Frameline 46 Interview: “Jeanette’s” Director Maris Curran and Subject Jeanette Feliciano ￼
In June of 2016, 49 lives were tragically taken during a mass shooting on Latin Night at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. One of the survivors of that night is Jeannette Filiciano, a lesbian single mother struggling to come to terms with a tragedy for which no one will ultimately be held accountable.
Between raising her teenage son, fighting with her mom around whether homosexuality is a sin, rigorous training as she tries to go pro as a competitive bodybuilder and, a little over a year later, dealing with Hurricane Maria’s effects on her family in Puerto Rico, Jeanette’s consistent, encouraging smile and motivational attitude can only hold out for so long.
Director Maris Curran’s realistic portrait of survival—full of unglamorous perseverance and routine setbacks, losses, and triumphs—illustrates that life keeps moving, never allowing for the time to truly process trauma. But in Jeannette, we are shown how building up one’s body can also assist with healing the mind and uplifting the spirit.
“Jeannette” will be screened June 17 at 1:30 PM at the Castro Theatre and will stream online June 4 — June 30. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to www.frameline.org.
Gary Carnivele: I want to congratulate both of you on the success of “Jeanette.” It’s a beautiful film. Thank you for bringing this really important story to audiences everywhere. Jeanette, you’re an amazing woman and thank you so much for opening up your life
Please, tell us a bit about your background.
Jeanette Feliciano: I am community organizer. I am mother. I am the world champion Beachbody right now. I am a professional personal trainer. I motivate people through our personal training
Maris Curran: I am a filmmaker and I live in Los Angeles, where I work in both documentary and fiction films and I’m also a mother.
GC: Why did you make this film about Jeanette’s life?
MC: I met Jeanette while working on an anti-discrimination campaign in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. “Jeanette” is a film that I didn’t plan to make but became inspired to make. I think that upon meeting we discovered parts of ourselves reflected onto the each other which allowed this really beautiful opening up of places where we’re similar. It gave us a chance to create a really trusting relationship that allow the space to really go into what happens when the cameras go away – a place that I think we actually exist. We were really concentrate on the need to really open up conversations about how this impacted the entire community. I think that Jeanette also knows she’s a modern day superhero. I think that seeing examples of not only her resilience and her determination but her vulnerability. Watching somebody like Jeanette and her mom expressing their unconditional love. Not all mothers are alike. Here we are watching this unbelievable woman push a huge heavy truck tire and then come home and be everything to her teenage son.
GC: What was it like opening up your life and in such an intimate and detailed manner?
JF: It was something that we discussed initially. We live in a society that we look at women of color in a ceratin way. Here we have an American white woman right who wants to know about my life. I’m wondering why cry because we put all these barriers We took the colors out we took that out because we realize that we are human we all bleed the same color that helping set the timer on for me being able to be vulnerable. People don’t necessarily see my vulnerability. They don’t understand what my healing process is because I had to go right back into this world. I’ve come to realize the importance and the beauty in vulnerability and being able to connect again as human beings.
MC: This film is really not just about you but I truly feel that this documentary is made for the purpose of you seeing yourself in the spirit and understanding the importance of healing – the importance of being able to be human and vulnerable with others who are actually around you. There is beauty in that and there’s a lot of healing in that mirror.
GC: Marris, you tackle so many issues in this film – both intense and joyous – as Jeanette just mentioned. What struck you most on an emotional level about Jeanette and her experience?
MC: I think the biggest surprise that I found in making the film is that family ended up being at the forefront. I knew that Jeanette was a mother and I knew that she had been struggling with her relationship with her own mother but I didn’t realize that that would form the emotional core of the film. What life brings right in the rhythms of them is of one of the essential questions that I asked going into the film. After such trauma, how does one ever feel safe again. How does Jeanette make Anthony understand what happened to her? It was just a beautiful surprise to discover the answer to her life was through her dedication to her family, through letting go and letting herself be mothered by her mother. I think that that was really very touching to have such a lovely support group. Many of those folks are in the film.
GC: What was the reaction of your family and friends when you told them about your decision to put your life out there on film?
JF: I don’t think that it really clicked but most everyone wanted to offer their support. The community obviously rallied behind what I was doing as a trainer and somebody who continues to live life and help others. Everything just turned out beautifully. You see the support system that I do have here in Orlando and it’s something that I’ve always had even prior to Pulse. Even during my bodybuilding training, the importance of healing that I’ve unfortunately been through a lot. You are able to see that I am still connected to and still very close to all of those individuals. We are even tighter than before and they have expanded in their helping and healing others. I just think that it is phenomenal that we’ve come this far and the growth of so many people who actually a part of the filming and the sense of how our minds have changed as well with making sure that we actually care and connect with people again especially in this world that is just run by nothing but social media people have disconnected besides being on their phone people forgot to communicate but you know with with me and my friends and my family we know how to put that aside and actually enjoy the company for around us and we really talk about how is it that we can all heal individually and together
GC: Maris, you capture such intimate moments of Jeanette’s life and her interaction with her friends and family. Talk about it how much footage you shot, how long the shoot was and how difficult editing it down was?
MC: When Jeanette introduced me to the people in her life, I was accepted and welcomed and could feel this love that they have for Jeanette my extension which and you know it didn’t you know and when I would Allowed for that on the phone took five years to me right before and the editing process and it took a while because we’re not telling the story and it’s not really about and I think that it was really important to me that I felt the truth to her like that emotional in a way where the audience could have enter into Stop and keep working and then you get more money and I had it really interesting experience of where I work with is incredible and I can’t even believe that never met in person where we cut it in like the last leg amazing art of getting the film is a beautiful soul and I would get up at five in the morning it was beautiful and I think you’re really in a very strange way the circumstances of the world hired to help us finish the film because you know how they been Pre-pandemic times I would’ve said well you know he’s a zero and I’m in Los Angeles and we can’t afford to find them here and I can’t just go there and yes you know
GC: Jeanette, in the documentary you travel to Puerto Rico to help your family after the devastating hurricane. Can you give me an update about your family in Puerto Rico?
JF: I was just there to help in any way I could. I bought and hooked up a generator and had to find food. There are a lot of things that happened in Puerto Rico even before the hurricane. I wanted to be there for my sister, but also to help the community of Puerto Rico. I was knocking on doors to check on people – to make sure they had they’re basic needs met. I went back to my island to do my part I spoke to my sister last night we were on the phone for two hours and they’re doing great. I love the bond that my mom and my sister have created within the past year. My sister is able to talk to my mom and ask for advice and ask for counsel. Finally get it I think it’s just so important you know my mom is doing great she’s always come here and she’s always hanging out with my partner. Now everything, thank God, is absolutely amazing. When it comes to my family and my family bonding, I just wanted to continue to support everyone and for everyone to express the love I know is there. That’s why I am the way that I am with Anthony. He is my world and I make sure that he knows how much I love him because I did’t always have that. I have it now but it’s so important for our children to have that. For us to break the cycle. Everything that we do in life should be led by love first and foremost because that is something that every human being
GC: Maris, what was it like when “Jeanette” was accepted into Frameline
MC: Wonderful! can’t wait to share the phone with dad he will text them and I hope that the film opens up some of those doors so that people are able to talk about things that sometimes they would rather not talk about but that can be really nice now that you’re not we will you be here in San Francisco unfortunately I will not be there I think we’re going to probably be doing a Q&A through Zoom after the “Jeanette” is shown at Frameline.
GC: What are you both up to now?
MC: I’m working on a new film here in Los Angeles that’s about a justice program and how it works. I have a little baby who I just brought into the world. I’m traveling around with “Jeanette,” and couldn’t ask for anything more than that.
JF: My son Anthony is getting ready to go to college. My partner has moved in with her son so I have an eight-year -old right so I need to make sure that I’m reading that he’s showing love to each and every person the same way that I believe Anthony is. I’m currently the world champion in my catgegory so I will be competing this coming November, which keeps me very busy. I just want people to have a sense of being seen and being able to see themselves.
GC: Thank you both for making this beautiful film. Best of luck with reaching as wide an audience as possible. Please come back whenever you’ve got something else in the works. Happy Pride!