Black Harvest Film Festival 2023 Interview: Monica Sorelle on Her Richly Personal Mountains | Festivals & Awards

Speaking of timing being on your side, you mentioned in the Q&A last night that the script was written in 2019, but you didn’t begin filming until 2022 because of the pandemic. With the extra time, the script shifted. In what ways did it shift?

The general story and the general approach was always there. I think what shifted was not so much the story, although we did add some scenes and clarified some things, it was more our approach to creating it and our approach to what we wanted our process to be and who we wanted for our cast, our crew, our partners. So we were very mindful of every single person we had on set in terms of not being interested in maybe getting the best or most experienced person, but rather who gets it on a cultural level or on a regional level. And mostly, who is a good person to work with? I didn’t want to recreate the hostility that you see on so many film sets. 

The casting here is amazing, particularly Atibon Nazaire, who plays Xavier. He’s so tender and soulful, thoughtful and funny. How did he become part of this project?

I didn’t know who he was when we started casting. I had another Haitian actor in mind, who a lot of Haitian people know, but something in my gut didn’t feel right. So we went back to basics. I decided not to do an open call because I just didn’t think it was possible in Miami to find a Haitian man in his fifties who was going to give me six weeks of his life, so we had an intern scrub through any movie or TV show with Haitian characters or about Haitian people, and she created a reel for us. I told her to check out this film called “Forever Yours,” which is a Haitian indie romance film. We watched that film, actually, for its leads. I didn’t feel like they were right for Xavier, though, ironically, the lead of that movie is actually the brother-in-law at the dinner table scene in this film. So we did cast him from that. But it didn’t initially feel like it was a match. Just before I was about to turn the film off, there was a scene where the lead is talking to his buddy about a girl that he likes or something. The camera cut to the buddy, and it was Atibon. There was something so magnetic about him, so cool and relaxed and natural.

Robert and I were like, who is that? We did some digging and saw he had bit parts in “Mother of George” and other TV shows and indie films. Then I found out he was friends with another Haitian filmmaker who was actually in town that day for the Miami Film Festival. So we ambushed her at a party and told her we were thinking about this guy named Atibon. She’s like, “That’s my best friend. I’m gonna give you his number.” She hooked it up, and the minute we saw him at the meeting, I didn’t think I could find anyone like him, to the point we didn’t audition anyone else. He brought so much to the character. He’s a very attractive and magnetic kind of guy. And yet, he was able to bring a stoicism and dignity to Xavier that I really appreciated. 

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