‘I think you cannot fight against the people that you should work together with. The fights between the movements are just feeding the system and make it stronger. If we are fighting each other all the time, then the system is laughing at us.’ Mariel Maciá, an award-winning film and theatre producer talks about women’s and feminist film production, LGBTI topics, and film festivals, for International Women’s Day.
Interview by Rebekka Eisner. Photo: Mariel (right) on set of short-film A Domicilio / At Home (2009)
Mariel has been involved in organising various film festivals such as the LesGaiCineMad Festival in Madrid, where she worked as Artistic Director. She is also Executive Director at MICA (the Iberoamerican Network for Women in Film and Media). Originally from Argentina, Mariel currently lives in Germany where she is working as a programmer with the International Women’s Film Festival (IFFF) which will take place in April in Cologne.
I started by asking Mariel if she could see any trends in the topics addressed by women producing films, who presented their work at the festival in recent years.
I have just started working here now but I am working in film festivals for a long time, and I know this festival for years, so I know the films that they show. And I don’t think there is any topic or anything that has been the main focus. I actually think that sometimes it is a stereotype of women in film to suppose that women have to have other types of themes or do special things. That actually is not true, it is just another point of view on the same themes. Or not even another point of view, it is just a film. The actual problem is that women don’t have the possibility to be in the front row of projects, so it is really complicated because there are only 7% of films that are directed by women in the world. These are really bad numbers because we are talking 93% of movies that are only directed by men. In these 7%, or 10% depending on the country, you can find any topic, any genre, action films or also comedies. There is not a special topic because being a woman is not a topic just for itself.
And the film-making?
One thing that can be interesting in films of women is that women characters have more relevance, that the women are more intelligent. There is a funny test which is called the Alison Bechdel Test. A lot of people in the industry started to use it. It says if you can find a movie where there are two women talking to each other with no men there, and the conversation they have is not about a man, but it is about something else that is happening to them, then this movie passed the test. It is really funny because a lot of movies don’t have that, they don’t even have two women talking about something other than a man.
With these types of things we can see that it is not the theme that is different but the point of view, about prostitution, about hitting women or other violence. It is not that there is no violence in the films by women but the violence is not always against women, and of course there is not that sympathetic view on the violent man, for example. In a lot of films there is kind of an excuse for the man to be violent. In women’s films there is usually not this view, there is another responsibility for violence, for rape or the way that rape is shown. These types of things could change when a woman directs the film but not the theme itself.
You have been working in Madrid and with MICA as well. The film festival in Madrid is a specific Lesbian, Gay, Bi & Trans Festival. In the work that you have done there and the work you are doing now for the IFFF, is there a difference in the approach, in the audience, the participants?
For the audience there is of course a difference because it is not the same to program something for German people or for Spanish people. For example, maybe in Spain you program more comedy or more sex than here where you might show other things. The audience is different and also the other difference is that in Madrid the whole festival is queer. I was doing half of the program because I was in charge of the Lesbian and Latin American films and the other Artistic Director was in charge of most of the Gay and Transsexual issues. I was programming 50 films, around that number, and here I only have six programs, so maybe around 15 films, with short films and everything. This is one of the differences, the amount of films. But I think this is just normal because this film festival screens the same amount of films like the LesGaiCineMad in total but here we have another focus.
Another thing is, that maybe in Lesbian Cinema we have more different things because the sections were about themes, for example. You can have documentaries about transsexual issues, you can have experimental themes, you can have different types of contents for different audiences because everything was about LGBT. So there we had that possibility to have sexual documentaries, experimental projects, etc. But here, since there are six programs, we just have to focus more and also the competition for the filmmakers is stronger because if you get 200 films in the selection and in the LesGaiCineMad Festival you can screen 100, then it is a 50% chance that your film is going to be screened. Here in the IFFF there are only 15 films that get screened so chances are only 20% or less.
And from the approach side, did feminist filmmakers also engage in the festival in Madrid and try to combine women related issues, for example right to abortion, reproductive rights, violence against women, with LGBTI issues?
Yes, of course. As I told you before, there are more possibilities to explore different themes. And Madrid also has a really big community of feminists and queers. So there are a lot of connections and collaborations with NGOs and other people. Actually, the Madrid film festival was organised by a NGO and there are lots of connections, so we talk a lot about HIV/AIDS and we make campaigns together. The film festival also lasted 10 days and so we had a variety of venues, free universities, we had panel discussions and so on.
I think there is such a connection every time – of course I don’t know all the film festivals but I have been to many of them and I think all the time they are connected. If you are talking about women or talking about freedom or sexuality, the other themes just come with it. You cannot talk about sex and sex all day, you are talking about a lot of things that are part of identity, of being free and respect for the others. And so if you want to be deep and more profound in the experience you have to know about more things.
There are also a lot of people from academies, from universities and from other academic institutions who are interested in the film festivals, so there is always a collaboration with them and that enriches the audience because then it is not only about showing the film and then go home. You show the film, then there are debates about it and people get together. In Madrid, my experience is that most of the people go there as a social, political experience, not only to watch the films. The experience to watch the films with people and then talk about it, it is a big thing.
In Madrid there are people traveling from all over Spain just to visit the festival because there you can find a lot of different themes. And if there is no such connection, when I have the possibility to program something, I connect it because I think it is important. I am not so much into labels, I mean I don’t know if I am a feminist or queer or LGBTI. I try to be open and to respect and to learn a lot of new things every time. So, I think everything is connected and this is why I try to put it in my programs, as well.
That is really cool because my experience is that a lot of times, either within the LGBT community or within the feminist scene, there is a sensitivity for the ‘other’ issues but often there is not really the connection. So, it is great to hear that you are always engaging in making the connections and enforcing the linkage.
The thing is that I always fight with people who don’t do that because I think you cannot fight against the people that you should work together with. The fights between the movements are just feeding the system and make it stronger. If we are fighting each other all the time, then the system is laughing at us because they are still doing whatever they do and they don’t care.
It is something that we talk about a lot in the discussions. I organise a lot of things all the time – like talks, debates, these type of things – and when I always see the same people in the audience or people who always just agree with me I wonder why it is like this. Especially when we do something with women’s organisations and there are only women there, when we want to talk about women’s issues, such as women’s leadership in cinema or equality, then I think: OK, there are only women here who are already into the issues, they know everything we are going to talk about, maybe there are little things we can discuss and have a friendly hour but we actually need to be in other places, so people can know what is happening.
How do you do that?
One of the things that we did was to make statistics of the films that are directed by women. We took them to film institutes and we talked to the film organisations and governments, presenting the statistics. For example at the Berlinale or the San Sebastian Film Festival etc., we try to go to the events where all the people are and talk to the people who actually don’t want to hear us. It is good that we can have this community, that we can talk together and make us stronger by supporting each other but at the same time I think we need to go and talk to the people who don’t want to hear us. And then tell them things that they are hearing for the first time. I think it is important to be out there and it is also very important that when we are together we discuss in a constructive way. I don’t see any benefit in separating, if you are queer, if you are trans, if we are going to fight for marriage or not, or whatever, if the people separate themselves from each other, it is bad.
Another question I have is about issues concerning intersexuality or intersex people. From my little experience in that field, intersex groups often feel left out when it comes to actions by the LGBT community but also the feminist movement. Many intersex groups have a different focus in their work, for example fighting against genital mutilation of intersex children, but there is that critique of being left out or just being attached at the end, like the LGBT’I’.
In my case, I can say the same thing. I try to include every film that we can get, dealing with different topics and try to have variety in the program. There are two problems. I will give you an example for the first one. While I was looking for films for the program for this year, I contacted a director, a trans director, and I gave out the invitation to send a film to us. And so he wrote me and he said: ‘Well, but you are a women’s film festival. I don’t want to be in your festival because I don’t identify as a woman, so I don’t think I can, I don’t fit into the program.’ And then I explained to him that actually this is the queer section of the festival. Of course, the festival has the focus on women because women are under-represented, there is a really big problem in the industry that women cannot be directors. But if the festival does have a queer part then the important thing is the experience of being queer, to understand what it means to be queer and to know what is happening to queer people. So I talked to him, he understood my point and he actually sent me the film. I also told him that in the children’s program there are sometimes films directed by men but because of the topic the people in charge decided to program it, because the theme of the film is about women which they want to address with the children. In that case it is because of the topic. We have to be open and understand that not all can be separated.
The other issue that I want to address is a more profound problem and it is not specifically about the film festival. It is more about the filmmakers because a film festival cannot screen a film that does not exist. If there are no films about intersex people, or also about a lot of other things, the festival cannot screen it. The problem is not the festival, it is a much more complicated thing. It is about who is making the films, who has the possibility to do it.
Sometimes there are films about intersex people, and then I think every film festival is eager to show it because they are really open to program things, even if the quality of the film is not like a Oscar-nominated film, because queer programmers understand that the people who make these films don’t have the means and the money or the support of the government to provide money to make big budget films. So, for us it is not about budget but sometimes there are no films. For example, this year there are only few lesbians fiction films, so it is not only intersex or other groups that are left behind. There are really few films in the world this year and I can tell you this because I was looking for them for six months. I went to the Berlinale, watching Sundance Programs, wrote them, all the main film festivals in the world and there are only really few films about lesbians. At the Berlinale there was not one film about lesbian issues in the whole program.
Do you have any idea why this is?
Maybe there are many reasons, I don’t know. The thing is that the cinema is in crisis because of piracy and these types of things. So there is less money and all the industry is suffering, but the first ones that you can see suffer are the groups that have less money. Being a woman and lesbian are two levels of discrimination at the same time, so I think this is one of the reasons that the ‘weakest’ in a crisis are the first to fall. It is not that we can stop thinking about intersex films, of course, but the problem is really much broader than that. It is really difficult to make a program for a festival if there are no films.
This festival and many others are into working not only with institutions, but also with the production, trying to get people together – scriptwriters to be in collaboration with directors, directors with camera people, etc., so they can create groups and can make films. The problem for film festivals is that if there are no films you cannot screen them. To answer your question, we really want to have different films and we want to have films from different countries talking about different issues because we don’t want the same films to be screened all the time.
We have experienced an uprising of reactionary movements, such as the religious right, right-wing nationalism, etc. in recent years who are fighting for traditional family values, for the traditional role of women in society, who fight against abortion, who are anti-LGBTI. There is an obvious link between the issues that they are fighting for or against.
Has that also been a topic for the feminist film productions or women’s film productions, has it been discussed or used in movies?
Yes, there are a lot of groups that are really involved in societal issues. I have one example which is really cool. It is something that happened in Spain in the last few months. In Spain there is a lot going on about abortion right now because they want to go backwards with the abortion laws. When it was coming out in the news that the government wants to change the laws, there was this group of people who organised something called the Liberty Train. There were women coming from all over Spain to Madrid to make a big parade to show they are against this new law. And there is the Women in Film Association in Spain for which I was working before as well. That group of women, 60 filmmakers, made a collective documentary about the Liberty Train.
These 60 filmmakers were all in different places, one was in London, the other one in Paris, another one in Madrid and other places in Spain. In Madrid there was the parade and, I think it was 12 groups with 60 filmmakers, they shot this documentary. Within these groups there were producers such as Isabel Coixet, Icíar Bollaín, all the well-known directors in Spain who are really famous and have had success in cinema for ages, all of them were working for free to make the documentary. They had a lot of images and now there are to women editors – who are also really famous because they edit really important movies in Spain – and they are working for free. This documentary will be released in two to three months, I think. It is the involvement of all the filmmakers that the Women in Film Organisation can do this documentary about the abortion law.
What were the motivations behind it?
The argument is that they [the government] start there, but they are going to take everything from us and we were fighting for it so long that we have to come together. And so everybody was there together, people who have different aesthetics, different type of films, different ideas about films or filmmaking. Some of them do documentaries, some of them do fiction, love stories, comedies, but there we all were together. That’s what I was talking about being together, that this is the most important thing. At this Berlinale, I was there and I gave a presentation and one thing I said there, and I will repeat it here, is that I think all the organisations work for different things. Some are working for queer issues, others are working for abortion, others do work about prostitution, there is Femen who decided to go naked, then there are other ones who decide to have leadership programs to promote women’s enterprise. Everybody has a different approach. But there is always something in the base, a common ground where we can be together. And that is what we have to find to actually achieve something.
When I was in Spain and the [same-sex] marriage law passed – it was one of the first countries – and that was something we couldn’t believe. I mean, here in Spain? But now I live in Germany and work here. I started to remember what was happening, every group, every LGBT, everyone was working together saying that marriage should be legal, even if I don’t want to marry and others are not going to marry, or they want to fuck with different people every night… it doesn’t matter because if the others have that, why are we not going to have it? And if I don’t want to marry I don’t get married but the thing is if there are people who want to marry each other and they cannot do it, then everyone works together. There wasn’t any group saying no to marriage.
But then you go to other countries that are supposed to be more evolved in some things, i.e. in queer theory, in university studies or research, and then, when you talk about marriage, you find within the LGBT community groups that will say: ‘No, we don’t want marriage. We want to be free and there should be polyamory or what ever.’ Or they say: ‘We don’t want it because then we are going to be in the system.’ So instead of being a million people asking for marriage, there is only half that, and the other half is also against it. If the people are against it because of religion, or because of politics etc., they have added against their own battle – the ones that are inside the community. There are then more people who don’t want marriage. The situation is that if we find a common ground then we can achieve things. And then, of course, you can marry or not and do whatever you want.
We can achieve equality for everybody together and then also argue together against marriage as an institution.
Or just do the opposite. Like: ‘OK, if we cannot marry, then straight people cannot not get married, either.’ Then we are also all equal. But if you are just a thousand people who say ‘I want…’ then you are not going to achieve it. I come from Argentina and there was a time when every day you have two or three parades or people speaking up. If you had three lesbians, you had four women’s organisations, formed by these three people. Everything was so dispersed that nothing really stayed and nothing could become strong.
Coming together to see where the same structures are causing problems, discrimination and so on, and fight together against these structures. Having different focuses and areas of work, of course, but still it is the same base that needs to be changed, the same structures that need to be changed.
And also be open about, for example, women’s film festivals, because there are a lot of people, I think, who have big prejudices. These prejudices maybe come from the 80′s or 60′s when there were other types of feminists and other types of festivals. And people think that we are feminists who still take out their bra and go into the street to burn it. That is something that in some places is necessary, but there is also a new wave of feminism – there are other people who talk about things in another way.
And the festivals are changing all the time, as well. You cannot keep on thinking: ‘Oh no, this is a women’s thing’. You don’t know if you don’t go there who is programming it, who are the people there. Over the years, the people change and things are changing, so I think people should be open to see what is there and actually realize that there are a lot of things to see and there are people who know how to program. For my section I have 200 films and I watch all of them and then we decide in the community which films we are going to program and why.
We also organise panel discussions, we’re going to have one about queer feminist porn and sex positivity, and we are bringing in people from Berlin and from Sweden to talk about it. Then we have a workshop that is about feelings and politics – how politics can make you feel uncomfortable with yourself. The workshops are free and there will be films about these topics, also about transgender and youth. What I want to say is that there are a lot of things to see and there are not enough opportunities to watch those. I think people should just pay attention to what is around them because in most countries there are women’s film festivals that also have queer films, not only in special sections but also in the programs. And the films are new, there are from this year. You can see what is happening now.
Some final words?
The most important thing is that cinema is a way of looking at society and of representing it. I think it is really important that the people who are telling the story – who are the directors, producers and the scriptwriters – can be women or LGBT or queer people – that they should be diverse. If we have a diversity of these people then we are going to have diverse films and then the film festival can program these films. It is not only about the film festival, it is about a lot of things that happen before and it is a societal thing.
If you are interested in Mariel Maciá’s productions and awards and want to know more about her life and work you can visit her homepage.
Click for more information about
IFFF – International Women’s Film Festival Dortmund/Cologne
MICA – Iberoamerican Network for Women in Film and Media
LesGaiCineMad – Festival International de Cine Lesbico Gai y Transexual de Madrid
CIMA – Women in Film association Spain