ERICA OROFINO ON THE MAGIC OF FILMMAKING
ERICA OROFINO is an award-winning filmmaker based in Toronto, ON. Her work focuses on the female perspective, sexuality, complex familial relationships and mental illness. Erica’s latest dramatic short She Keeps Me won Best Canadian Short (2022) at the Pendance film festival in Toronto. As a filmmaker, Erica is passionate about stories by underrepresented voices that tackle taboo subject matter, and her work is fuelled by the desire to connect people. Interview by Rebeccah Love Can you tell me a little bit about your childhood? What kinds of creative activities did you gravitate towards? When I was kid I was obsessed with writing short stories. They were usually fantasy or horror. The horror ones were really horrific, and I'd really let my imagine go wild and come up with really gross, or shocking elements. I think I liked the feeling of being so far removed from what I was writing about that I would transport myself to a completely different place. One time I wrote a short story where a little girl kills her parents while they're sleeping, and my teacher found it and showed me parents and I got in trouble for it. That's kind of a core memory for me. I also played the violin from the age of 4 until around 21. I come from a musical family and music education was really important growing up, and music is still a massive part of my life in my creative process but also leisure. What were some of the first stories you identified with as a young person? (Books, movies?) When I was a kid I loved the Harry Potter books, I loved Goosebumps and I loved reading Chicken Soup for the Kids Soul -- but only the chapter on Death and Dying. I remember I'd skip the entire thing and go straight to that chapter, and read those stories over and over. I was so fascinated with sickness and death as a kid. How would you describe your high school experience? What types of classes did you enjoy? I think I had a typical North American high school experience. I went to public school. I was not very popular. I made a handful of very good friendships there and we are still close today. I think I'm most grateful for that. We had to take math, and history, and all those basic classes. I grew up in Montreal so I also had to take a lot of classes in French. I really exceled in the music and English classes. What route did you take after graduating high school? What were the big questions you were asking yourself about the world? These questions are so nice and specific. After high school I attended CEGEP in Montreal, which is like pre-university. I went to Dawson College. I took different creative arts classes so I could figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and I knew it had to be in the arts. I think at that time my questions were "what am I doing and what is the point." I think at this point in my life I have mostly filled in the different shades of response to those questions but I don't think you ever stop growing. How did you engage with filmmaking as a young adult? What were some of your favourite films during this time? I started to write screenplays for fun, as a young adult, and I remember it was around that point that it clicked for me that I really wanted to be a filmmaker. I never had the money or resources to pick up a camera or anything like that. It was only once I started university at York in Toronto that I had access to any of that stuff but the structure of the program did not allow me to direct anything or take part in any production courses. So I learned every single thing I could about filmmaking, mostly about writing and production, and then I started teaching myself and getting on to as many sets as I could. I think as a young adult my favourite films were 'film school cliche' movies like Pulp Fiction and There Will Be Blood, and I loved anything by Wes Anderson. This does not currently reflect my taste!! Can you share a little bit about the inspiration behind 'She Keeps Me'? What themes and aesthetic choices excited you most while working on this project? She Keeps Me was born out of the strong desire to tell the story about a young woman who feels tethered to her sibling. It started with a feeling, I wanted to explore the feelings of embarassment or shame for another's behavior. From there it developed into something more well-rounded and the story is based on personal experiences in my family life. Can you share a little bit about any upcoming projects? I have been doing a lot of music videos lately, which I love. I have two short comedies currently in post-production. One is about a woman navigating her sex life with genital herpes, and the other is about a very bad therapist. I also have some exciting news coming up that I cannot share yet, but I'll be working on another dramatic short some time in the fall. Lots of films, lots of music videos! What can you tell us about the community in which you currently live? Is it an artist-friendly community? I live in the St. Clair West area of Toronto and I've been here for 10 years. I love it here. I know so many other filmmakers who live in this community. The rent is relatively affordable and things are walking distance, there are so many parks and so many dogs, and markets. I love it here. What non-film artforms are inspiring you these days? Always music. I love to listen to music. I also like to play, I like to sing. I love dancing. Before the pandemic I'd go to dance classes every week. I've always been so fascinated with dance and I love dancehall and hip hop and honestly any kind of dance gets me right in the heart. Right now I'm really into Kim Petras' album Slut Pop, and Arcade Fire's WE. Why is filmmaking important? Stories bring people together. I think good films make you feel seen, the best stories will reflect your experience back to you and this is what connects us as humans. Filmmaking is the art form that engages the most senses. I also think there's something so magical about the amount of people involved in making a film. Everybody puts their energy and their craft into the thing, and all of those little pieces together make this one piece that holds everybody's energy and all the pieces have to work together perfectly to work at all. What are you looking forward to? I'm looking forward to spending my summer writing, making music videos and developing a few exciting new films.