How It Began

“Little camera,” Irene said, “I tell you things I didn’t even know I knew.”

In 1999, the incomparable Cuban-American dramatist Maria “call me Irene” Fornes agreed to meet a young aspiring writer (director Michelle Memran), to be interviewed for American Theatre magazine. The article was about the rancorous relationship between playwrights and the critics who review their work. Minutes into their meeting, Irene made it clear that she could care less about critics. “I’m not making a play so it can be reviewed,” she said. “I’m making it because I have to. Who cares about whether they like it or not.”

Six hours later, the interview questions remained unanswered but their friendship had begun.

As Michelle and Irene started spending increasing amounts of time together, it became clear that Irene – then in her 70s – was suffering from an undiagnosed dementia. Her career had halted. Irene told Michelle that she had stopped writing and didn’t know why. Michelle told Irene that she wanted to write a play but didn’t know how.

One afternoon, in August 2003, they ventured to Brighton Beach with bathing suits and a never-used Hi-8 camera.

“Irene, does the camera make you uncomfortable?” asked Michelle, in a noisy beachside café.

“Don’t you understand,” Irene answered coyly into the lens, “the camera to me is my beloved, the one who wants me always, and I give everything . . . I have . . . to a camera.”

This is how the film began. These two women­­—one young and one old, both lost in their own lives but with a shared urge to create—came together in a journey that revealed how the creative spirit continues to thrive even as one’s ability to create is compromised. In The Rest I Make Up the camera becomes a catalyst for collaboration, capturing Irene’s ability to teach, to inspire, and to turn the scraps of everyday life into moments worthy of wonder and delight. The feature-length documentary follows Irene’s memories, weaving together footage of the present with archival from the past, all the while moving mentor and student towards an ever-deepening connection in the face of forgetting. In doing so, The Rest I Make Up celebrates the fierce and unquenchable spontaneity that is Maria Irene Fornes—a virtuosic theater artist and educator whose plays and writing workshops helped shape American theater.

“This film can be thought of as the last great work of Fornes’s prolific career.”

Gwendolyn Alker, Theatre Topics