PANAMA CITY — A journey is a common metaphor for storytelling and Mexican director Lila Avilés thinks that the experiences she had gained from traveling to 43 festivals in six months with “The Chambermaid” constitute a key formative period, that will shape her future projects.
She sees herself as an “outsider” and self-taught when it comes to cinema and says that traveling with her pic has been a learning process and also a bit like meditation or yoga, an introspective journey, that is interspersed with unexpected encounters that have engendered personal revelations.
She has particularly valued the Q&A sessions, which have opened her eyes to other people and cultures and how they see her film.
“The power of festivals is the exchange of films and the chance to meet new people. Films and people,” she says. “With a film like mine, which is closed and open at the same time, the interpretations can be really diverse. When it’s your first film, what is beautiful is that you understand a bit more, that you can use in your next project.”
The pic’s screening at IFF Panama occurs at the end phase of this epic and intimate journey as she is prepping her second feature, which will involve a large element of autobiography.
She worked in theatre and dance before directing “The Chambermaid,” based on her stage play “La Camarera,” inspired in turn by the world of Sophie Calle’s celebrated 1980’s “Hotel.”
From an early age, Avilés loved arranging family photos to tell stories – her first act of montage – and migrated organically into filmmaking.
At the roughcut stage, her pic won a prize at Los Cabos, attracting co-producers Bad Boy Billy Production and LA Panda, then swept Ventana Sur, as a work-in-progress, and soon after struck a deal with Paris-based sales agent, Alpha Violet, with whom Avilés established an instinctive rapport.
Prior to the pic’s world premiere at Toronto, she went to a Temazcal sanctuary in Mexico, a tradition inherited from indigenous tribes, in which participants move through a steam bath process that develops across four stages, known as doors, directed by spirit guardians.
The sensorial cleansing process is a kind of a return to the womb, involving various moments of silence and joy, which Avilés said has some parallels with her own journey with her film.
For Avilés, that joy and silence are two key facets of her personality, which she links to the complex fabric of Mexico, including the more exuberant spirit of the coastal zones and the more contemplative side of Mexico City, partly influenced by its high altitude, at 7,350 feet above sea level.
She says her “moment of silence” was at the world premiere in Toronto. Although the pic had garnered kudos and press coverage during its rough-cut stage, she was nervous to see the audience reaction, and was relieved to have passed through this “door” of her journey.
The pic travelled to San Sebastian’s prestigious New Directors showcase, sparking reviews announcing her as a talent to track. It then won Best Film at Morelia.
In December she travelled with her lead actress to the Marrakech Intl. Film Festival, and says that Morocco felt like a second home, because she found so many things in common with Mexico – “food is everywhere.”
In terms of her journey with her film she said that being in Marrakech, regardless of whether or not she had won a prize, was a true moment of joy.
Panamanian audiences reacted warmly to her quiet portrayal of a humble woman working in a hotel which Avilés describes as a “high-class prison.”
At one level, the pic mirrors the constrained lives of so many people working in Latin America. But she hopes that it also operates at a more transcendental level as a metaphor for imprisonment of the spirit.
For her next project, she wants to draw inspiration from her recent journey and find a way to channel moments of introspection with other moment of playfulness and joy.
“It may sound silly, but I love being alive. I love the spirit of play, of being like a child, that I get from working in the theatre, and I love inward moments, where we can find refuge. I hope to bring these ideas to my next project.”