Creator and Star Ana Asensio Says Crafting ‘Most Beautiful Island’ Was a Deeply Personal Experience
Actress and first-time writer/director Ana Asensio delivers a genuinely tension-ridden story of an immigrant unknowingly placed within a dangerous game in “Most Beautiful Island.” Before making the jump behind the camera, Asensio had been working as an actress for several decades. Fed up with her lack of roles, Asensio revealed to Entertainment Voice that her “decision to move to the other side of the camera came from having no control over my career as an actress.” She explained, “There have been so many ups and downs from the moment that I moved to the United States. It was pretty difficult for me to make a living as an actress. So eventually I decided I wanted to have more creative control. I figured why don’t I create a character that I know I would be able to fit and who is inspired by me.”
With no prior directing experience, Asensio makes a visceral and robust debut. The film, as she explains, is very much split into two parts. “I wanted to be very realistic about the film and the approach,” she noted. “The first part was very much like a documentary and the second part was all about crafting mystery and tension.” As a director, she turned to the works of early Roman Polanski for inspiration on how to frame her subject matter. “I just love classic filmmakers that deal with that sort of mix between surrealism and tension.”
The first half of the film, shot on 16mm, is really about getting to know the character on the streets of Manhattan. The camera is very much a voyeur into the life of Luciana (Asensio), a struggling immigrant trying to make ends meat on the streets of New York. The very sense of realism successfully captured within the first half of the film came from “improvising scripted scenes planted in the middle of real-life unpredictable New York situations.”
Dealing with the struggles and brutality that comes from living in the city, especially as an undocumented immigrant, Luciana is presented with a unique opportunity to garner some quick cash. Informed by a friend, Olga (Natasha Romanova), Luciana takes a job where she supposedly makes a couple thousand dollars to just be present at a party. Thankful for the opportunity, Luciana quickly accepts the offer and goes through the motions of attending this underground party. Upon her arrival to the very hidden warehouse, the film becomes an entirely different experience, continually winding in tension and mystery from that point forward. She soon realizes that this tightly run “party” might have a darker secret yet to be revealed.
The film is a “hybrid of genres,” mixing in elements of both dramas and thrillers. Being an immigrant herself, Asensio’s experiences very much informed the story. “I thought why don’t I tell this story I know very well? About my early times in New York City, and the kind of things that I learned and the kind of things that I saw.” She continued, “I thought it was very interesting because I had never seen this story about immigration. There are multiple stories of immigrants in New York, and I figured this would be something I hadn’t seen on the screen before.”
For her first attempt balancing the roles of a producer, writer, director, and actor, all under one project, it proved to be a conflicting and challenging task. “Having to distribute my time between acting, directing, and producing, I put aside the acting part to 10% of my time and much of the time went into directing the film.”
The acting proved to be the lesser of the challenges because the character she was playing was “very much inspired by a younger version of myself and a time in my life that I lived, I kind of knew her very well.”
The tiresome process was a great learning experience, and the work proved to pay off when the film was selected for SXSW. “The most rewarding part about this experience has been showing the film to audience members who come in with an open mind and an open heart.”
But with great rewards, comes great hardships. “The hardest part of everything was to not give up while I was knocking on doors for so many years. I was trying to raise money and emphasize the project with my enthusiasm because that is all I had.” Luckily for Asensio, the enthusiasm pays off significantly as she pulls-off a disturbing and intriguing experience.
“Most Beautiful Island” opens Nov. 3 in select theaters and VOD.