Docs

Peeking inside hourly motels in Miami

First-time feature doc-maker Alison Rose got some extremely personal stories out of frequent guests at a pay-by-the-hour motel in Miami for her film Love at the Twilight Motel. No small feat for patrons of a motel that provides complete secrecy for its guests - private parking spots and back entrances to the rooms. Rose tells realscreen how she got these intimate stories on film and which daughter of a Cuban political icon inspired her to make the film.
May 6, 2009

First-time feature doc-maker Alison Rose got some extremely personal stories out of frequent guests at a pay-by-the-hour motel in Miami for her film Love at the Twilight Motel. No small feat for patrons of a motel that provides complete secrecy for its guests – private parking spots and back entrances to the rooms. Rose tells realscreen how she got these intimate stories on film and which daughter of a Cuban political icon inspired her to make the film.

‘I was in Miami doing research on the Cuban-American community and my very first day there, we were driving on Calle Ocho (Eighth Street) towards Little Havana on the main drag through Miami, and there are motels in clusters,’ she says. ‘The person who was driving me said these motels look like ordinary motels but they have mirrors on the ceiling and they rent by the hour.’

Here’s a fun fact about the person who was driving Rose on her first tour of Miami: it was Fidel Castro’s estranged daughter, Alina Fernandez.

With her interest piqued, Rose set about work on a film about a motel and those who frequent it. Michael Burns, then programming director of the Documentary Channel, agreed to develop the film and with a backer, Rose just needed people to talk to her, which turned out to be a major task.

‘I tried every possible way to find my characters,’ says Rose, to no avail. So instead of trying to win trust from people who wouldn’t open up, she placed ads in numerous publications, asking ‘Do you have a story to tell?’ She found every one of her characters this way, from Gigi the escort, to Mr. B, the heroin-using, prostitute-entertaining married man.

In the end, everyone who called Rose had a story to tell and she discussed with her subjects the degree of anonymity they wanted, so viewers see Gigi, but Mr. B’s face is obscured.

‘What worked for me was changing my approach to offering an invitation to someone who actually wanted to talk about their experience in the motels,’ she says. ‘I stopped thinking like a journalist – how can I get this person to give me an interview, how can I put them at ease so that they will tell me their story?’ she says.

Love at the Twilight Motel screens at Hot Docs on May 9.

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