"The true nature of love is also a need to feel loved." Interview with 'Woodpeckers' film maker Jose Maria Cabral

This weekend Dominican film maker, Jose Maria Cabral, will premier his latest film ‘Woodpeckers’ in New York City. The movie is gritty love story set to backdrop of a rundown Dominican prison. Based on true events where male and female inmates serving in adjacent prisons, develop a form of long range sign language to communicate with one another from a distance. This minimal sense of connection forms bonds between the prisoners, which often turn into impassioned affairs, even though they will most likely never touch or hear the other person’s voice. Writer and Director of “Woodpeckers,” Jose Maria Cabral took a few minutes to answer some questions about his latest film.
MCXV: What films/filmmakers most inspired you as filmmaker?
JOSE MARIA CABRAL: I remember watching El Mariachi directed by Robert Rodriguez, I was really inspired by the way he made his movie with a few thousand dollars. That’s why I started making feature films with almost no budget. After that I started falling in love with the works of Kubrick, Fellini, Hitchcock, Lynch, Bergman, Truffaut.

Writer/Director Jose Maria Cabral

Talk a little about the true events which inspired you to write this script.
All the love stories I was told by the inmates were unbelievable, how they developed intimate relationships without ever touching or seeing thier loves from a close distance. After I saw them “woodpecking” I knew I had to make a film about that, the contrast of finding love in such a hostile and obscure place like prison was the main motivation for making this film.
What were the challenges of working with non-actors/real prison inmates?
Getting organic performances. I didn’t use a screenplay with them, I wanted them to be who they are, so basically I explained the scene and gave them an objective for that specific scene, after that I let them improvise and made small changes between takes.
It’s hard to imagine people developing such deep, passionate relationships with so many literal barriers between them. Does that speak more to the true nature of love, or to a more shallow need to feel loved?

I think both are quite right, the true nature of love is also a need to feel loved. The obstacles that these people have is exactly what makes them develop such deep relationship. Once you overcome creating and learning a new language everything changes, you become more open for love.

Actor Jean Jean plays co-lead Julián Sosa

There are physical barriers between Julian and Yanelly throughout the film. That separation makes the scene when the finally make love much more intense. Was it intentional to give them so little direct contact up to that point, or was it inevitable within the framework of this story?

It does not only work narratively, it’s also accurate within that universe. I think we needed some kind of hope in all of this tragedy, and having them consume their love physically was very important. Their main obstacle was physical, and even if things didn’t end perfectly in the end, they overcame their main obstacle.

Actress Judith Rodriguez Perez play co-lead Yanelly.

As someone who started out wanting to be an actor, as a director does that background help you navigate actors through the nude and more intimate scenes we see depicted in the film?
Yes, absolutely and doing these intimate and nude scenes in real prison were really hard for the actors. So I had to put me in their position all the time and use what I learned as an actor.
 What does this film say about the Dominican penal system? And do you see parallels in the American penal system?

I think it’s pretty clear throughout the film that the people who end up in jail in the Dominican Republic, don’t have the necessary tools and structure from the penal system for them to learn and change. Many of the characters in the movie want to become better people, they can’t find a way, and if they do, as our main character does, it can cost you a lot. It’s survival of the fittest. I don’t know a lot about the U.S. penal system to see a parallel, but from what I’ve been told, I think people should be put into a system that makes people improve and become better people after they serve their sentence. It shouldn’t be punishment. Punishment has never worked. 

Supporting actor Ramón Emilio Candelario

Brent Owen

Brent Owen

Louisville based writer and proponent of the Oxford comma. I focus primarily on music and culture, but have a genuine curiosity about literally everything..