Spanish Director Eva Saiz Talks ‘House of Beasts,’ Generational Pressure, Re-writing, Childhood

Eva Saiz and Raquel Pedreira
Eva Saiz and producer Raquel Pedreira / © ECAM – Santi G. Barros

As the demand for Spanish content and young talent booms, with a plethora of new opportunities come new uncertainties.

Part of ECAM’s Screen industry platform, its Incubator for independent producers is rapidly consolidating as one of the key new development labs in Spain. Eva Saiz’s ‘House of Beasts’ is one of the selected works for this year’s edition. It stands out as a promising piece of delicate storytelling. Thoughtful and candid, Saiz moved from screenwriting to direction with her first short, “Mujer sin hijo,’’ which won a Malaga Festival Audience Award in 2019. Her work brims with caring and patient observation.

Produced by Almaina Producciones, “House of Beasts” follows Pablo, 8,  who experiences Madrid and the world of adults alongside his imaginary friend, Lucas. Decoding the unassailable from the point of view of a child, his imagination and innocence, the two will have a summer to remember as Pablo inexorably exits childhood. His coming of age, however, underscores innocence as not a lack of conscience but of unnecessary pain.

Variety talked with Saiz as her project advances at the ECAM Screen Incubator.

Spain’s experiencing a boom in creators who are bringing new projects to the table as industry development capacity escalates. What’s your experience as a filmmaker in a market that is rapidly changing?

I sometimes feel very lost. We all share an urgency to be deeply personal in everything we do while at the same time – and this is my very personal opinion – I often feel like I’m forming in a system which prefers to frame me as a woman, as a female individual inside the system. This I find potentially dangerous. It can lead to a filmmaking that becomes ever more pamphleteering and less and less personal. A film that feels very activist in the message that it is trying to send but that transits a common ground where in the end the film belongs to nobody.

I’ve been recurrently asked why I’m not making a film about girls, instead of kids, and I’m not simply because it would read differently. And the fact that question keeps on popping out makes me think we are a generation of filmmakers with a lot of pressure to position ourselves and to constantly make statements of intentions.

And yet never has so much content been produced. Doesn’t that allow space for so many new ways to address the topics at hand… 

I feel we’re a generation aching to take part and leave a testimony of what we’re historically living, which is a beautiful thing that film can be of service to. But it is also clear that someone has seen a chance for profit, a selling point, and we are becoming less and less critical with the content we consume. Things get branded without going through  “quality control” – both of their quality and what they say, and how they says it. A film, regardless of its topic, has to speak for itself, and I feel we are losing our critical judgment when it comes to topics we feel close to. It scares me because it often feels like a system is finding new ways to stay the same and change little.

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Eva Saiz shooting her new short film “Magical Thinking” Credit: Marco Barada

Now that the value of the screenplay and the integral role of screenwriters is better understood, thewy can have an easier transition to directing. What was your experience, however? 

It was very organic. I studied screenwriting at the ECAM and never saw myself directing. But many who read my scripts thought I would end up doing so. Now when I read them I see they are very directed and highly conditioned in their visuals. So by the end of film school I threw myself into the world of short films – also because I had finished very young and didn’t have that pressure some of my colleagues had of getting a job. While doing so I had an adaptation of a tale I liked but never found the right director to do it. So when a couple of friends formed a production company suddenly the idea came of me doing it. Now that I direct, I understand it from a point of view of constant re-writing, on set, with the actors, and during the editing: On being open for things to appear. I think that capacity to keep changing the text is what really sparked my curiosity.

Portraying childhood comes always with a variety of questions, of narration, point of view, and of a generational  gap. How would you like to approach childhood in a “new” Spain? 

I don’t have any kids around me, in my daily life. I’m the youngest of my family and my cousins are long from having kids. So when it comes to childhood I drink mostly from my own memories of a society which feels far more extreme in certain aspects. There are some places I’d like to transit but I’m not quite sure how to approach them – social networks, the internet and its complex universe. Luckily those are spaces that are still a bit far from the kids of the story, who are eight or ten years old. But beyond that age everything has radically changed. The internet has blown everything apart and it feels more and more radical. We live in a profoundly violent and sexualized society which is yet filled with taboos. While shooting my short film it was clear to me that children really want to become older and gain access to a world they don’t understand and no one is explaining to them. That fascinates me: the territory of childhood where one repeats messages from an adult world in which the adults are also deeply lost.