Paula Ortiz, the Art of making small miracles

Sarah Hurtes
Sarah Hurtes

Paula Ortiz is growing as one of Spain's leading film directors, screenwriters and producers, known for :
- De Tu Ventana A La Mía (2011)
- El Rostro de Ido (2003)
- Fotos de Familia (2005).

De Tu Ventana A La Mía, her first feature film, was nominated for a Goya Award 2011 for Best New Director and won the 2011 Prize in the Seminici Valladolid.

Currently finalizing with editing her much anticipated next feature film La Novia, an adaptation of a play by Federico García Lorca, Paula also recently made her fashion film debut with Spanish lingerie brand Women's Secret, directing the international star Elsa Pataky.

However Paula does not stop at being one of this year's most exciting directors, she is also a researcher and professor in university, having been in the academic world since more than 15 years.

Paula tells EWA all about the many contradictions of the film-making world with passion and liberation.

You recently directed Women's Secret's fashion film Dark Seduction. What was that like?

Directing this commercial movie has been such an enriching experience in so many ways. I had never done a fashion film before – a format that combines marketing, advertising but also film-narrative skills. The fashion film format is a rather new advertising medium increasingly popular amongst fashion brands to present their limited editions. In Dark Seduction, the story creates an exciting world that blurs the line between what is real and unreal. I loved how because it was a lingerie shoot it brought up themes related to female sensuality and sexuality. Usually sexiness in films is directed towards men and therefore often portrays women as these erotic flawless objects. The actress in the short film is Spanish actress and model Elsa Pataky who is an international sensation and plays in the Fast and Furious movies. We both discussed in length how we wanted the video to be fresh, fun and unique. It was important to portray a woman who is comfortable in her own skin and shows her sense of playfulness and sexuality. That's very important because usually we never show this in films. It's not that easy to find female sexuality on screen from a women's perspective.

As a filmmaker, what do you do?

I tell stories. That's for me the best way to resume my every day activities, my jobs consist of telling stories to those that surround me both directly and indirectly. I really believe that films have these immensely powerful abilities to submerge an audience into these emotional trips. This then enables anyone to live unique psychological experiences and fantastic moments – raising our awareness on many of the world's issues. It is vital to create stories which somehow question the world we live in, searching for a new identity both as individuals and as a society. Movies are one of the most complex and representative medium to do so. I really believe in the power of making films to raise consciousness on varying topics.

What particular feelings would you like the audience to feel when they watch your movies?

As a spectator I like to feel all kinds of different feelings. I like horror, drama, comedy, science fiction – therefore I'd like my audience to feel differently according to each film scene. Most importantly, each emotion should be felt intensely and in multifaceted ways. I don't want my films to lead to one interpretation; I want to leave certain flexibility to the mind, for everyone in the room to feel these powerful emotions in their own ways. That's key. It's also magical because a lot of the times the emotions you live through movies are impossible to experience in your daily life – at home or at work. A small miracle is produced when watching a new movie! What I particularly enjoy is to portray female experiences especially in love, pain or death – how women break and rebuild themselves.

What do you mean by women who break?

For example in my first feature film De Tu Ventana A La Mia (Chrysalis), it's about the interwoven emotions and struggles of three women of different generations aiming to build the lives they desire - taking into hands their own future. All of them lose the love of their lives and they will have to pursue their happiness and fight for their dignity in a rather hostile Spain taking place in the early 40s and mid 70s. Not only do these women feel broken because of very intimate struggles but also due to society's patriarchal norms as a result of a series of social and historical events. Women were subject to extremely restrictive rules during that time in Spain. In the movie I am currently working on La Novia (The Bride), it's more abstract. It portrays patriarchal norms in rural Spain during a very wide 20th century thereby creating a timeless abstract universe– captured in very symbolic as well as poetic scenes and characters.

La Novia is your next coming movie which will be released around October 2015. How did this project come to mind?

La Novia is a very special movie as it is an interpretation of Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding), by Federico Garcia Lorca, the amazing Spanish poet, playwright, and theatre director. It tells the story of a love triangle between two men and a woman. Two lovers carried away by their passion defying all moral and social rules, even challenging their own judgment. The same day of her wedding, the bride escapes with her lover which will have devastating consequences. This is a well known scenario but it is one which most of us never tire of. It questions women's roles which was that of marrying and giving birth resulting in them to ‘break' and having to find ways to escape their reality and rebuild themselves. It also deals with universal themes of love, pain and death. I've read so many times Bodas De Sangre since I was 14, and it's such an amazing experience to be able to adapt it into a film. I want it to be delicate and powerful. Every word, every image will grow on you and transport you.

 Is Spain still generally marked by a sexist society?

Absolutely. We've made much progress over the last 30-40 years – women and men have voiced their frustrations towards the various inequities that exist. However this is all still rather recent and much work in that area remains. The dictatorship in Spain only ended in 1975 after Franco's 36 years of reign which means that before women did not have legal permission to have a job, own a house, or even travel abroad without the permission of her husband or her father. Naturally things have really evolved in the last 30 years. I feel I could choose my studies, go to the universities I hoped for, and do my own projects having equal opportunities to my male partners. Yet you feel the sexism in the deep culture, in the small details.

 Can you give an example?

It's no surprise that the cinema industry is generally dominated by men. As I said, I didn't feel this when I studied or trained but as soon as I began to work in the market it suddenly hit me. There's definitely not a very equal playing field. And the market is very wild and very cruel towards women – especially with those who want to establish themselves as leading directors, editors, executive producers or other professions instead of serving as assistants. It's clear that the industry doesn't trust women. It's very funny how many believe that women are not able to manage a huge project when in fact all the information that we have tells us how women write, produce and direct projects that are very successful with extremely tight budgets. So what I would like to say to all the producers out there is: can you imagine what I could do with a big budget!

 How does it feel to have a rising international career as a filmmaker?

I think it's very important to collaborate with other countries. On one hand it's a great step for your career but it's also because it's very hard to produce in Spain due to the heavily felt economic crisis. It pushes you to collaborate with other countries, which in any case is always great for obvious creative and social reasons. Regardless, I always think step by step. I am definitely happy with how things are going and I would like to keep portraying honest and interesting characters with all their contradictions. I want a sense of passion and liberation to transpire through my films – go into fantastic worlds with a complex universe both in ethical and aesthetic terms.

 By collaborating with countries that have money – which I imagine in the movie-making world is largely the US – doesn't it scare you that you might give into the more Hollywood type of movies?

Yes of course I think many of us have this internal conflict at some point during our career. Though Hollywood is still not at my door and I truly think step by step – which story I can tell and relate to the most right now and produce with the resources I have. Hollywood is full of contradictions yet has huge capacities – it's a personal conflict of mine as for so many others. Many filmmakers have this existential problem!

 You seem very down to earth. Is this also due to the fact that you teach?

I've always taught. I did my studies in Spanish Language Literature and then undertook my PhD in History of Arts finishing in Narrative Theory with Scriptwriting. I then followed on with teaching and have been in a university environment for more than 15 years! It is there that I grow the most as a story teller – more so then in the film industry. I love teaching everyday as every day I have this amazing opportunity to learn from my students. They ground me to the various new realities that exist in the movement of filmmaking, bring to me new sensibilities and dynamics – leading me to be updated with so many things. I feel I am collaborating with new filmmakers, which creates in me new ways of thinking. The reason I enjoy it so much is because I believe in the power of education. That doesn't take away the fact that I love making movies and will continue to do so. Simply, I feel I am a better filmmaker because I teach, and a better teacher because I make movies. I wouldn't like to leave academia!