A person’s 20s are a mixed bag: a decade mixed with both immense, expansive fun and a new set of growing pains. It’s an era of personal discovery, one spent understanding and working to heal the traumas of childhood and teendom; by the time it's over, a new person is forged through the fire. Beba, the new film from first-time filmmaker Rebeca “Beba” Huntt, which premiered at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, is an honest self-portrait documentary that follows Huntt through the growth of her 20s as she explores her Afro-Latina identity while navigating the depths of historical, societal, and generational trauma.
Throughout Beba, Huntt brings the viewer into her most introspective, diaristic thoughts about her childhood and adolescence in New York City as the daughter of a Dominican father and Venezuelan mother. She also traces back her ancestral roots, starting with where she was raised, a one-bedroom in Central Park West, to the mountains of South America, where she discovered the meaning of "home." At its core, Beba is a coming-of-age story that embraces from the existential crises and the pain that follows in struggling to find one's true self. After an ex-boyfriend takes his own life, Huntt is seen at a karaoke bar singing and crying, with two coronas in hand. The heartbreaking moment doubles as a breath of fresh air — Huntt will not self-flagellate over her own sensitivity. In Beba, Huntt looks at herself in the mirror and encourages us all to do the same.
Beba was shot on a Bolex, a choice that Huntt and her director of photography, Sophia Stieglitz, chose for its ability to be as urgent and vivid as to mimic the experience of recalling a memory. “16 millimeters captures things in a very limited and pulsating way,” explains Huntt. “Every capture is just absolutely pulsating and alive, and you can do things with color that you can't do with anything else. And so when I think about intimacy through my lens, like with my eyes, intimacy looks limited and pulsating. There was no other option.”
NYLON (virtually) sat down with Huntt ahead of the Beba world premiere at TIFF, in which she discussed making her first film, breaking through archetypes, and embracing the highs and lows of being human.
Congratulations on BEBA, and its world premiere at TIFF. How do you feel now that it's out?
I'm nervous, excited, more than anything excited, grateful, nervous, and then also, like, relieved that the premiere went well.
What are you nervous about?
I mean, it's a very vulnerable piece, which I always knew and I stand behind, but I'm a human. And I'm also just a naturally anxious person.
Did you always know growing up that you'd want to work on a project like this? Something that is so retrospective and memoir-like?
No, I didn't always know that I wanted to do this. I started shortly after I graduated from college, but I mean, I always knew that I was an artist, and I've been a cinephile since probably before I could speak. However, this particular project, like a personal film, that's something that came sort of as a realization around the time that I graduated from college.
The first part of the process had a lot more to do with the writing and how I wanted this character to just come across. You know, in a way, this film was like me fighting for some kind of freedom, and so it was just being as honest and not trying to be some kind of archetype. This is an unexceptional story about a young Afro-Latina in New York. So that, I knew.
The film starts with a monologue, where you say, "You are now entering my universe." Why was it important for you to claim that space, especially in the beginning?
I wanted to be honest with people, and this is a personal story. There's a lot of other people, including my family, and places told from a personal perspective. This isn't everybody's truth; it isn't supposed to be a representation of every single person. It was a way for me to feel like, “Yeah, there will be casualties, and you're entering my universe. I'm not trying to speak for everybody. I'm just trying to share my experience with you.”
You’re the director and the writer, but you're also the main subject behind this documentary. Did you feel any pressure along the way, wearing all these hats while being exposed at the same time?
I think in terms of being the director and the subject, it's kind of an interesting thing because you are forcing yourself to be schizophrenic almost, you have to sort of have these two voices that are often pushing each other, and sometimes oppose each other. The director part of me had to be like, "No, you are going to show this, and this is something that is going into the film, and this is a part of the story." So you know, that's happening throughout. And I think it got easier, in the last couple-few years, because I think I've grown from the Beba that's in this film. It's weird because it's not like 20 years later, but there have been successions of quantum leaps where I'm 31 now, and I was in my mid 20s when I finished the film. So, you know, coming out of that space, it became a little easier, but when I first started, and in that process, it was really difficult. I was very aware of all of it and tried to be as intentional as possible.
In the doc, you show some of your family dynamics — your sister, your mom, your dad, even your brother — Why was it important for you to feature your family history and those dynamics?
One of the things that I was sort of navigating and exploring in the film was the ancestral inheritance, and also the mental and emotional inheritance and behavioral inheritance that's passed down. So it was important to be able to see those dynamics played out on screen.
Beba, to me, felt like a series of journal entries based on existential questions and identity searching. How was that like translating your vulnerable thoughts into a documentary-multimedia format?
Well, it's interesting you say that, because the first place I started with my producer, Sofia Geld, we were looking at my journal entries, because this is where a lot of this like contemplative sh*t lives, and so it actually does come from that. And there are moments extracted and lines even that are extracted from journal entries. It was interesting, and emotionally obviously, it was complex, but it was also the dream. I get to create an ode to a lot of the art or the films or the poetry or the literature that sort of helped me understand these moments. And helped me come to some of these realizations that were in my journal or in my writing and that I felt like reflected those very important life moments. It was this very interesting sort of investigation, putting those pieces together.
The film was primarily shot on 16 mm film, and it mainly was handheld. What was the stylistic intention behind that?
My DP, Sophia Stieglitz, shot on a Bolex. So, 16 millimeters captures things in a very limited and pulsating way. Every capture is just absolutely pulsating and alive, and you can do things with color that you can't do with anything else. And so when I think about intimacy through my lens, like with my eyes, intimacy looks limited and pulsating. There was no other option.
What do you hope people get out of watching Beba?
I hope that people can connect to it, and I hope that people can see themselves reflected in it, somehow, since I feel like it is a very human story. I'm hoping there's something in it for everyone, and then just also know that it's okay to be human as f*ck.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.