“When it comes to politics or cultural identity or sexual identity, I needed people to understand that there are different shades of grey,” explained actress, writer and executive producer Jezabel Montero.
Montero uses her new film, “Cassanova was a Woman,” to explore those many shades of grey that blur the realm of bisexuality. The comedy is being screened this weekend at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival.
The film tells the story of Cassanova Canto, a struggling actress who fits none of the usual social stereotypes. She is a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Cuban-American who falls in love with a woman while still married to her husband. Her sexual awakening is complicated by her famous Spanish soap opera star mother, a homophobic sister and a naked fantasy man who speaks to her at the most inopportune times.
The truth is often stranger than fiction. Montero’s mother does happen to be a famous Latina soap star and many of the other wacky situations Cassanova finds herself in are also drawn from Montero’s life.
Montero, who spent her early years in Brooklyn and Queens, went to high school in Miami and studied acting in Los Angeles, got her start in improv and the theater.
“(My mother’s) a pretty big star,” Montero recalled. “She was an actress and always had lots of job. I knew Shakespeare at 5 years old. It was a fun childhood….”
Unlike Cassanova, Montero had a pretty easy time embracing her bisexuality.
“In my real life, by the time I fell in love with a woman, I knew and everything was good. There wasn’t a struggle,” she said, “but, to make a movie interesting, things can’t go smoothly.”
And she did have lots of crazy stories to tell about her coming out process, with many winding up in the final screenplay.
Montero had dabbled in writing, but didn’t consider herself a writer until she compiled those experiences into a stage play in 2008. Staged readings convinced her that she had something.
“The universe was telling me,” she said, and seven years later, postproduction on “Cassanova was a Woman” was wrapped.
The energetic Montero, who again lives in New York City, rallied friends and family to support the project. Her mother, Zully, is an executive producer and appropriately plays Cassanova’s mother. (“She was the star we had in the movie,” Montero said.) Filming was completed on 17 locations in 14 days, all on a $250,000 budget. (“It was a low budget film,” she obviously pointed out.)
Even though the project is in the can as filmmakers say, Montero’s work is not done as she travels to festivals to promote the film and, more importantly, encouraging a dialogue about the quest of bisexuals to be better understood and accepted.
“Cassanova was a Woman” will be screened on Saturday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. at Cinema Paradiso-Hollywood and Sunday, Nov. 8 at 3:30 p.m. at Cinema Paradiso-Fort Lauderdale. Jezabel Montero will discuss the film following. For more information and tickets, go to FLIFF.com