In Chilly & Milly, director William D. Caballero brings to life the story of his parents in an animated short film that has already qualified for an Academy Award in 2023.
The film takes place 11 years after Caballero filmed the documentary American Dreams Deferred and follows the life of William’s parents Chilly, a diabetic with kidney failure, and Milly, who sees her sole purpose in life as a selfless caretaker for her family.
Presented by Latino Public Broadcasting, Chilly & Milly just won the juried prize at this year’s PBS Short Film Festival. The movie beat out 24 other films for the top spot and was voted the best by a jury of nine. Chilly & Milly will additionally appear in PBS’ POV Shorts Series airing this fall.
In our interview with this talented director, Caballero discusses how he created such an accurate and heart-wrenching portrayal of his parents’ lives. He also talks about the film’s impact and what he hopes audiences will take away from it. Chilly & Milly is a powerful story that highlights the strength of family bonds and the human capacity for resilience in the face of adversity.
Check out our interview below!
Altwire.net/Alana: The short film begins with you reviewing documentary footage that was used for an autobiographical documentary for film school in 2007. What aspects of your parents’ lives were you looking to capture at that time?
William D. Caballero / “Chilly & Milly” Director: As the only member of my family to attend graduate school, I felt like my future was limitless, and yet, the same couldn’t be said for my parents, who remained quagmired in various health, social, and financial problems. I wanted to make the film as a sort of time capsule to capture us at that moment, as I knew my father’s health was deteriorating. It would also be a test for me as an beginner filmmaker, completing my final year of graduate study at NYU and finally embarking on the path of creative exploration that I was always determined to follow.
Altwire.net/Alana: Your mom, Milly, describes how their wedding was interrupted by an emergency room visit due to your father, Chilly’s illness. How long had he struggled with diabetes prior to then? Is that when his kidney failure began?
William D. Caballero / “Chilly & Milly” Director: My father was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when he was 16. The longer someone has diabetes, the more damage the artificial insulin does to one’s body. In the mid-90s, he started to experience several side effects, including partial blindness, and ultimately had to go on dialysis. Luckily, he did get a kidney and pancreas transplant, but due to the laws in North Carolina at the time, it was expected that he would pay for the post-transplant medication on his own. My parents were unable to do so, and as such, his body rejected the transplants, dooming him to 20 years of dialysis treatment afterward.
Altwire.net/Alana: I really like the scene where your Mom is first depicted as a superhero. She says she has a lot of people who depend on her, so she has to focus on her mental self-care. What does your Mom do to care for herself mentally?
William D. Caballero / “Chilly & Milly” Director: My mother would definitely benefit by some self-care and therapy, as she tends to focus her energy on caring for others. Very recently, my grandmother (her mother) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and my mother has been feeling quite down because of it. I keep telling her to seek therapy, but there is something about Latino culture that tends to think that mental health is less important than physical health. As such, I’m not sure she copes with her mental health in the best way possible, but I keep trying to motivate her.
Altwire.net/Alana: Your father had a near-death experience in 2004. How did the experience change or impact your parents?
William D. Caballero / “Chilly & Milly” Director: My father had many near-death experiences in his life. As a diabetic, his blood sugar became much more difficult to control as he got older, leading to many unpredictable low blood sugar attacks. Without my mother’s vigilance to give him his glucose injections, he would’ve passed away years ago. And yet, each time he faced death, my father became more and more resilient and committed to life.
Altwire.net/Alana: Your parents seem like incredible people. It seems as though your father had a great sense of humor. How would you describe his personality? What do you want people to know about him?
William D. Caballero / “Chilly & Milly” Director: My father loved to make people laugh, and everyone liked him. He was like a big kid trapped in an adult’s body, and he was my best friend during my childhood. He had both a jovial and easy going attitude, and remained a genuinely kind person until the day he passed. Through this short, I believe I did a good job encapsulating his charm and humor, even though he’s only depicted on screen for such a short time.
Altwire.net/Alana: While watching the film, I liked how the superhero outfit faded when your father had his near death experience and how your mom is depicted as hanging it up. Did she also see herself as a Super Mom?
William D. Caballero / “Chilly & Milly” Director: My mother does not think of her role as a caretaker as exceptional, but something that all wives do for their husbands. I tell her that it is certainly not the case, but she thinks her selflessness isn’t something unique and special. I hope that by making this film, I can showcase her as the hero that I certainly believe she is, so that she can inspire viewers who will definitely connect with her.
Altwire.net/Evan: Family and expression seem to be themes of some of your most personal works. How did your family impact your creative journey? What are some of the inspirations behind your films and photography?
William D. Caballero / “Chilly & Milly” Director: Through my film projects, I’ve always remained committed to allowing my creative talents to provide a platform for those who feel voiceless.
Throughout, I have found creative success in capturing the essence of my grandparents, parents, and members of my family. At first, I worked with no financial support, but as the years went on, I was able to garner the financial support of organizations such as Latino Public Broadcasting, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and even HBO to create works about my family.
Altwire.net/Evan: In your opinion, what makes a musical composition for film truly special? Do you have any particular examples of musical pieces in movies that have truly moved you?
William D. Caballero / “Chilly & Milly” Director: As a violinist and composer, I am inspired by countless movie soundtracks. I’m especially fond of the soundtrack to Requiem for a Dream, especially since it was shot in Coney Island, NYC, where my family was raised.
Altwire.net/Evan: How do you seek to set yourself apart as a film maker or as an artist?
William D. Caballero / “Chilly & Milly” Director: I think what sets me apart as a filmmaker is my mantra, which I call “The three E’s”: Empower, Enlighten, and Express. I only seek to make projects that empower and enlighten the audience while expressing myself creatively. It’s also important that I feel a sense of fulfillment during the production of a project because as an artist, I am creating films to heal my soul first and foremost. Once I do this and win my inner battles, my work can also heal and inspire my viewers. It can’t be done the other way around.
Altwire.net/Alana: What would you like people to take away from your film?
William D. Caballero / “Chilly & Milly” Director: Honor your parents’ legacies. Honor their pain. Honor their integrity. Honor their shortcomings. Honor their flaws.