A chat with Paula Ortiz and Javier García Arredondo

Ram met the director and screenwriter of the Spanish film La Novia when they were in Singapore for EUFF 2019.

20 min read

La Novia was Spain’s chosen film for the European Union Film Festival 2019 that took place in Singapore this May. The film’s director Paula Ortiz and screenwriter Javier García Arredondo flew down to Singapore—for the first time—to attend the screening. They stayed back for an interaction with the audience afterwards. La Novia is adapted from Blood Wedding, a tragedy written by Spanish dramatist Federico García Lorca in 1932.

[Hendrik and Carla attended the screening—representing The World of Apu!—you can see what they thought about the film here.]

Our editor Ram caught up with Paula and Javier the next day morning. What follows is a conversation about Spanish cinema, the many inspirations of this filmmaking couple, how Lorca touched their lives, Paula’s thesis on the cinematographic script, the narrative and visual differences between Hollywood and Spanish cinema, and why one shouldn’t be afraid to rewrite classics.

Ram: How did your journey with cinema start?

Paula: Well, I don’t know. I’ve been loving cinema since I had memories. My father loves movies so we had a lot of movies at home! My hometown is Zaragoza, a small town in Spain. It’s not Madrid or Barcelona, and there is no film industry, there are no film schools. It was not easy to make movies in Zaragoza. So I started studying Spanish literature, because it was easier. I started making short films when I was in college. My whole life, I’ve been interested in stories and storytellers in different media. I love literature, and I love music when it has a narrative dimension. To me, movies were the most complex and complete living stories. They were so powerful to me when I was a child and a teenager. My knowledge and my learning has been through movies, not just school. When I started making short films in college, I got a fellowship to do my Phd. My thesis was about screenwriting theory. Thanks to that fellowship, I could go study at New York University and then to UCLA to complete the thesis. At the NYU School of the Arts, I had many teachers who were involved in the film industry in the United States. All the teachers there are directors, editors, screenwriters.

They were so supportive and encouraged me, saying, “You have to write movies. You have to make movies, you have to try.”

That’s why I tried. When I was doing my thesis, I also wrote my first feature script (Chrysalis, aka De tu ventana a la mía). I started there and I applied to a script contest funded by the Spanish government. We won the prize. It was so important to us because we didn’t have any production company, we didn’t have anything. When I was at NYU, my teacher said to me, “You have to look for a big leading actress. A big one!”

I said, “Okay but I’m not anyone!”

He said to me, “You have to try.”

And then we asked two well-known actresses in Spain, one of them being Maribel Verdú, the lead from Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También. I presented the script to her and she said yes. So she was a big support. That’s how we started with our first movie.

Ram: How about you Javier? How did your interest in cinema begin?

Javier: I was a child, maybe about twelve years old, when I first realised. My parents loved cinema and we always watched classic movies at home. We went to the cinemas together. I was always around cinema. When I was sixteen, I didn’t know if I wanted to direct, write or photograph, but I knew I wanted to be in the movie industry. I tried to go to film school in Spain; but you need to be twenty one years old to get admitted. So I first went to Cuba to study script writing and then I came to Spain and studied photography. Now I’m the screenwriter and also the camera operator in our movie La Novia.

Ram: This is for the both of you; tell me about your inspirations in cinema.

Paula: Wow! Many! (laughs) Many, many, many, many! To me, the big references are always literary references. Maybe Javier is more inspired by filmmakers… sometimes I’m more inspired by authors of stage plays. When I try to write, the first thing that I look for is the latest good stage plays. I don’t know why. But this is how I work right now. At least in Spain, this is a very interesting generation of drama writers, young people are doing really interesting pieces. There are many filmmakers whom I find inspiring. I was explaining yesterday (during the post-screening Q&A session at EUFF) that I’m interested in finding works with a unique voice. What can that unique voice communicate, with a new cinematic language? That’s why I’m interested in commercial filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, and the more artsy people too, oh I don’t remember the name of the director I really love… the French one…

Javier: There’s also Wong Kar-wai.

Paula: Wong Kar-wai of course! I forgot to mention Wong Kar-wai yesterday.

Javier: He’s a big reference to us!

Paula: Yeah, he’s a big, big reference to us! And also Terrence Malick. He’s a direct reference for our movie La Novia. We look for the way he constructs his sequences and the way he conceives every shot. His spirit of contemplation, the spirit of the landscape—this is very close to our intention.

Javier: We have to separate what influenced us as viewers and as filmmakers. The films that we do with Paula as the director are quite close to the works of Terrence Malick, Wong Kar-wai, Krzysztof Kieślowski and sometimes Paul Thomas Anderson. But as viewers, we have more eclectic tastes—from Spielberg to Patrice Leconte, who is the French filmmaker you mentioned earlier.

Paula: Oh yes! Patrice Leconte! He’s not a very big director in France. There are bigger filmmakers. But Patrice Leconte and his films have been very special to me.

Ram: Tell me a little bit about what’s going on with Spanish cinema right now.

Paula: Right now in Spain we have very rich cinematography. In terms of story, Luis Buñuel, Carlos Saura and Víctor Erice are very important to us. We have very big names, but we also have a big problem. We used to have grants from the government—the Ministry of Culture would support movies. At the end of the 1990s and by the beginning of the 21st century, this became difficult due to the economic crisis. The system became a maze.

Right now there is almost no public money invested in cinema. Only the big entertainment groups are supporting cinema, and they support only commercial cinema, like romantic comedies and thrillers which imitate American films. There is nothing unique. Of course, you have Almodóvar and three to four other big names, who are very interesting filmmakers.

We’re moving towards a system where if you don’t make a very commercial movie, there’s no space for you. The only other option is to make short films and work in a non-professional environment.

To me this is very sad. It’s very difficult for many interesting filmmakers to make films, even the famous ones. Towards the end of his career, Luis García Berlanga couldn’t direct. There was a girl called Carla Simón. The screenplay for her debut short film Estiu 1993 [Summer 1993] was selected for Script Station at Berlinale Talents 2015. Her works won awards at international film festivals and received wonderful reviews. Right now she’s starting a new project and I was talking to her producer. She said to me, “It’s not going to be easy.”

“Oh come on! She won the Berlinale! What more do they need?”

We had very good results with La Novia, but we have been trying to finance our next movie for the past three years. It’s really difficult. In the end, we had to do a co-production with Portugal and France, because it can’t be funded in Spain alone.

We have good film schools, skilled people in creative and technical areas. We’re very good with technique, we have amazing DoPs, amazing sound and costume, everything! But it’s so difficult to try new or different projects.

Ram: Our friends Hendrik and Carla had a couple of questions for you after watching La Novia. The first one: The opening scene of La Novia reveals the outcome of the movie. What was the intention for revealing the bride’s final decision and the tragic consequences right at the beginning? Did you always plan it this way or was it decided in post-production?

Paula: We decided to do it during post-production. One reason was that we couldn’t shoot the opening that we wanted. We had no money. It was a very, very low budget movie. We had many problems. We wanted to do something static with a low budget. We couldn’t shoot what was in the script. This movie is a tragedy and the original text by Lorca has four acts; not three acts but four. The fourth one was the key to the tragedy. To have a fourth act for the contemporary audience is a bit tough. We are so used to seeing every story and all dramatic movement in just three acts. So we decided to take two little parts from that fourth act and open the film with one of them. I thought it was a very good idea to set up the tragic tone upfront, to inform the audience that it’s not going to be a drama, it’s going to be a tragedy. This is not a movie about what is going to happen. It’s a movie about how it happened.

Ram: I’m curious to know about the opening scene you initially had in mind.

Paula: It was more surrealistic. Lorca was highly influenced by Van Gogh. He was friends with Buñuel and Dali. He has their surrealist sensibility. We thought that was very important, but those surreal images were difficult to shoot.

Javier: It was connected to the beggar woman, like a premonition, connected to Shakespeare and the Reaper. Like how events are foretold in Macbeth. We shot a scene like that with the beggar woman. This is a tragedy, this is a story of fate; this was the tone.

Ram: The second question from Hendrik and Carla: Throughout the original play by Lorca, the walls are used as a symbol for the oppressive rural setting. The houses used for the set hardly had any wall left on them. Was there any intention behind this choice?

Paula: Yes, we were looking for locations that were right in the middle of the real and the unreal. It was not easy because we wanted natural locations, not sets. We looked for that kind of abstract and metaphorical spaces. The feel of ruin was important because of the premonition of the tragedy as well. Also I really like ruins as locations! The crew members laugh at me for this. When I’m looking for locations, I especially like something that’s a ruin. Every ruin, every broken down space is full of meaning. You can see what happened there before, what’s happening now. The past and the present is in the same space.

Ram: A haunting version of Leonard Cohen’s Take this Waltz is used in the climax of La Novia. This song has a poem by Lorca. Why did you choose to have this song at that specific moment?

Paula: I had a long discussion about it with the producers and with the critics (laughs). It’s a poem by Lorca but it’s not from the same period as Blood Wedding. That poem comes from a very different book called Poet in New York. It’s a collection of poems written in New York many years after the original play. It’s from a very different moment in his life and it has a very different intention. Everybody asked me why I was having that poem in the film, since it’s not the same. To me it was the same. It had the same spirit. It had a connection to Leonard Cohen’s poems and tone. In the final sequence—the death sequence—I didn’t want a fight, like a masculine fight, an action sequence. It was more like a death waltz, a dance with the three main characters. I thought it was important to do a waltz. That poem is a waltz about death too.

Ram: My next question is about your doctoral thesis: The Cinematographic Script: An Update of its Theoretical and Practical Bases. Could you tell us more about this thesis? How did it influence the films you made later on?

Paula: Wow! Nobody asked me this in Spain! (laughs) I really appreciate the question because I worked on the thesis for many years! I was studying different methods of writing. In the United States, people learn to write fiction and movie scripts in school. I did this thesis before the explosion of television shows, before Netflix. The situation is different today.

I learned two different ways of approaching the screenwriting process. One was a crafty process, that they use in the West Coast of North America. By crafty I mean they want to fix everything to the classical, canonical structure. You fix the different genders to produce something commercial. You have to have a hero. But there is another line of thought, especially in NYU. They think we should approach screenwriting as a dramatic process. This approach should be the same be it stage, internet, television, or cinema. It’s a dramatic process that comes from Greece. This is even more interesting.

When I studied this more holistic point of view, I learned how every story has its own path. You have to learn and be prepared with the entire dramatic knowledge. The process behind the thesis was very important to me because I read a lot of scripts. I studied the challenges, problems and contradictions of screenwriters. I didn’t know if I was going to finish the thesis, but I did. In the end, the curious thing is that, I realised I’m not good at writing scripts. Javier is much better than me.

Javier: Not really! (laughs) She told me everything that’s important about screenwriting. Find your voice. The most important thing is not the structure, not the three acts, it is to find your voice and the cracks to open up a story, to find ways to navigate these cracks. Screenwriting is not a rigid process. There are tiny places in the script where you can use your voice, explode the cracks, be more fluid. This is what she told me. We’re always looking for cracks in scripts.

Paula: Yes, where is your voice and where are the cracks? It’s not perfect but it’s where you are unique.

Ram: Since you mentioned going to the US to do your thesis, did you notice any fundamental difference in the way Americans and the Spanish approach filmmaking and screenwriting?

Paula: It’s very different! The US has a very strong film industry. We don’t have that in Spain. Right now with globalisation, I think this problem exists in every country—we learn from the same references. We imitate American movies because we want the same kind of success. That’s a mistake that Spanish cinema makes as well. We don’t have the same industry at a logistic and material level. We don’t have the same narrative base, the same convention, the same culture, the same way of telling our stories. Many people are making films in Spain, but in the end, the ones who gain recognition worldwide are the ones who are making something really Spanish, really unique, like Almodóvar. He’s very unique and he’s very Spanish. He captures the Spanish instinct, and makes a kind of Spanish melodrama like nobody else. I don’t know why we try to imitate Hollywood; it’s not working.

Javier: As Paula says, we are assimilating the US system. We don’t have the industry to back up that influence. In the best case, the difference arises when you take stories from our roots. Paula mentioned Almodóvar. Carlos Vermut is a young filmmaker who I think is carrying the torch of Almodovar. He’s more connected with Buñuel, our roots, and our culture’s past. We have several characteristics that are not American. We can go folkloric, sometimes dark, we can also go realistic. There are many paths that our narratives can take. We can easily understand these narratives because they’re natural for us. Instead of exploring these, we work with an American approach, which is really direct, there are no second layers. By imitating them we are losing a way of seeing our lives. Due to the Civil War, our art always had a hint of a second layer. You know that there’s something dark hiding beneath a character’s behaviour. There’s a richness to our tales that we must not lose.

Ram: Do you think there’s a fundamental difference between Hollywood and Spanish cinema visually?

Javier: The screenwriting is becoming more similar in these two countries. From a cinematographic point of view, our films are warmer and more colourful. We are not scared of a warm night or more torrid visuals. Films from North Europe and North America have a cold colour tone.

Paula: Also, in Almodóvar’s films, the sequences are not canonic. American movies have a certain rhythm. We have very different rhythms that are not canonical. French movies are not canonical either. I think that’s good. It could be good. It depends! (laughs)

Ram: A similar problem exists in India too, we try to imitate Hollywood and learn screenwriting from them. But there are some writing traditions unique to each country which we should not miss out on.

Paula: Yes, it’s the same in India. I have a friend who is a DoP in India. He said to us that sometimes the best part is the one that is not used. The atmosphere in India, full of sensations, it’s much better than trying to imitate Hollywood.

Ram: My next question is related to that. It’s very rare to see a novel being adapted into a film in my mother tongue Tamil. With La Novia, you’ve adapted a play into a film. Is this very common in Spain, the link between literature and cinema?

Paula: No, it’s not common. We faced a lot of criticism from critics before we made this movie. They criticised it even before watching it! (laughs) They said, “Why are you doing Lorca? Lorca is a big author!” It’s like he’s sacred. And I said, “Why not?” In England, everybody makes different versions of Shakespeare and it’s not a problem. It is not so in Spain. Now they’re starting to adapt modern novels, but it’s pretty rare.

Javier: Spanish filmmakers don’t approach modern classics from the past century, like Lorca’s works. They think the audience won’t like it. They are wrong, because whenever we do such things, the audience watches it. These adaptations are seen as exceptions since we don’t make them often. We have a rich history of plays from the sixteenth century until today. Nobody is approaching them because of excessive respect for them. We’re not allowed to remake Lorca, to make history in a bathroom. But we can make Lorca in a bathroom!

Paula: Everybody will criticise you saying why are you doing this.

Javier: We were told that we need four white walls to adapt Lorca’s play. They told us we can’t do it anyway we want, using big landscapes and ruins, because Lorca is four white walls. That’s a narrow way of thinking. Every literary work has to be adapted. The critics don’t want us to adapt, they want us to translate directly from the piece.

Paula: The 1980s was an interesting period—the transition to democracy, and the shift in culture. There was a spirit of freedom. There were people very interested in making movies, music, everything. They made more adaptations, and they did it freely. But from the 80s until now, there have been no adaptations. One of the most interesting adaptations was by a female filmmaker. She was the only one who did it in the 80s. It was an amazing adaptation of a seventeenth century play.

Ram: What is the danger of making certain writers like Lorca sacred?

Paula: We need to remove danger signals from our mind when we approach classics. Classics are classics because they are still meaningful in our present, they will probably be meaningful in one hundred years. We look at them and we find a new light, a new enlightenment, a new meaning. They remain useful. If we are afraid of touching, rewriting and playing with classics, then we are losing their treasures. Maybe you can do a bad Lorca, a bad Shakespeare, that’s possible. There are better and worse approaches. But it’s interesting to try.

Javier: The real problem is the mental block. It comes from the producers. They think that if they try to make something commercial with the classics, they’ll face problems with critics. The producers must overcome this mental block. It’s not a problem with the filmmakers. There are many filmmakers who want to make adaptations. There’s no way to find the money to do this.

Ram: I see. A related question. Is there any one book that you personally wish to make as a film? Or a book that you wish to see as a film.

Paula: I’d like to see an adaptation of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. A good version. I think it’s so difficult. Netflix is going to do it, I can’t imagine how. But I know his son is involved. Rodrigo García is a very good director. Let’s see what happens!

Ram: How about you Javier?

Javier: I never thought about this. Paula is the more literary one.

Paula: I think you’d love to see any short story or novel by Julio Cortázar as a movie.

Javier: Of course! I didn’t think about him. Also Jorge Luis Borges. I don’t know how you can translate his work to cinema.

Paula: I think with digital technology, adapting Borges’s works could be interesting. The OA is trying to be Borges but they can’t! (laughs)

Javier: Maybe I prefer Cortázar even more than Borges. Cortázar is one of my favourite authors, but I never even dream about adapting his work because it’s so difficult. I don’t think anyone is going to make money doing it.

Paula: There is a short story by Cortázar that many of us tried to adapt into a film. It’s called Casa Tomada. The title translates to House Taken Over. The story has a metaphor of dictatorship. It’s a beautiful thriller.

Javier: There’s a house that’s possessed by ghosts but you never see them. The house is shrinking, shrinking, shrinking.

Paula: If we adapt his story into a film, it will be so superficial. Everybody who loves cinema read this short story and said, “This is a movie!” But it’s not easy to adapt. It’s a story about a couple who live in a house. The house is pushing them out. They cannot open the doors. It symbolises how the Spanish and Argentinian dictatorships are pushing people out of the country. But as cinema it’s just a superficial horror movie.

Javier: This is a precise example of how a straightforward narrative will convert this story into a horror flick about a possession in a house. What we’re trying to do is to add a second layer to film. We have to learn how to do that without losing the essence. Julio Cortázar is my favourite author.

Paula: Yes, I think Latin American writers are much better than Spanish! (laughs)

Javier: (nodding) Yes, I think so too.

Paula: Yes! Latin America is big, there are many countries, many authors. Their use of the language is different and more beautiful than Spanish writers. If you know Spanish then reading them is such a pleasure. Not like in Spain. We are so rough! (laughs)

Javier: The Latin American writers are more liberated from the language.

Ram: Paula, I would like to know more about your teaching experience at film school. You’ve been teaching screenwriting for about fifteen years right?

Paula: Yes, I’m still teaching. My job is at the University of Barcelona. Now I have permission to make our next film. But this year I’m still teaching.

Ram: You must have seen many students learning to write screenplays. What’s a common mistake that beginners make?

Paula: When you start, you want to be Godard or Spielberg. You imitate, imitate and imitate. I think it’s a very logical learning process. It’s good to try to be Godard. But the most common mistake is not being yourself, not being honest with your own stories, your capacities and limits. It is hard for me to know what I can do well, what I can’t, and learning which is the most logical, coherent and honest way of writing a story.

Ram: You mentioned in an interview that you were about fourteen years old when you read Lorca for the first time. Over the years, has your response to his writing changed?

Paula: When I read his works as a teenager, I didn’t really understand what he was talking about. I didn’t know anything about life and conflicts, like the conflict between social rules and desire in La Novia. When I was fourteen I hadn’t experienced anything even remotely similar. As I grew up and gathered more life experiences, Lorca’s works gave me different meanings and interpretations upon rereading. Eventually, I got to know more about Lorca himself, and his death. He was killed at the end of the Civil War. The right wing army killed him because he was homosexual. When the Civil War came to an end, the ruling dictator was from that right wing army. So for forty years Lorca was forbidden in Spain. You couldn’t read Lorca in Spain. You could read his works in France, Mexico, United States, Argentina, other countries in South America, but not in Spain. To me and to many others from my generation, he became a symbol. We were the first generation that could read Lorca. That’s important. Both my parents, who are now retired, were literature teachers. For them Lorca was so important as a symbol of freedom in Spain.

I have a friend, a very modern illustrator who came out with a book on Lorca. The first page of the book says, “I’m still moved when I read his works. This book is for all those warriors in the world who are dying for freedom.” Lorca’s life story is a symbolic one in Spain. He was very famous before the Civil War. He was a brilliant man in many disciplines. He has given lectures, interviews to periodicals and magazines. When you read him today you’re still moved. I still reread Lorca and find new meanings. It’s very strange because after a movie about Lorca I should feel, “I’m fed up. I’m done with Lorca. I don’t want to read more Lorca!” But I don’t. I really like him! (laughs) I really like reading him. I come back to Lorca very often.

Ram: How about you Javier? Have you read Lorca?

Javier: My experience is pretty similar to Paula’s. Both my parents are journalists. Lorca is a really important figure to them. The journalists had to fight against the dictatorship so Lorca was a symbol for them too. He’s a big symbol for a lot of people in Spain.

Paula: Killing a poet was such a huge thing under the dictatorship. It was a very, very significant murder. Many people died and were killed but his death became a symbol.

Javier: Also we studied Lorca in school; it was mandatory for our generation. He has a special connection with adolescents too. We thought we made the movie for adults. The adult audience responded really well, but adolescents did too. That shouldn’t surprise us because Lorca had that connection.

Paula: We didn’t expect the teenage audience to react so well to our film.

Javier: The essence of his story’s sentiment is so pure and strong that it connects with people of any age. Lorca’s stories had a strong impact on me when I was fourteen. After graduation, I came back to Spain when I was thirty, and we finished making our first film. It was excruciating. I asked Paula, “If you don’t have any other choice, you can only make one more movie, which one would it be?” She always had Blood Wedding in her mind. At some point I have to do it, she said. She always thought that she has to become more mature, maybe get older, to make this film. But we decided to do it now because there was no other movie to do! (both laugh)

Paula: We always thought that it’s going to be the last movie we make!

Ram: Both of you love cinema. Are there any film festivals that both of you have gone to together? Any that you cherish?

Paula (looking at Javier): You love San Sebastian!

Javier: I’ve attended the San Sebastian Film Festival for several years. I’ve covered it as a journalist for five years. I really like it. We went to Cannes with the short films we made and we had a really good experience.

Paula: Yes, it was very special. We went to Can(nes) in a van! (laughs at having made the words rhyme)

Javier: We made a short film with puppets and went to Cannes.

Paula: No, it was not that. The previous one, the one with pictures.

Javier: Oh yes. Those two festivals are special because of the memories. But there are a lot of film festivals. Valladolid Film Festival gave Paula an award for Best First Film. That year was special.

Ram: One clichéd question, if you don’t mind. Throughout the world the film industry is dominated by men. Paula, how do you fight against prejudice and bias?

Paula: I’m still fighting! (laughs) I was telling a girl yesterday that when I started making movies, my main struggle was that the film industry is so masculine. You are working with male crews. I had several problems with some men who are… I don’t know how to say… machoism? Not everybody though. I come from a generation, thanks to my mother and her colleagues, I could study on equal terms in Spain. My first project was judged on the same terms as my male colleagues. In the beginning, the masculine crew was a problem. But when you continue, you look for your own crew. I’m still working with a male majority crew, but I don’t have any problems or complaints about them. You are a different generation of men and you don’t think like that. It’s the same problem with some journalists, it’s just the way they ask you questions. Maybe 60 or 65year old journalists in Spain are asking you something like (imitating a condescending voice), “Ummm you little girl what do you think about this?”

Javier: It’s more like 55! (laughs)

Paula: With the new generation of men, we’re lucky to work on equal terms right now. We communicate on equal terms. My main struggle nowadays is that I have a child. I can feel now that being a mum is not like being a dad in the film industry. Nor is it the same in any other industry. I see that the children of my male colleagues don’t stop them. But I have to think carefully when I’m going, when I’m starting a project, about how I’m going to manage all of it. I think this is common for every woman in every industry.

After I made La Novia, everybody said, “Okay, it’s a good movie. It has good reviews from critics and film festivals. The box office is good. So now what do you want to do? What can you show us? Your next project?” I can see that they expect me to present small, feminine and intimate projects. There has to be something feminine about my project. If I want to make a political thriller, they’re going to deny me. It happens to me everyday.

Right now we’re preparing a movie adaptation of Bluebeard, a classic French fairy tale. It’s a little bit more ambitious than La Novia.

Bluebeard, written by Charles Perrault, is about a man who had many wives. He seduces them and tells each one of them, “You’re my princess! Everything is for you! What do you need? What do you want? I shall give it to you. But I only ask one thing. If you value my love at all, you won’t open that door.”

When they open that door, they find his previous wives lying there, headless. It is a regional folktale. We are doing a modern version of that story. In our version, Bluebeard is a musical producer and a musical master, who is trying to record a female symphony and is looking for new voices. What interests me in this story is that it’s a symbolic for the story about domination of men over women. Domination in every aspect—power, love, sex, seduction, art, knowledge. How to keep women away from knowledge and power. We’re going to start pre-production soon. We hope to shoot it in autumn. We are still…

Javier: … finalising the finances.

Paula: We don’t have the complete financial plan. (laughs)

Ram: So this is the French-Portugal co-production that you mentioned earlier?

Paula: Yes!

Ram: Good luck with that!

Paula: Thank you!

Bluebeard is not a big movie, it’s not a big production. It’s on a small-medium scale. They are asking me all sorts of questions to fund this project. My colleagues with less experience and fewer good results in the film industry are not questioned like me. That’s the main problem. I’ve been talking with other female directors, who are much more prominent than me, like Isabel Coixet Castillo. She’s a Spanish filmmaker who has made more than fifteen movies. She has been shooting films in English and Spanish in the United States, Japan and England.

Javier: With very good box office results! So there are no economic problems with her films.

Paula: Her films open the Berlinale every time! She’s very well-known and respected. But she told me that when she meets executives in big entertainment groups, they say to her, “Are you going to be the commander of such a big project? Are you going to be able to do it?”

I said, “Come on! You have to be kidding me!”

The film industry is suspicious of women leading big productions.

Javier: I also work as a camera operator for other directors. I see the difference when money is involved. People support equality when it’s a low budget film. But if it’s a big budget film, there’s no room for equality.

Paula: They don’t trust female directors and I don’t know why. Although we’ve been able to demonstrate our abilities, there’s something in our culture that’s stopping us. Female filmmakers are preferred only to tell small stories.

Javier: The idea is that a big budget film is a war and only men can manage a war.

Paula: Yes, that’s true. That’s my main struggle nowadays.

Ram: I see. Good luck with that as well!

Paula (laughs): Thank you! Thank you!

Special thanks to Shirlene Noordin and Deepika Shetty for making this interview possible.

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