The relationship between director and editor is well documented and understood. While one typically thinks of an editor taking part in a film long after the shoot has begun, there are exceptions. When director Melissa Perez approached Wanqiu Sun about a film she wanted to make, she sought out Sun’s input and advice based on her respect for the editor’s abilities and their prior work together. The two filmmakers had become trusted confidants during the making of “La Confeción” and Perez needed someone whose advice could help her during the development of the film, production, and post production. An editor needs to understand the course which their director needs and Melissa recognized Wanqiu as being heavily invested in the story…so why not take it as far as possible? “Still Devout” is a deeply personal film to its director. She knows the people in the film from her own personal experiences. From the beginnings of the first draft of the script, Sun became the sounding board and advisor who helped to steer this film to win awards at the Moonrise film festival, the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, and an official selection of more than twenty film festivals.
Much of “Still Devout” is about understanding and acceptance. Perez wanted to bring elements of religion and the LGBT community into the story. Ceci, the main character is in a committed relationship with her girlfriend and also navigating her interaction with her devoutly catholic mother. When Lupe (Ceci’s mother) asks her to travel with the family to Mexico to have a priest “get the devil” out of her brother Felipe (suffering from mental illness), she concedes even to the complaints of her significant other. Once there, Ceci discovers that it was all a ruse by her mother to “cure” her daughter’s sexuality. The confrontation only escalates from there. Wanqiu can relate to the importance of understanding in this movie as she is not of Latin heritage nor a fluent Spanish speaker and about eighty percent of the dialogue contained in the film is in Spanish. Proving that she is as devoted as they come, this editor threw herself into studying the language in order to make sure she was understanding every word of the dailies as she edited them.
A fair portion of “Still Devout” was filmed with handheld cameras which can also prove challenging for an editor. One fight scene early in the action of the story was heavily improvised and shot with handhelds. To retain the flow and clean visual language that correlates to the rest of the film, Wanqiu needed to scrutinize the somewhat chaotic movements when deciding which shots were ideal. Sun explains the process stating, “Once you cut out the part that is not perfect, it not as easy as simply using the remainder. You don’t want the images to be jarring and take audience out of the story. These “in-between” spots must be filled and this requires extensive viewing of other takes. This is where a great cinematographer is worth their weight in gold. They understand the integration of different takes and can plan ahead for an editor. Specifically, for this film, Felipe’s madness, the argument between Mother and Ceci, and the fight between Ceci and Felipe already create a sense of chaos ideal for this approach. Visually everything must be presented clearly to make sure the audience is not missing any story beats. Through the editing process for this film, I had to go through dailies thousands of times, marking them and sorting them by size, angle, and characters so I wouldn’t miss any possibilities in editing. Storyboards give a general view of what material you have and definitely help in finding what you need but for scenes mostly captured with handheld cameras, it’s a lot more work and can be frustrating to cut.”
Sun concedes that this film was an immense amount of work for her; that’s not to say that she’d have it any other way. The language, the pervasive use of handheld cameras to film the scene…all of these are a necessary part of communicating the feeling of Ceci and her interaction with the family. The integration of English and Spanish is what the conversation in Ceci’s life sounds like. The cameras used give the feeling of being in this family, sometimes in a claustrophobic way but with authenticity. Being a filmmaker requires different things for different projects. The herculean efforts of Wanqiu Sun on this film were rewarded by the public’s reaction and her reputation among her peers.