TIMES OF San Diego


By Mimi Pollack

For Mexican-American artist and actress Lizet Benrey, the successful film career on display during San Diego Film Week is the result of pursuing a lifelong dream later in life. Two of her films, the short “Noticed” and feature-length “Carving a Life,” will be shown on March 3 and 5 during the annual event showcasing local filmmakers. Benrey comes from an artistic family, but her acting and filmmaking career didn’t take off until after she raised a family. Her late mother, Shirley Chernitsky, was a well known artist in Mexico, and Benrey followed in her footsteps. However, the daughter took her creativity to a new level. Not only is she a talented artist, she is also an actress, filmmaker and screenplay writer. Benrey was born and raised in Mexico City. Her mother was a free spirit and somewhat of a black sheep, so Benrey grew up surrounded by an artistic, Bohemian community. The famous Mexican painter Jose Luis Cuevas was a good friend of the family. While she was studying at the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City, Benrey fell in with a group of aspiring filmmakers. Some have since gone on to have successful careers in both Mexico and the United States, including her then boyfriend Alejandro Gonzalez-Iῇarritu, who won an Oscar for the movie “Birdman” in 2015. This was the beginning of her creative life. Then fate intervened. Her father brought her to San Diego to live. She finished up her degree at UC San Diego in visual arts. She also met her future husband, Francis Fuller, an engineer. Her life became one of happy domesticity raising the couple’s two sons Jonathan and Alexander. However, her artistic life wasn’t completely on hold. She continued to paint and show her work on both sides of the border. One of her proudest moments was participating in a worldwide exhibition with her mother. Benrey wanted to prove she could make it on her own, and soon began to make a name for herself while still tending to her role as a wife and mother. While her two sons were finishing high school, she began to feel restless, wanting to express some stifled creativity. Although she still loved painting, she felt a yearning to go back to her first loves: acting and filmmaking. When her mother passed away 12 years ago, she worked with Mexican director Lucy Orozco to make a documentary about her mother’s life. She describes it as a way to help process her grief. Then in 2009 Benrey decided to work on her own, and made a short film about a young, Puerto Rican-American man with Down’s syndrome titled “Hiram, Life and Rhythm.” In 2011, she started acting and appeared as Camille Claudel in Larry Caveney’s film “In Defense of Rodin.” She is particularly proud of a short film she did on the life of the Mexican painter Leonora Carrington titled “Leonora y Gabriel–An Instant.” A new chapter in her life had begun with her family fully supporting her, especially her two sons. They told her they were happy all her creative juices were flowing again. Her latest goal is to bring her artistic vision into every aspect of filmmaking. In 2017, she started a production company with Thom Michael Mulligan called “Film Dreams Entertainment.” They produced, “Noticed” and their latest project, to be completed soon, is a feature short called “The Witching Hour” Benrey is currently writing, producing and acting in her own films, as well as acting in other people’s films. She also recently collaborated with director Luis Mandoki of “Message in a Bottle” fame on three screenplays for possible future projects. “Carving a Life” will be shown on March 3 at 4 p.m. at the Digital Gym-Media Arts Center. “Noticed” will be shown on March 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Museum of Photographic Arts as part of “A Woman’s Place” shorts program. Mimi Pollack is an English as a Second Language teacher and a freelance writer.