Latin America Teems With Femme Filmmakers in Oscar Race

With a record 27 women behind the 92 foreign-language film submissions, Variety posed the same questions to a selection of directors about their experiences. What was your biggest obstacle in making the film? What was the key to your breakthrough? What is your creative goal? Who are your filmmaking heroes? What would you like the world to know about being a woman film director and the message you want to send? Here are their stories.

LUCRECIA MARTEL
Zama” (Argentina)
“To work with such a multi-lingual, multi-cultural cast with varied levels of experience, we had to watch our manners, be very careful not to offend anyone. But in paying such close attention to our manners, to our way of speaking, we also revealed some fears.”

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The key to breaking through was to surround herself with a “strong crew of committed, daring and creative team players; people who love what they do but not to a point that it overshadows everything else.” The goal is to find a project that interests her enough to devote several years of her life and still remain happy. While she has multiple filmmaking heroes, she mentions one in particular who she recently met in New York: Agnes Varda, the 89-year old Belgian-born film director whose work was pivotal to the development of the French New Wave film movement.

Being a female director doesn’t pose the greatest obstacle to her career. “For a country with an economic instability that impacts so many industries, Argentina manages to continue producing cinema, and curiously, being a woman does not seem to be the greatest impediment; there are many female directors in our country.”

Her key to breaking through was to find her lead Macarena Arias after seeing more than 600 aspiring actresses. She had a hypnotizing quality, a blend between maturity and spontaneity. I discovered the small, wordless gestures that wove the silence of the film; she felt everything that her character felt: the rejection, the insecurity, the fears, but she was queen of the set: she laughed, she had fun and enjoyed it all.

“I have three movies that live with me every day. I feel that everything I learned with ‘Alba’ will impact them, but they are not yet filmed, just written.

“For me, to live and make films in Quito, Ecuador, has been particularly special: it is a small, silent place, where there are few artistic stimuli, scant film history, few independent screens, few funds and a lot of young talent with many things to say. At school I didn’t watch a lot of movies, nor did I learn much about staging, but I had freedom and silence. And that silence led me to listen to my own instincts.

“Here in Ecuador we have many female directors, but like everywhere, it’s a great challenge to be a woman and to be exacting, to have big dreams.”

Her filmmaking heroes include Lynne Ramsay, Lucrecia Martel and Won Kar-Wai.

GUETTY FELIN
“Ayiti Mon Amour” (Haiti)
Haiti-born Guetty Felin has lived in Haiti, the U.S. and France. “My sensibility, vision and cinematic language have been highly influenced and shaped by my life experience in all three countries,” she says. Her neo-realist tale “Ayiti Mon Amour,” Haiti’s first submission to the Oscars’ foreign-language film category, is also the first narrative feature shot entirely in the impoverished Caribbean country by a Haitian woman director.

Felin’s biggest challenge in making the film was technical as she sought the optimum hours of the day to shoot in natural light. “We just had to harness the sun as much as possible, using reflectors, mirrors and diffusers,” she says.

She doesn’t feel she has found the key to breaking through yet. “I am just keeping busy crafting work that I can be proud of that hopefully will stand the test of time,” she says, pointing to her family’s tradition of oral storytelling and her early love of cinema, which led her to write poetry, songs and an ode to Gary Cooper, her first Hollywood crush.

“My goal is to create films as independently as I possibly can. This does not mean frugally, but to have the right kind of partners that trust my vision, and like the world that I am trying to bring to the screen and will do anything to see it come to fruition,” she said. Her film heroes are “those creators who pushed the envelope and imposed their views of the way they artistically and humanely saw the world,” she said, noting sage advice from executive producer Mira Nair, who said to her: “Cut your cloth and make something out of nothing.” And Agnes Varda, the Belgian artist whose work inspired the French New Wave film movement, who said to her: “it’s vital and necessary to keep making films about your part of the world because news is so ephemeral and cinema is permanent.”

Ultimately, she’d like to help nurture budding women filmmakers.

“We need to make our presence the norm so we are no longer talking about ‘female’ filmmakers but filmmakers.”

TATIANA HUEZO
“Tempest” (Mexico)
“I knew that this story was going to plunge me into a painful and dark land; I also knew that I would have to travel to dangerous places and that it would be risky. It was very important to reflect on the paralysis that generates fear and choose not to give it too much space.

“It was important not to lose sight of the origin of the project, my link to this story and the reason why I decided to tell it. Surrounding yourself with a crew that believes in the project and that walks with you is also key.

“My goal is to continue making movies, tell the stories that excite me, that make me learn new things and continue growing as a person and as a filmmaker. The images that [Victor Kossakovsky, her filmmaking hero] builds in his films are always such revelations. He’s a director-photographer who looks past appearances and that makes his images charged with emotion.

“I believe that cinema has the enormous power to bring us closer to each other, to make us walk and feel the life of someone else; and for this reason, it has the enormous power to involve us. I am interested in raising questions, that’s what I consider my life’s work in a country like Mexico.”

ARIANNE MARIE BENEDETTI
Beyond Brotherhood” (Panama)
“Since Panama is a small country and we’ve worked in the advertising industry for years, we knew all the decision-makers. [Still] I had to mortgage my house and took out so many credit cards I stopped counting, and my producer did so, too. This is definitely a credit card movie and we will pay it for it the rest of our life with joy.

“I might have to find myself a directing gig here in the States to raise some money for [her second film ‘Wake up Mom’], so if someone is looking for a passionate woman Latino director, let me know. At the end, my goal is to open doors to future filmmakers in my country, so they have it easier and to touch people’s lives with my stories and maybe make them happier human beings.

“Every director who followed his/her dream and shared a little of himself/herself with the world is a hero to me. Women may be weaker in [physical] strength, but we are stronger in our souls and minds. The world should know that there are many women directors and we plan on succeeding.”

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