supportive. I can’t emphasize enough how institutions and foundations like the Tribeca Film Institute and IFP are crucial in helping indie films get completed.

Tribeca: What are you most looking forward to at Tribeca?

Lucy Mulloy: I'm looking forward to the actors arriving from Havana. They are going to love New York. I’m also really excited for the NYC audience, to see how they react.

Tribeca: What’s your favorite New York movie?

Lucy Mulloy: Taxi Driver.

Tribeca: What makes Una Noche a Tribeca must-see?

Lucy MulloyUna Noche will take you to Cuba. If you’re from the U.S., you can’t really go there… so this is your chance.

Lucy Mulloy graduated from NYU film school. She is an Oxford alum and has been nominated for a Student Academy Award. Her film Una Noche won the Spike Lee Production Grant, Hollywood Foreign Press Association Grant, TFI Creative Promise Emerging Narrative Award, and more. She is currently developing Una Noche Más.


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