At 24-years-old, Zoé Salicrup Junco is already working on her first feature film. Her 20 minute short, about a woman 10 years her senior, has already won her accolades.
She started writing “Gabi” in 2009 as her thesis at New York University, and this year it was selected for a handful of festivals, including Tribeca in New York City and Clermont Ferrand in France. Tomorrow it will be making its premiere at the Palm Springs International Shortfest.
“The way I describe Gabi is a collage of different women I know,” says Salicrup Junco, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, in her tender high-pitched voice. “I wanted to make a very authentic Puerto Rican film, but contemporary. I wanted to bring to the screen what being and living in Puerto Rico is like nowadays.”
Coming to New York for the first time at 18 for college, Salicrup Junco says she now divides her time equally between NYC and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is where her inspiration is – her parents.
“They really taught me the pros and cons of family relationships, and that’s basically what I write about,” she says. “My relationship with my mom and dad is like an ongoing dialogue about how to improve the relationship. Every time I have a petty fight with my parents, I have to reflect on what would it be like if they’re taken away from me, and that’s exactly what happens to Gabi.”
From the beginning, Salicrup Junco knew exactly what she envisioned Gabi to look and act like. However, she says it took a lot of casting calls to find the “it” factor she was looking for.
“I think Dalia heard about the project from a friend of a friend, and she contacted me,” says Salicrup Junco. “She said, ‘I’m your Gabi.’ As much as I wanted to say ‘no,’ she was right. She nailed the part. I had to cast her.”
Dalia Davi, says she mostly acted in theater before being cast for “Gabi.” And although, she couldn’t be more different in the personal style than Gabi’s character, she says when she read Salicrup Junco’s casting description: “There is Puerto Rican saying that haunts single women in their 30’s: ‘If such a woman is not married by this time, she must be a slut, a lesbian, or a prude…,” it struck a chord.
“Me being a 33-year-old, focused on my career, I feel the pressure from my mom to find a husband,” says Davi. “I felt, ‘Finally we’re writing about this.’ I never read about a character like this.”
Davi, who is half Dominican from the Bronx, NY, decided to go to Puerto Rico for two weeks before filming to do some research and work on her dialogue. She says she even walked the streets as if she were Gabi – dressed per Salicrup Junco’s strict direction of heels, shorts and a tight t-shirt, to see people’s reaction.
“When we shot it, we didn’t know how people were going to react to her,” says Davi. “There was a positive reaction from the females especially – probably 30’s and up. Whenever I would talk to other people while doing the research, I probably received the most judgement from the older side, but the younger side was more open to the concept of someone like Gabi.”
Salicrup Junco always knew what she wanted to convey.
“The nature of women is to hate on characters like Gabi,” she says. “I would like the audience for once to understand her, and almost reach the point of ‘I wish I could be you for a day.’”
She certainly got that reaction from the woman she found to play Gabi.
“Working on Gabi gave me the confidence I needed to trust myself,” says Davi. “After you play someone like that – a very strong, confident woman – you always borrow something. From Gabi, I borrowed courage, and a trust that it will happen, and it’s happening.” The 33-year-old actress says she admires Salicrup Junco for her great direction and for being so young and so tapped into the cycle of a woman that is so much older than her.
“My goal was to bring to life Puerto Rican stories that no one has brought to light before,” says Salicrup Junco who is currently writing the feature-length version of “Gabi.” “I definitely want to expand my work cross-culturally. I want to grow as an artist.”