Chicago director sets ‘The Fishbowl’ in the ‘contaminated island’ of Vieques

Glorimar Marrero Sánchez says the movie, part of the Chicago Latino Film Festival, draws on the grief she felt after losing her mother to cancer.

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Noelia (Isel Rodriguez) naps on the lap of her mother Flora (Magali Carrasquillo) in “The Fishbowl.”

Noelia (Isel Rodriguez) naps on the lap of her mother Flora (Magali Carrasquillo) in “The Fishbowl.”

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One of the films in this year’s Chicago Latino Film Festival is the first feature-length project from director Glorimar Marrero Sánchez, who lives part time in Hyde Park.

“The Fishbowl” — “La Pecera” in Spanish — is about a woman in San Juan, Puerto Rico. who discovers she has metastatic cancer after having been in remission a few years.

Reluctant to go through the treatments that made her feel even sicker, Noelia (Isel Rodríguez) decides to get on a ferry to her native Vieques, an island about 50 miles off the mainland.

There, she has the freedom to face her fate on her own terms while reconnecting with family and friends who are facing a struggle of their own: the after-effects of more than 60 years of military occupation by the U.S. Navy, which used more than two-thirds of the island as a bombing range and for dumping old munitions, until nonviolent protests prompted the Navy to pull out in 2003.

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Though it’s never been proven that residents of Vieques suffer health problems because of the military occupation, activists for decades have vocally maintained that’s the case.

In 2013, the Navy estimated that cleanup of bombs — many still underwater and unexploded — would take until 2025. A 2021 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office changed that estimate to 2032.

Sánchez, a multidisciplinary artist, said in an interview that “The Fishbowl” was almost 10 years in the making. She began writing the screenplay at a time when her own mother had died from colon cancer, making the pain and grief of Noelia’s story personal.

“I also wanted to talk about the symptoms of the political relationship, the truth of Puerto Rico and the United States,” Sánchez said in Spanish. “I could mirror a contaminated island with the central character of Noelia, who is the same as the island insofar as they are two contaminated bodies, she with cancer and the island with wartime contamination.”

Glorimar Marrero Sánchez speaks in January during a panel at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where “The Fishbowl” was screened.

Glorimar Marrero Sánchez speaks in January during a panel at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where “The Fishbowl” was screened.

Vivien Killilea / Getty Images

For casting, Sánchez said it was important to find an actor with a personal connection to Vieques. Rodríguez stood out because her children’s grandmother was born there.

Throughout filming, Sánchez said, there was a rainbow every day. She said the crew was “always extremely focused, hard-working, talented and good-spirited.

“It is thanks to the work of many people that really makes up this decade of work.”

“The Fishbowl” will screen at 8:30 p.m. April 14 at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St.

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