Bollain advocates a committed, label-free cinema

The filmmaker gave a masterclass for students from the University of Valladolid

Iciar Bollain

10/24/2018.- The filmmaker Iciar Bollain has given a masterclass this Wednesday 24th October in the Mergelina Room at the University of Valladolid, in an event that was part of the 63rd edition of the Valladolid International Film Festival. The director confessed that curiosity had always been the feeling that drove her when making her movies; she wanted to understand why something happened so she could tell the audience. However, she does not like it when people label her films as social cinema, since she believes that statement merely over-simplifies her work. What she has learnt throughout her ample career is that making movies is difficult, which is why ‘it’s better if your creation is relevant, not just anything.’ She used those words to begin her lecture, which had been organised by the 4th Congreso de Jóvenes Hispanistas this Wednesday. She explained ‘everything in movies contains messages, even mass media or even Disney.’ She added ‘I try to be familiar with a topic and propose an idea. It is not only merely denouncing an issue.’

Bollain’s cinema brings forward difficult and uncomfortable topics such as male chauvinism, immigration, being far from your roots or the economic crisis, among others. In 2003, for instance, when hardly anyone talked about gender-related violence in Spain, the director premiered Te doy mis ojos (Take My Eyes), a tough story about a couple portrayed by Luis Tosar and Laia Marull in a moving interpretation. ‘I wondered why nobody talked about the abusers, since they are the problem. It was an issue that worried me, and we were a little fearful when we made that film because there is a fine line between understanding and justifying (male violence towards women). We didn’t know if it was going to work because that meant humanising the main character. We also wanted it to finish stating clearly that there is a way out for the woman, since there are many women in Spain that are in this situation’ she admitted.

The director uses films mainly to tell stories, and in the case of En Tierra Extraña (In a Foreign Land, 2014), the director’s only documentary, her purpose was indeed to voice her criticism and social protest. Bollain represented some of the thousands of Spanish young people who live in Edinburgh due to lack of opportunities for work in Spain. ‘At the time, the Partido Popular (right wing party) government called it “external mobility”… So in this movie there was an intention to analyse, to find out what was causing the crisis and to let people know right away; that is the reason why I made a documentary. It was much harder than fiction, incidentally, but it was a beautiful process,’ she said during her talk.

In Valladolid, Bollain also mentioned she always looks for emotion with her characters because ‘there is little sense in fibbing your way around it.’ ‘It’s definitely a challenge for the actors, but it also makes it more interesting, since the film depends on them,’ she pointed out as she told her audience one should never lose sight of the topic and what you are trying to communicate, because then you’ll know ‘what to ask of the characters.’

Special affection for the Seminci

On Tuesday, she received the Spike of Honour of the Seminci to reward her career; she remembers this was the festival that opened its arms to her first film Hola ¿Estás sola? (Hi, Are You Alone?) in 1995. It was truly a challenge since it had never been screened before and she didn’t know whether the spectators were going to like it, although luckily ‘it was well received’ despite the toughness of the audiences in Valladolid, she reminisced amidst some laughter. ‘To my surprise, the people made some comments and readings that I wasn’t expecting; apparently it was a success,’ she added.

During this masterclass the filmmaker highlighted the importance other directors have had in her life, for example Ken Loach, Felipe Vega, Jose Luis Borau or Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón. ‘I had the opportunity of visiting their shootings and there I learnt a great deal. Ken Loach, for instance, vaporises basic rules, his work ethic is awesome. In his films there could be twelve people talking at the same time, and that does not happen often. He made you realise all the possibilities and you became aware that you could do something different,’ she said to an attentive audience.

The director, who has made nine films, also delved into one of the questions asked most often by the press: what is the importance of the role women have in movies nowadays. It has always been a topic she was happy to tackle, but ‘in the past, it seemed to bore journalists’ she criticised. ‘I believe that, in the film industry, as in all powerful entities, there should be equality, and that is what the Asociación de mujeres cineastas y de medios audiovisuales – CIMA (Association for women filmmakers and in audiovisual media) is working towards, a group to which I belong,’ she explained.

In her latest film, Yuli, which will be screened in this 63rd edition of the Seminci, she tells the story of Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta. The filmmaker assured it was ‘a beautiful challenge, because not only did we have to convey the importance of the characters and the story, but we also had to relate the importance of the dancing’. ‘Was it palatable to make fiction through dance? Well, apparently yes, and it was pleasant,’ she concluded.

Posted in 63rd Seminci.