Director Ary Zara On Challenging Societal Norms In An Avocado Pit

Written and directed by Ary Zara, An Avocado Pit follows the meeting of Larissa, a trans woman, and Cláudio, a cis man with wit and sensitivity. We follow these two worlds colliding in a heartwarming story free from violence but rather filled with light and hope. 

What was the inspiration for the film? 

I once had a mouth that functioned like a puppet, echoing the words my ears caught, just to gain acceptance. This habit persisted through my gender transition, and I still struggle trying not to succumb to others’ expectations. However, claiming my identity granted me fresh words and a nascent resonance in my voice.

Early on, I understood that my transgender identity was a lifelong journey—a realization that both frightened and compelled me to write. An Avocado Pit marks my initial attempt at delving into the realm of gender identity within film, following numerous discussions in non-fiction contexts. My aim was to start by deconstructing the most commonly portrayed character—the prevailing stereotype and often the primary target of aggression in both LGBTQI+ films and real-life scenarios: trans women.

It was a matter of urgency.

Why did you choose to make this a positive trans story? 

From the question (but not exclusively) I know that most people see what we, transgender people, see: Trans people are dying on the screen and in real life.

Cinema, and by cinema let’s remember this is an art made by human beings. Cinema is not a machine that operates on its own. Cinema, as this mainstream shape of art, plays a role in perpetuating this cycle, often through the portrayal of violence, reinforcement of dysphoria, and narratives centered on the concept of being “born in the wrong body”. 

I’m passionate about writing, with a predilection for weaving love stories tinged with drama and a touch of humor. I’ll admit, I tend to be a bit cheesy, overly dramatic, and unapologetically romantic. I still hold on to the idealistic notion that art has the power to inspire a change of heart.

“Why would I choose to tell a sad trans story?” is a question that should cross the minds of anyone who writes for trans characters. Why can’t we stop this repetitive cycle?

Why is it important for a film like this to be seen? 

An Avocado Pit inhabits a tender place where is possible to humanize trans women through love. We know about them when they die, we say their names when they leave us, and some of them leave us too soon. 

Without being a manifesto or overly explanatory on gender, An Avocado Pit accomplishes to entertain while portraying a fully fleshed-out human being as Larissa.

A film like this holds significance in its potential to not only be seen but to also pave the way for new opportunities and perspectives, both internally and externally, for trans individuals in cinema and in real life.

If there is one key message, you would like the audience to take from the film what would it be? 

While I was writing the film, I made a conscious effort not to view the audience as separate individuals. Who is the audience? How could I pass judgment or try to predict what they know? 

I knew this film couldn’t be “customized” since I needed to reach a wide audience but in a way it is. From the moment we read trans, it’s already labelled, and the work goes into overcoming that without forgetting it.

I have no desire to impose my truth or mould anyone’s perspective. I’m weary of struggling and striving to make my voice heard. In some sense, I’ve given that up. 

My intention was to share a tender and heart-moving story that could offer new insight on a repeated subject, I hope I was able to do that.

Can you tell us a bit about your cast? 

I met Gaya de Medeiros in a nightclub where we were both working, back then she was a drag performer, and I was doing lights for the show. I already had the script for “An Avocado Pit,” but I hadn’t found an actress yet. When I talked with Gaya, I knew I had just found the right person. 

She didn’t have any experience in acting but she was and is a very talented artist. Because I like realness, I decided to adapt the script to her voice by starting a series of conversations about how she experienced life, love and gender. Even though the lines were adapted to bring this realness, Gaya still needed to act on this fictional slice of life, which she did in a very magnetic and powerful way. 

Ivo Canelas is a prominent figure in the Portuguese Cinema and Television industry. He is a masterful actor, a shape-shifter who truly dedicates himself to character development. I selected him for his talent, his willingness to embrace vulnerability, and the humility he exudes. Despite being a well-known actor in mainstream circles, he remains open to collaborating with emerging artists like Gaya and me.

From both of them, I gained valuable insights into directing, and this experience was undoubtedly life-changing for all of us.

Was there anything particularly difficult to film? 

It was a very light and easy film to work on. Our crew was very experienced which balanced my lack of skills, and everything just merged perfectly. We had four nights to film, changing from a low loader to a bus, a bike, a crazy chase of monsters and vampires and settings of deep conversations. We were all immersed, embodying the presence of Gaya and Ivo, having a blast, coming up strong and committed.

How important is it for you to tell an LGBTQ+ story being a part of the community yourself? 

It is beyond important; it is a big responsibility I put upon myself. I couldn’t really relax, I was most of all concerned about how the trans community would receive the film. I have been vocal as an activist for trans rights since 2018. Since then, I have been multiple times attacked and diminished by people inside and outside the community. I have also been praised, awarded and elevated, however, it’s the moments of misunderstanding and perceived failure that linger most vividly in my memory.

Even within the LGBTQI+ community, we have our disagreements. We don’t always see eye to eye, and our approaches to shared issues may differ. Until now I don’t have yet a bad review on An Avocado Pit from the T community and as I develop new films, I try to ease the pressure I put on myself. 

I acknowledge that I can never be the voice for everyone, and I don’t seek that role. My focus lies on my path as a writer and director, crafting stories that resonate deeply within me and serve as a powerful tool for social awareness. Politics will invariably be woven into my work; after all, my very existence is inherently political. Striking a balance is challenging because the paramount goal remains to create a compelling film with an emotionally resonant narrative that doesn’t come out as a manifesto.

As a transgender individual writing for trans characters, I find that this process grants both myself and the community a unique power: the ability to heal and share genuinely authentic experiences.

Are there any plans to make this a feature film? 

I’ve been asked this a few times, and I must admit, I always hesitate because I’m afraid of taking on the challenge.

I don’t think An Avocado Pit will become a feature, but I find myself contemplating the idea of catching up with Larissa and Claudio in a few years and seeing them on a new 20-minute encounter.

What is next for you? 

I’m concluding Torino Film Lab in November 23 with the pitch of my first feature film for which I’ll be looking for funds, co-productions, distribution and an international cast.

I was also selected for Midpoint Institute to develop a new short film scheduled for production in 2024.

Where can our readers follow you and your career? 

I’m a big fan of social media, my Instagram is the most up-to-date platform where I share what’s happening in my life and career: @_aryzara_

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