DOC NYC 2020 Women Directors: Meet Loira Limbal – “Through the Night”

Loira Limbal is an Afro-Dominican filmmaker and DJ based in the Bronx. She is the Senior Vice President of Programs at Firelight Media, an organization that provides mentorship, funding, and industry access to emerging filmmakers of color. Her first film, “Estilo Hip Hop,” aired on PBS in 2009. Limbal is a Sundance Institute Fellow and a former Ford Foundation Justfilms/Rockwood Fellow.

“Through the Night” is screening at the 2020 DOC NYC film festival, which is taking place online from November 11-19. The film will launch virtually through Longshot Factory on December 11 prior to a May 2021 “POV” broadcast.

W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.

LL: “Through the Night” is a love letter to single mothers and caregivers. It lingers in the everyday beauty and complexity of the lives of women doing everything they can to provide for and nurture their children while it exposes a cruel system that forces them to make impossible choices everyday.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

LL: One day while browsing an online mothers’ group I belong to, I came across an article about Dee’s Tots, a 24-hour daycare center in New Rochelle, a few minutes away from my home in the Bronx. I quickly became obsessed with the idea of making a documentary about the center and the community it supported. It felt so similar to my own experience, my mother’s, and that of so many other working-class Black and Latinx women I know. My mother raised four children working the night shift as a home health aide.

After reading the article about the daycare center, I reached out to the journalist to ask for an introduction to the owners. I was told that the owners are very cautious people and wouldn’t be open to being the subjects of a documentary film. I took this “no” as my answer.

Two years later, I was still burning to tell this story, so I finally worked up the courage to cold call the daycare center. It only took one meeting with Deloris to get her to participate. Even though it was our first meeting, we felt like we had known each other forever – our life experiences were just so similar. She said, “I know you get it and I want to make this film with you.”

W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?

LL: More and more people in the U.S. now work one and a quarter jobs. Many of those jobs require nonstandard hours including late-night and early-morning shifts. The national debate about the challenges facing working class people in this country is still dominated by the narratives of white men working in industries such as coal mining and manufacturing. While those stories are no doubt important, the conversation is woefully incomplete because women are already nearly half of the U.S. workforce.

In nearly half the country, it costs more to send a three-year-old to daycare than it does to send an 18-year-old to a state college. Not only is childcare expensive, but for Americans working multiple jobs or irregular hours, it can be difficult to find care at all. This spurs a set of impossible decisions that parents — and single mothers in particular — must make every day.

The irony is that while child-care is unaffordable for most, providers themselves can barely make ends meet. The overwhelming majority of home based child-care providers are women of color and immigrants whose income is far less than the median in other lines of work. As one interviewee told me, “there have never been decent jobs in this sector because it’s ‘women’s work.’ It’s caretaking work. Our society doesn’t value that as a whole.”

“Through the Night” adds complexity to the national conversation about issues that affect working class families and the working poor by centering the experiences of women and children of color. I want women of color to feel seen and affirmed.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

LL: I am a single mother of a seven- and nine-year-old. I work full time at Firelight Media, which is equal parts fulfilling and demanding. I made “Through the Night” working nights, weekends, and holidays. I often felt like I was stealing from Peter to pay Paul in regards to time spent away from work or my kids to focus on the film. I joke that I made this film during my third shift.

Aside from the concrete and logistical challenges, I’ve also combatted my own insecurity about the validity of my voice as an artist. Prior to “Through the Night,” I made one long-form film 11 years ago. Since then, I’ve worked as a field builder in the documentary space, advocating for the needs and visions of other filmmakers of color. I had become very comfortable advocating on behalf of other filmmakers. Believing in myself and my own work was much more challenging.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

LL: “Through the Night” was funded with a mix of production funds and in-kind services from institutions like ITVS/”POV,” Ford JustFilms, IDA, Sundance, Catapult, Chicken & Egg, Black Public Media, and Latino Public Broadcasting.

W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

LL: I was raised by an amazing cast of Black and Latinx women who performed miraculous acts of resilience, creativity, and subversion on a daily basis. Unfortunately, when I look around at our popular culture, these women are rarely seen and when they do appear, they are represented in reductive ways that often amount to caricatures.

My vision as a filmmaker is to flood our popular culture with beautifully complex portrayals of the lives of working-class women of color so that we have new gazes and new ways of seeing ourselves.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

LL: “Daughters of the Dust” by Julie Dash. It was one of the first times that I saw Black women’s everyday lives, spiritual dilemmas, and overall interiority centered as the main quest of a cinematic exploration. It felt like the scenes I imagined in my mind while reading books by Toni Morrison or Zora Neale Hurston. It was lyrical, magical, meditative, and patiently curious about the lives of Black women.

W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?

LL: My family and immediate community have been hit really hard by COVID-19 and the uprising against racism in every way imaginable. The overwhelming grief and rage that I feel is only matched by the love and belief I have in my community. This has prompted me to revisit the trajectory of all my work — from the community organizing to the filmmaking — and become more resolute in the notion that my greatest contribution to this moment and this movement is to make films, to tell stories.

The next step in my career is to create work that is bolder in aesthetic approach and more personal in subject matter.

W&H: Recent protests in the U.S. and abroad have highlighted racism and anti-Black police brutality. The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make Hollywood and/or the doc world more inclusive?

LL: In terms of the documentary world, power and resources are deeply concentrated in a few institutions. If we want to bring about real transformation, I think the field needs to be de-centralized and led by the people who have been most directly impacted by the lack of equity in our industry. Diversity initiatives within white-led institutions concerned with damage control will not bring about real change.

November 9, 2020
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