With the autobiographical documentary BEBA, filmmaker Rebeca Huntt crafts a story that feels universal while remaining all hers. The movie, Huntt’s debut feature, explores her identity through an intimate moving self-portrait.
Huntt, whose mother is Venezuelan and father Dominican, walks viewers through a coming-of-age tale in BEBA. The film follows her life as an Afro-Latina child growing up in New York as one of “the poorest people on the Upper West Side.” Through BEBA (“Beba” is Huntt’s nickname) she explores the universal truths that connect us, and the intimacies most families try to keep secret. As she navigates everything from love and death to mental illness and violence, Huntt anchors the story of searching for a path forward.
Nominated for the Crystal Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, BEBA is out on June 24. Below, Huntt speaks with TIME about her identity, family, and what’s ahead for her career.
BEBA is a cinematic memoir that chronicles your life—from childhood to early adulthood—detailing both the intimate life experiences of you, and your loved ones, while also exploring your identity as an Afro-Latina growing up in New York City. What initially made you want to tell this story?
The space and time I was in, it was a very specific moment in New York and I felt very isolated. And I just wanted to really connect with people. That was like the main drive for making a film like this. You feel more loved when someone loves you, when you can be your honest self. And I felt like if I could, maybe if I could be honest, that other people would be able to feel like they could be too.
At 32-years-old, why did you decide to release BEBA now? Why not continue to chronicle your life for years to come?
Because it’s torture. But also because it serves a specific purpose, the fact that it’s a sort of existential coming of age, in this moment, where we’re thrust into adulthood, and to an absurd society. We live in absurdity at all times. To go from that moment in your early 20s, when you’re constantly going through quantum leaps, but also having to navigate being fully responsible for yourself is fascinating.
The film does not shy away from detailing incidents many people, and families, might try to hide from the world—especially as it relates to mental health and physical violence. Did you have any reservations about sharing specific stories?
I did. But every single thing that is shared in the film has an intention. And that is what helped me move past anything that I was like, ‘Oh, no, I’m embarrassed.’ Doing all of it with as much love as possible made it so that those kinds of reservations felt small.
Interviewing family and friends can be incredibly challenging. What was it like interviewing those closest to you?
My mother was very challenging. Like you saw on the film, it wasn’t even an interview. And actually, we did it twice. And that was the better interview. The first time it was so hard for us to communicate. That was a very, very complex moment in our relationship. So communication wasn’t at its best. My father actually surprised me. He was a natural on the camera. He answered all the questions. He was really easy to interview, my sister as well. She’s great on the camera. She has a great chemistry with it.
The one thing that has stuck with me since watching the film is your apology to your family at the end where you promise not to snitch again because you reveal so many personal details about them. Did you have to have difficult conversations with your loved ones before the film’s release?
I thought throughout the entire making of the film that they would just never talk to me again. But, in a way, it was a driving force, because it made me make the film the best it could be. Then, I finished the film. The last day, I’m in sound mix, watching it, and I found out that we got into the Toronto International Film Festival. I hadn’t even told my parents yet. Of course, I wanted them to come to the premiere. So eventually, I told them and it was incredible. [When they saw the film] I was able to witness such a vast spectrum of human emotion with two of the people I love most in the world in such a short time. There was, in both of them, a sense of betrayal, anger, pride, unconditional love, happiness, gratitude, freedom—all these things at once.
Did you see a shift in the dynamic of your relationships?
It’s very subtle. I just got back from Peru. I liked hiking through the Andes and I called my dad on the last day. I was thinking about our relationship on the hike and I called him and talked to him about it. I love my father, we have a great relationship, we’re very close, but it’s also a complex relationship. And so I told him something that was really true, and something he probably even two years ago before the film wouldn’t have been able to hear. And he heard it. I don’t know what he’s gonna do with it. But he heard it.
What has the reaction been like from those closest to you in making this?
My parents’ reaction is a freedom and pride. My dad’s family did see it in Miami. My uncles and aunts and cousins, and they loved it. My cousins felt like it was super cathartic, because they were like, ‘Our parents can be like that, too.’ I was nervous about what my family would think.
Aside from the beautiful story it tells, BEBA is quite aesthetically pleasing. Why did you decide to shoot the film on 16mm and were there any unique challenges, or opportunities, that came with this decision?
The very nature of 16 mm is limited, it’s limited what it can actually capture. When I visualize the concept of intimacy, it’s a limited and pulsating view. That’s what intimacy is. And when you’re shooting on 16 millimeter, it has this pulsating quality to it.
This film is eight years in the making—and for eight years only a handful of people have seen it at various stages. With the film’s release, I am curious if, in some ways, the hardest part has just begun. How does it feel knowing so many people are going to see these very intimate parts of you, and your story?
Other filmmakers, they weren’t really able to do the festival circuit last year, the way I was able to do it this year. I feel very grateful to have had those experiences, because I was able to see how people reacted to the film. This film is bigger than my fear and what I think people are gonna think of me. People are coming up to me and telling me really intense and intimate stories about themselves and their lives. They will start talking to me about their relationships with their parents, or things that we are ashamed of in society. Having people come and talk to me about these things that otherwise would be shameful is like, that’s why I did this. What is my fear in the face of that?
What did you learn about yourself, your family, while making BEBA?
We are infinitely complex, and that people love and do their best in the different capacities that they are able to do. Childhood is really the seed of everything for like any one human being. And that family patterns are real, like generational patterns are very real. It is something that we definitely as human beings should pay attention to.
I really [learned] that I’m a lot stronger than I could have ever imagined. I have a very profound capacity for love. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Being a film director this is where I’m supposed to be. I am very, very grateful and very humbled.
You recently stated “In BEBA, I’m not asking for you to like me, or even for you to identify with me.” What do you ultimately hope people take away from the film?
That it’s okay to be authentic.