"The key for change is solidarity and collaboration among women"
Italian director Elisa Mishto presented her first feature film, Stay Still, at this year’s Filmfest Munich. The German and Italian coproduction tells the story of Julie who has decided to “stay still”, not to participate in society and its rules. After burning the car of a random hookup she ends up in a mental hospital where she meets nurse Agnes. Facing similar struggles, while coping with them in very different ways, the two women develop a special friendship.
EWA blogger Sophie Charlotte Rieger met Elisa Mishto two days before her movie’s premiere at Filmfest Munich to talk about her film and how it came into being.
How did you become a filmmaker and how come that as an Italian director you made a German movie?
I was born in Italy, went to University there and afterwards moved to Germany. I have been living in Germany for about 20 years now, but in between I spent two years in London to study film. I always had a passion for movies. I would spend whole weekends watching films with my father. I didn’t realize it then, but I already had an instinctive understanding of the movie’s structure.
What do you mean by that?
The narrative. I instinctively understood that movies have a structure, which they develop in a similar way and which makes you expect certain things to happen, like you expect something critical to happen about 60 minutes into the film.
Can you tell us something about your protagonist? She is quite a weird character.
For me, this movie is the beginning of a character that I would love to develop further. And there are autobiographical parts in it, like this feeling to be blocked, not to be able to live up to your full potential, and to stand in your own light. It’s a movie about two women who have a lot of potential. But society’s expectations and their own fears keep them from living up to it.
Why did you choose the setting of the mental hospital?
For my first film, a documentary, I was shooting in a mental hospital for a whole year. That was the first time that I witnessed this kind of standstill, the inability to do anything. And I realized that some patients are just not able to be a part of society, because they do not share its rules. That was interesting, it was almost political: To draw back from society, not to be part of it. Also, if you’re at the margins of society, you can see it in a different way. That’s why I wanted my story to take place in a mental hospital.
Talking about society and its rules, are you engaged in the movement of female filmmakers for equality in the business?
Yes, I have been part of a group of female filmmakers for a few years already. I always felt like in my profession things were more difficult for me as a woman and I was angry about that. In the beginning I thought, I am the only one experiencing that, but then I realized: There are a lot of women out there sharing this experience.
What do you think has to chance for things to get better?
I think things are already changing. And the key for this change is solidarity and collaboration among women. At festivals and in the business in general you can sense this desire for collaboration and mutual support.
Your movie was produced without the participation of a public television network. This is very rare in Germany. How did that happen?
We spent one year and a half looking for a network to co-produce. This process takes forever. You reach out to them, you send your script, but it takes them six months to get back to you. It was a long and frustrating process until we realized: It’s not working, we have to apply for funding without a commissioning editor. Interestingly it was the Italian production company that was the first to get funding, from Mibact, which was a big breakthrough for us. And then in Germany we were rejected by every single fund we applied to and had to do it again. But in the end we got them all. Actually I’m very proud we didn't give up.
A lot of filmmakers in Germany complain about the influence the co-producing networks have on the film. So maybe it was a good thing that you didn’t have one.
I think it might have been good for me that I didn’t have too many opinions from outside. Apart from the production company there was no external influence. In the editing room, I was alone with the editor. I don’t like compromises. I think consistency is key to good directing.
Do you have a distributor for Germany?
Yes, Farbfilm. You need that to get funding in Germany. The movie will be released in spring of 2020.
So there is still some time left. Is the movie going to travel to other festivals?
Yes, that was the idea. It’s not the kind of film that will draw the masses into the cinema right away. So we have decided not to release it right after Munich and try to draw attention to it with a good festival run first.
What about Italy? Do you have distribution there?
We’re still working on that. After all, we have an Italian co-producer and one of the actors, Giuseppe Battiston, is a very good and successful Italian actor. I’m positive that we’ll get distribution in Italy.