New Director: Sarah Clift
As the US presidential election looms, Clift discusses her Kinsale Shark-netting debut film, La Madre Buena.
Parenting involves all sorts of sacrifices, but in La Madre Buena (The Good Mother), one devoted Mexican mum faces the ultimate challenge: stick to her political beliefs or grant her son’s birthday wish… for a piñata in the form of Donald Trump.
Eventually she relents and sets out to find the perfect bouffant-topped effigy, who emerges in a mystic Aztec ritual conjured by a mountain shaman. In one wonderfully comic scene, we see her buzzing back home triumphantly on her scooter, the life-sized piñata strapped to her back. No prizes for guessing how the film ends…
Awarded five Kinsale Sharks this year, La Madre Buena marks the solo directing debut of Yorkshire native and former creative director Sarah Clift. After stints at Leo Burnett London and McCann Paris, she quit agency life just over a year ago to join her fiancé Jorge Aguilera – himself an established commercials director – in Mexico, and pursue her long-standing ambition of becoming a writer and director.
The droll storyline was inspired by an encounter with a lady from Washington DC, who was visiting Mexico on the hunt for a Trump piñata. “At this point I had no idea they existed,” says Clift, “and the idea of a Trump piñata felt so complete – it had such an inevitable ending!” Having pitched the idea to Aguilera’s production services company, Madrefoca, Clift wrote the script and shot the film over five days, before returning to the UK for post production.
Her agency experience came in useful – to a point. “I stuck to all the rules… that I know work well for me. And then I broke many at the same time.” Casting proved very different: “I could set the parameters and push it as far as I liked… It was really important to me to have authentic, real people.” When auditioning the central mother character, she tasked the actors to have a one-to-one ‘chat’ with the piñata about how the situation ‘he’ had created in Mexico had personally affected them. “It was important for me to discover talent, but talent with strong beliefs and political awareness,” she says.
The timing of the release was spot-on, coinciding with the first presidential candidates debate. When Clift first pitched the idea, a Trump victory was still a joke; at the time of writing it’s a real and terrifying possibility, giving the film’s underlying political themes a sharper resonance. At its heart, though, the film is about family relationships. “I was aiming to create something that worked on more levels and was more intelligent than a Donald Trump conversation,” explains Clift, “which is what led me to painting a portrait of Mexican family life and the lengths a mother will go to for her child.”
Having co-directed a spot for Buchanan’s whisky with Aguilera, Clift’s change of career is paying off – projects in the pipeline include more short films, a music video and a feature in development – and her enthusiasm for film shows no sign of waning: “To me, it’s the most amazing medium for creating something that can encapsulate so many different forms of creativity and engage so many of the senses