Savannah Film Fest: 'Roma' Screening, Q&A Kicks Off 21st Edition (Video)

Roma, the black-and-white Spanish-language drama from Mexico, won over the South — or at least Savannah, Georgia — on Saturday night when a gala screening of Alfonso Cuaron's film, followed by a THR-moderated Q&A with its stars Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira and producer Gabriela Rodriguez, kicked off the 21st SCAD Savannah Film Festival. Indeed, while Cuaron, the best-known person associated with the film (and its writer, producer, director, cinematographer and co-film editor), was not in attendance, the trio who were received a standing ovation when they were introduced on the stage of the 1,105-seat Trustees Theater.

Venezuela-born Rodriguez, who has collaborated with Cuaron in one capacity or another for the last 14 years, spoke about Roma's unusual 108-day shoot — the longest of Cuaron's career — during which the filmmaker sought to recreate the Mexico City of his early-1970s childhood (the black-and-white evokes nostalgia) where it actually took place (though much of the area was destroyed in a 1985 earthquake), with a trained actress (de Tavira) playing his mother and a novice (Aparicio) playing the maid who also raised him.

Aparicio, who had obtained her teaching degree a month before her pregnant sister encouraged her to respond to a casting call just to see what it was all about, says she was greatly helped by Cuaron's decision to shoot his film in-sequence (unusual, for economic reasons) and without providing the full script to the actors (he sometimes didn't even tell them how other actors would behave opposite them in a scene). "I'd never acted before," she says, noting that she was helped by Cuaron's decision to cast one of her close friends as the family's other maid.

De Tavira, an experienced stage and screen actress in Mexico, went through a casting process of her own, and says she received unusual instructions from her director: "He wanted me to approach acting in the way a first-time actor would, which is really different from the way a trained actor would." While Aparicio got to meet with the real-life inspiration for her character, Libo Rodriguez (no relation to Gabriela), prior to the shoot (they discussed Rodriguez's life up to the point chronicled in the story), de Tavira says she only met the filmmaker's mother, Christina Cuaron, when she visited the set with Alfonso's siblings, well after shooting was already well underway.

Roma is slated to begin streaming Dec. 14 on Netflix, which traditionally gives its features a limited day-and-date theatrical release online debut. The streamer has not yet revealed what extra theatrical bookings it may give the movie. For Cuaron, a big believer in the theatrical experience, putting his film out in partnership with a streaming service came with certain prerequisites, according to producer Rodriguez. "It was a big decision," she emphasizes. "We made a deal with Netflix that included a theatrical release, and they were on board with that, and they appreciated the importance of a theatrical release that doesn't take away from the platform experience, so it was kind of like making a balance where we get the best of both worlds."