Indie Filmmaking Is Not Dead: A Conversation With 'Noemi Gold' Director Dan Rubenstein
Marvel. Netflix. COVID-19. There are myriad gargantuan factors currently changing the film industry, and nothing has been more severely impacted as indie filmmaking. Even before the global pandemic, the industry has been trending toward nonstop blockbuster franchises while streaming giants have been focused on bingeable series. Where did that leave the indie film? Last July, “The Messenger” director Oren Moverman told Variety, “Independent cinema, as we know it and as we love it, is over.” While this might be generally true, one film, with its 2019 release, quietly, but boldly bucked this trend, and its name is “Noemí Gold.”
The film follows the somewhat titular character, Noemí Goldberg, an Argentinian girl navigating the spring of her 27th year, stumbling from one obstacle to another. The story opens with her dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, in a country where abortion is a crime. After her well-intentioned, but highly unreliable roommate sends her to a clinic that delivers her right into the hands of a police officer, Noemí must come up with the funds to visit a clinic outside the country. To complicate matters further, Noemí’s social-media-obsessed cousin arrives from LA to crash on her couch.
What follows is a startlingly realistic snapshot of life in your 20s, filled with house parties, hilariously narcissistic millennials passing as artists, casual psychedelic drug-taking, reliving family traumas, getting to know relatives for the first time, and spontaneous debates on religion. If any of these experiences sound familiar, it’s because there’s a Noemí Goldberg in all of us.
Topic spoke with director Dan Rubenstein about the very DIY nature of the filming process, proving that, despite the uphill battle that is the changing film industry, indie filmmaking is not dead, plus Argentina’s recent landmark legal victory that will be life-changing for women like Noemí.
“Noemi Gold” has been called “the ultimate indie film” by many. Why do you think it’s garnered this title?
This film was made with a very small budget, outside of any studio system, with no “names” attached and no institutional support. We had significantly fewer resources than most films that bill themselves as indie, which helped highlight just how DIY this project really was.
How were you able to make a feature-length movie on such an impressively modest budget?
A resourceful, hard-working cast and crew, plus a lot of luck. We got almost all of our locations for free, because of our scrappy and charismatic line producer Maria-Eugenia Lombardi. (Most people who assessed the script before we shot said we’d need two to three times our current budget to make the film happen.)
Speaking of luck, casting the role of Noemí’s grandmother was pure luck. Tell us about that.
Finding an actress in her 80s proved to be a lot more challenging than we’d anticipated. We were two weeks out from shooting and still hadn’t found anyone. I was moving some equipment in a taxi when the chatty, chain-smoking driver mentioned that a woman in her poker league was a soap actress back in the ‘70s and wanted to get back into acting. It was too perfect. That’s how we cast Hebbe.
What other unforgettable moments come to mind from the filming process?
It was the first day of Principal Photography, and about two minutes after the camera started rolling, the power went out. We were filming in a very old, very beautiful apartment building called Pasaje Santamarina—we had no permit, so we did our best to keep a low profile.
Brownouts happen in Buenos Aires, especially in the scorching month of January, but the timing of this particular power outage felt too significant. Our line producer went to investigate. Sure enough, an aggrieved and sharp-eyed neighbor had jammed a screwdriver into the Fuse Box mounted outside the front door.
After some cajoling and a peace offering (a plate with a few cookies and a ham sandwich), the neighbor donned thick rubber gloves and extracted the screwdriver. On came the lights, and the proverbial show went on.
This movie came to life because a group of very cool and talented folks committed themselves to being, for lack of better words, “down.” Each scene is a testament to this fact: The cast slept in mildewy tents for three days when we filmed in the countryside. The camera crew treaded water for hours to get the perfect shot in the Tigre Delta. We posed as a student film crew to shoot at the airport. We all banded together to remove pounds and pounds of cat poop from an anarchist party-space before we filmed there. (Toxoplasmosis be damned!)
What advice do you have for all the young, emerging filmmakers out there?
Find your team. Cinema is a group project. It’s really important to find people who share your taste and sensibility, whose work ethic you trust.
How were you able to create such an honest and authentic female character?
I worked closely with Catalina [Berarducci] on Noemí’s character. Since I was conveying an experience I myself have never lived, it was important to me that this character checked out. I wanted Noemí to be able to live, breathe, make mistakes.
Are reproductive rights an issue that is important to you?
Everyone should have the right to become a parent when and how they decide. This conversation has been hijacked by religious extremists who cry foul when women have a modicum of control over their bodies and shrug when they die scary, painful deaths as a result of back-alley abortions. I think the tides are changing, and I was elated when just a few weeks ago Argentinian feminists accomplished their decades-long goal of safe, legal, and free access to abortion.
Watch “Noemí Gold” on Topic here.