Flora Ortega had no idea that working on films as a production designer would be her true calling.
A native of Port Isabel, Ortega’s father worked in the shrimping industry and her mother was a barista. She recalled the joy she felt through watching movies with her family.
“We loved to watch movies in my home,” Ortega recalled. “Every time my dad returned home from shrimping, he’d bring us a Disney movie on VHS. During Halloween season, we’d watch horror movie marathons with my mom.”
“It’s a tradition that we continue to this day,” she continued. “We love movies.”
It was through those small moments that her love of film was cultivated, a love that would see her hard work on the screens of the Sundance Film Festival.
“I always had an interest in film,” she recalled. “In Port Isabel there was this one movie shop called All Star Video. It was right at the tip of the causeway. That’s where I saw ‘Amores Perros’ by Alejandro González Iñárritu. That’s where I saw ‘City of God.’”
She said that she always had an interest in film, but she didn’t believe in herself to pursue that passion until she got to college. There she met a number of mentors who pushed her toward a career in filmmaking, starting with a slew of student films during her time in college.
She would go on to produce and work as a production designer for her own film called “Visible Proof,” an experience that she said allowed her to show what she is capable of when it comes to production design.
Her first feature film as a member of the Art Directors Guild came out on Friday. The film is called “God’s Country,” a neo-western thriller starring Thandiwe Newton from the HBO series Westworld.
Ortega worked as a production designer on the film. She said that everything that is seen on a film, from props and set pieces to how a particular set is decorated, falls under the umbrella of her responsibility.
For this film in particular, she said that there is a lot that she is proud of as she looks back at the work that she did.
“My favorite set was probably Mama’s room, which you’ll see in our main character’s home,” Ortega said. “The concept of Mama’s room is that it’s almost like a sarcophagus, and we really tried to honor that idea when art director Abbie Alvarez and I dressed the set. We met with the director, Julian Higgins, and screenwriter Shaye Ogbonna. We just wanted this room to feel like Mama’s presence was very felt, and I just loved the details in that room.”
Seeing one’s hard work on the big screen would be momentous in and of itself; however, for Ortega, the payoff for her hard work culminated when her new film made its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January of this year.
In fact, the film premiered on Ortega’s birthday, Jan. 25.
“It was the best birthday present ever,” she said. “I’ll never forget that one.”
The occasion was bittersweet for Ortega since the festival was held virtually.
“This was going to be my very first Sundance ever,” Ortega said. “They canceled the in-person film festival and moved it online, so it was all done virtually. I was just really overjoyed that the film was going to be seen for the first time in the presence of some of the most creative minds in the world. I was incredibly grateful to able to be telling this kind of story at that festival.”
“Being a part of this project was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she continued. “I hope and pray that I will have the privilege to work on something like this again.”
“God’s Country” is now showing in over 600 theaters nationwide, as well as theaters in Edinburg and in Harlingen.
For more information about Ortega and her accomplishments, visit her website, www.floraortega.com.