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Film grad Patricia Chica debuts new feature, Montréal Girls

‘I love showing positive sexuality on screen, especially for female and queer characters’
June 26, 2023
By Lindsay Lafreniere, GrDip 10

Woman with long, brown hair wearing a black jacket and tortoiseshell glasses holds a video camera to her eye with a city skyline in the backgound. Director and Concordia graduate Patricia Chica | Photo: Bernard Brault

“You know about Montreal girls, right?”

In Montréal Girls, a new film from Patricia Chica, BFA 95, this loaded question underpins the drama that awaits a student who moves to the city.

Chica describes her feature-length debut, which had its Canadian premiere on June 9, as “a romantic film, a very sexy, sensual movie” whose production was challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of public-health measures, the filmmaker’s cast could only spend 15 minutes a day within six feet of each other. As a result, Chica says, Montréal Girls was made with “chi energy.”

“I went through meditation and visualization exercises with the actors where they rehearsed the scene together in the same realm of higher consciousness,” she says. “We were able to do two and a half takes within 15 minutes where they felt engaged, sensually attracted and touchy-feely. The intimacy was created in that space of energy work.”

Late nights editing at Concordia

Movie poster showing head and shoulders of three young women, with arms wrapped around each others' shoulders Montréal Girls by Patricia Chica

Montréal Girls tells the story of a Middle Eastern medical student at McGill University whose destiny is irrevocably changed by two spirited women. The film, which unfolds in three languages, was named “Best Feature Film (Festival Directors Award)” at the Los Angeles International Film Festival last November.

Chica was born in war-torn El Salvador and her family fled the country as refugees to settle in Montreal. As a CEGEP student, she made three short films and set her sights on the film production program at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema.

While at Concordia, Chica spent nights editing film on a massive steel machine known as a Steenbeck.

Dark-haired woman standing in foreground with a male and female figure in the background with a white backdrop. Patricia Chica (foreground) on the set of Montréal Girls | Credit: Sophia Benalouane

“I spent so many nights there, not sleeping, just editing the night away,” she recalls. “It taught me a lot about artistic process and storytelling. It taught me to think precisely about the sequence of events, images and sounds.”

Shots were cut and pasted together with Scotch tape. It was an additive process, Chica observes, in stark contrast to how films are typically made now in the digital era.

From casting to shooting internationally

As an undergraduate, Chica unintentionally embarked on her first career after meeting a director needing assistance. Having “no clue how to cast,” she hit the streets, talked to agents and learned the craft.

“My parents’ basement was filled with books of headshots and resumés,” she says of her stint as a casting director.

After more than 2,000 auditions over the span of eight years, Chica realized her true passion lay elsewhere in filmmaking. She had her own agency with five employees and, at the age of 24, quit casting to direct full-time.

Armed with her production background at Concordia, Chica soon got hired to work with National Geographic and the Discovery Channel. She estimates that she has directed, produced or edited more than 60 hours of programming for the international film and television markets.

Chica’s subsequent work has explored the sensual and the flirty. Characters like to take risks and get into trouble. Sexuality is fluid.

“I love showing positive sexuality on screen, especially for female and queer characters,” she explains. “To show that they are in control of their own narratives. Not letting anyone decide or choose for them or tell them what to think about who they are.”

For Montréal Girls, she trained the actors in chi energy work for a year before shooting started. She also worked with the crew on set to have everyone in alignment spiritually.

“As an energy educator, I’m aligning the body, the physical, with the mind, the intellectual and the higher consciousness in the movie experience,” she says.

Chica is now working on the script for her next film, called Bougainvillea, named for the pink flowers native to South America. It’s about a girl who grows up in a conventional Salvadoran family and discovers she’s queer. Shooting is set to begin next year or in 2025.

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