Perfume de Gardenias, the debut film from the renowned queer Afro-Puerto Rican singer, multi-disciplinary artist, and filmmaker Macha Colón, will world premiere at the 2021 edition of the Tribeca Film Festival, taking place June 9 to 20.
A dark comedy that captures the idiosyncrasies and spirit of a nation adept at creating novel strategies for laughter in the face of adversity, the film tells the story of Isabel played by veteran theater and television actress Luz María Rondón in her first movie-starring role an elderly woman living in a middle-class neighborhood in Puerto Rico, who has just become a widow after having cared for her husband until his last breaths. However, her recent loss becomes a blessing when she crafts a beautiful custom-made funeral for him that catches the attention of Toña (Sharon Riley), a pious but domineering woman who involves herself in local funerals.
Toña is the self-appointed leader of a coterie of church ladies elderly, and she enlists Isabel to put her unusual talents to good use and design custom, idiosyncratic funerals for her ailing neighbors. As Isabel agrees to perform this peculiar line of work offering seniors a chance to dictate how their lives should be honored, before they die she also finds renewed purpose in her own life. Along the way, however, Isabel is forced to question her own beliefs, as well as her relationship with both life and death.
In line with Colón’s collaborative artistic spirit, Perfume de Gardenias is likewise a work that brings together her creative community with many cross-generational figures from Puerto Rico’s local arts and cultural circles featuring in the film. Part of a broader body of work that includes productions across the disciplines of music, performance art, and political activism, Perfume de Gardenias brings the daring, cheerful, and radically “cuir” style that characterizes Macha Colón’s artistic output to the silver screen.
A Puerto Rican film at its core, made in co-production with Colombia’s 2.35 Digital and Romeo, Perfume de Gardenias manages to capture the vivid colors of the Caribbean island by offering a nuanced portrait of the customs, characters, and idiosyncrasies of its battered middle class. Colón’s gaze is as authentic as it is original as she dares to poke fun at the sacred and profound in a deeply Catholic culture; humor that, in the end, helps to broaden our understanding of death, mourning, and the meaning of life itself.
Director Macha Colón is an un-disciplined artist currently based in Puerto Rico. She’s a writer, producer, director, editor, performer, and cultural events producer. Among her work there are the short documentary El hijo de Ruby and Cartas de amor para una ícona. She studied Black and Puerto Rican Studies and Film and Media Studies at Hunter College in New York City, where she also worked as a documentary editor and was part of Eduardo Alegria’s performance shows in PS 122. Upon returning to Puerto Rico, she worked as Artistic and Programming Director at Casa de Cultura Ruth Hernández, organizing cultural events while continuing to edit and direct films. Macha Colón has been performing rock/pop music with her band Macha Colón y Los Okapi in alternative venues since 2008. They released their first album “Tanquecito de amor” (Little Tank of Love) in 2016 and performed at the Loisaida Festival, La Marqueta Retoña in El Barrio, and the New Museum in New York. Recently, she won an international documentary competition to film Love Letters to an Iconess, a documentary about a Puerto Rican queer diva who’s now in her seventies. She’s an Art Matters Foundation and NALAC grantee and received the first Resiliency Award through the Arts from the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture in Chicago. She recently received the United States Artist Fellowship, the Puerto Rican Artist Initiative from Northwestern University and Firelight Media’s William Greaves Fund for mid-career filmmakers for the development of her next documentary. Perfume de Gardenias is her first feature film.