I have been telling this story since I was six years old. When Dad first vanished, the story helped me keep him near me. If I couldn’t have him by my side, I could at least keep him in my mind and in the minds of everyone around me by talking about the mystery of his absence. All I had to do was tell someone that my dad had gone to the Gran Sabana and had yet to return, and their attention would be all mine. Adults often stared with a blend of guarded curiosity and compassion. Children’s eyes were full of unbridled interest, their mouths releasing endless questions I had no answers to. They would tell me what some of the adults said when I was no longer around to hear them. In whispers, classmates and neighbors would tell me that my father was gone, lifeless at the foot of some ancient tree. They’d tell me that he’d run off with another woman and had a new family now. His love, which felt so undeniable in my memories of him, had not been strong enough to keep him by my side.
The rumors, mused on by adults as a way to shorten relentless Caracas traffic jams and spice up dinner conversations, reached me like a game of telephone with the embellishments and mistranslations of children trying to process grim realities. Somehow, the most crippling of all of them came from a friend. With her face full of earnest concern, she explained that her mother had told her that unless I stopped thinking about my father, I would go insane. Madness looked to my young mind like the eye of a gray hurricane inside which all my thoughts would forever revolve at some unspeakable speed around a dull red center. The more I tried and failed to avoid thinking of my dad, the more the looming possibility of losing myself in the hurricane would haunt me.
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After two years of fearing I’d end up lost inside fierce, circular winds, I emerged determined to take control of the narrative about my father and about myself. I decided that I would follow in my father’s and my grandmother’s footsteps and become a writer. As an eight-year-old, I told my mother I was going to write a book about Dad that would be at least 200 pages. She smiled—a little sad, a little amused—and said that maybe I could write something shorter to begin with. I never did write a childhood version of this story. Instead, I became an investigator, asking questions over and over until those who were protecting me from the little bits of truth they held relinquished them. I turned my decades of research into a 700-page (single-spaced!) document filled with our family’s history and every clue I’d dug up about my father’s life and vanishing.
The story palpitating within those meandering pages has taken many shapes. I wrote various unfinished novels, then an even more unfinished memoir. I was well into my career as a filmmaker when I realized that there was only one form that this piece should take, and that is the form it has now. Only a documentary allows me to bring to life the disparate traces my father left behind: his voice on tape, the patent to his invention, the hundreds of family photos, the glimpse of him line-dancing in the Hamptons caught on his best friend’s Super 8 video camera. And then we have the voices and faces of those who were left to make sense of his vanishing. One thing I realized as I grew older is that, as much as my child self wanted to take control of the narrative, it isn’t my narrative. It is a collective narrative, belonging to those who knew and loved my father. Onscreen, I can create a space in which we share him with audiences in the same way we dealt with his absence: together. Not always united and in agreement, but still together.
Back when I dreamt of writing my 200-page book, Venezuela was a chaotic yet semi-functional place. Now that two decades of a populist regime have decimated my homeland, the story has expanded to bring that new loss into conversation with the film’s characters and how their lives have been affected by this national tragedy. In some ways, overcoming Dad’s loss has helped us weather the loss of our country’s way of life. Like thousands of Venezuelan families, we are now spread across continents as those dearest to us flee their homeland to rebuild their lives elsewhere. We hold on to each other through phone conversations and texted photos, through packages full of trinkets and handwritten notes. If our love for my dad can withstand his vanishing, our love for each other can withstand the oceans and countries that divide us.
I wanted to make a film about love. Love lost, yes, but also love transformed, regained, and used to honor those who are missing, those who share burdens with us, and also our past selves. We’ve figured out how to make such a film by bringing talented and compassionate people together in front of and behind the camera. I can’t wait to share the final product with you.