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‘In Tango’ filmmaker Marilu Holmes talks about her inspiration and challenges in making the film


Marilu Holmes’ short film In Tango screens on Saturday during the Bonita International Film Festival’s Short Package II. It’s a film about romance, redemption and the benefits that come from getting to know the people you meet rather than prejudging them based on brief encounters.

In Tango is Holmes’ second filmmaking effort. She previously wrote the screenplay, produced and starred in the 2017 indie Thinking Out Loud, a comedic short about what would happen if our thoughts could be heard.

She and co-producer Wendy White shot that film with tricked out iPhone 6s.

Although Holmes again wrote the screenplay for In Tango (she also stars in, directs and produces the film), this time around she hired a cameraman.

There’s a semi-autobiographical aspect to Holmes’ In Tango script. The filmmaker is a dancer. She started young, a the tender age of six. Ballet was her calling, and she danced en pointe for a decade. But then, as often happens to visual and performing artists, life got in the way.

“Marriage. Kids. Business. I forgot my artistic life.”

With a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Universidad Central de Venezuela and an Associate of Applied Science degree in film and TV production, she spent four years writing for a Venezuelan news radio station and a year as a reporter for a local TV channel before moving to the United States in 2000.

Then some six years ago, a friend told her about a local tango hang-out.

“He knew I’d been a dancer and had done some ballroom before I had the kids,” Marilu divulged before last night’s opening film, Wild Rose.

Tango was a dance she’d never really done before.

“We don’t dance tango in Venezuela,” Marilu adds with a knowing smile. “That’s exclusively Argentina. Even in America, it’s more ballroom or stylized.”

Curious, Holmes decided to check it out and was immediately hooked.

Pablo Rapun was her teacher. If that names sounds familiar, Pablo Rapun’s Argentine Tango Dancers provided the post-screening entertainment following Our Last Tango at the opening of the Bonita International Film Festival four years ago in 2017.

A few years into her tango life, Marilu met a quartet that played its own tango compositions and knew right away that she had to introduce them to the local tango community. Drawing upon her background in production and marketing, she offered to feature them in a film to help them promote themselves.

“But I didn’t want to just do a video. I felt that a story would work much better.”

She wanted to lens the film at Bonita Springs’ fabled Shangri-La Springs Hotel. The Spanish Mission-style venue was built in 1921 by the family of Fort Myers merchant, banker and developer Harvie Heitman. But it wasn’t just the hotel’s historic significance that attracted Holmes. It was the Shangri-La’s magnificent white piano.

And it was the Shangri-La that provided the inspiration for the film’s storyline and protagonist. She made friends with a woman who had a shop in the Shangri-La who loved to dance the Argentine tango with her husband. But when he died, she quit dancing and never went back.

“Her story inspired me to write a script about how tango helps a widow stuck in the past to open herself to new possibilities, including new love.”

Since the Shangri-La is such a popular place, the hotel is booked months in advance. By the time Holmes completed her screenplay and secured an opening, her quartet had either lost patience or concluded she wasn’t serious. But when you’re a filmmaker, setbacks and inconveniences are inevitable. Undaunted, Marilu put out the word that she needed music for a tango-based film, and friend put her on to a composer from Serbia whose music would be perfect for Holmes’ new film. Marilu found him through Facebook and he generously sold her the rights to use his music in the film for just $200.

Holmes cast herself in the lead. An Elizabeth D’Onofrio and Steven Ditmyer workshop alum, she has film and theater credits. In addition to playing Sofia (the main character) in Thinking Out Loud, she was the bride in the 2016 short I Do Bonita and has performed monologues in Night Nurse, An Act of Change, Night Luster and A Civilized Lunch with a Civilized Lady for The Naples Players. But neophyte indie filmmakers typically cannot afford to pay actors, so casting herself in the lead was as much about budget as wanting to play the part.

On the other hand, she’s kind of perfect for the role.

“I painted the lead character as a control freak,” she reveals.

“Many women who tango are controlling. I’m like that sometimes myself,” she adds with a self-deprecating smile, her chocolate eyes twinkling with playful mirth.

“But in tango, you have to let go. The man is the leader. The woman follows. In tango, the dynamic and harmony of the dance only work when both partners stick to their respective roles. You cannot cross that or else the dance simply won’t work.”

But the woman in In Tango is such a control freak, that she’s seemingly incapable of letting go.

“I wanted her to be such an extreme case that the audience will dislike her at first” – which will not only give her a nice character arc to traverse, but make the ending more satisfying as viewers discover why she’s the way she is at the beginning of the film.

“Sometimes you meet people and make assumptions about them because you don’t know their backstory,” Marilu sagely observes. “So In Tango is a film about compassion and not making [false] assumptions or jumping to conclusions [because you haven’t walked in their shoes].”

For the storyline to work seamlessly, it’s necessary that the male and female leads display a certain chemistry on the dance floor. To ensure that In Tango has that quality, Holmes cast her long-time dance partner, Scott Ortegon, as her dance partner in the film. She also utilized a number of other local actors, so In Tango is not only a Florida-made film, it’s a Southwest Florida product as well.

In addition to acting and filmmaking, Marilu is a veteran when it comes to improv. She’s performed at Broadway Palm in Harry’s Senior Moment, at CFABS with Bonita City Improv, and at The Sudgen Theatre in Naples with Stage 2 Improv.

She also operates a blog, “Downloads of Wisdom,” where he writing style has been described as succinct and honest, philosophical and practical, always self-reflecting about the human experience. And in 2015, she self-published her first book—What’s In the Way of Your Happiness?—now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Holmes will be in the house for the screening of In Tango on Saturday night, so if you come to see her latest effort, you’ll get to hang out with her and hear her talk about the picture in the post-screening Q&A.

The Bonita International Film Festival runs through Sunday night, when it will conclude with an awards ceremony and closing concert in the Hinman Auditorium.

February 28, 2020.


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