POV: Your relationship with the Luis family is key to the success of this film — the intimacy shows in each frame. How did you get so close?
Weyer: When I first met the Luis family it was in the Spring of 1997 on the migrant labor camp in Shafter, California. Juanita, Liliana’s mother, is a warm, open-hearted person who immediately embraced me in our first meeting even though I was an outsider in her world. Eliazar, Liliana’s father, explained to me during an early visit that he thought it was important that his daughters broaden their experience and understanding of the world by having me live and work with the family during the making of the documentaries. Over time, my outsider status slowly shifted from filmmaker to friend and surrogate family member. Today, five years later, Elizabeth Luis, Liliana’s older sister and the focus of the film, “La Boda,” is the godmother of my child.
I did not have a film crew and was using a small, Hi-8 camera during production. I think that in the beginning of our relationship, this helped the Luis family to feel comfortable with the filmmaking process and it made it possible for me to capture moments of day to day living without the intrusion of lights, extra equipment or crew people. But the closeness we share really developed out of a mutual and keen interest in each others’ lives — for all of us, keying into what made us different and what bonded us as human beings. I admire the Luis family for their courage, their loyalty to family and friends, the personal sacrifices the children make from day to day and for what great friends they have been to me.
POV: What are the advantages of small-format cameras for you? You are really good at creating dramatic scenes out of seemingly ordinary daily events — how do you do that?
Weyer: The advantage of a small-format camera (I used a Hi-8 camera both in the making of La Boda as well as Escuela) is that I did not work with a crew. This meant that when I was in production, I was able to stay with the Luis family during filming. I shared meals at the family table, slept with the sisters in their bedroom and traveled in the family van during their trips back and forth between countries and states. I think this intimate environment enabled Liliana and her family to share their stories and to best represent themselves and their world. But just because you have a small camera and videotapes that are more affordable than film doesn’t mean you can just film all day and pick out the telling moments later on in the edit room. The great documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has said that the key is knowing when not to shoot — knowing how to wait and observe and knowing when something interesting is about to happen. This is a skill that I’ve tried to learn and one that I hope to keep honing in future work.