Interview with Arantxa Echevarría

Kristina Zorita
Kristina Zorita

Arantxa Echevarría's “Carmen & Lola” released in Spanish theaters in September after its participation in Cannes

Arantxa Echeverría (Bilbao, 1968) is the first Spanish female filmmaker with a feature film in competition at the Directors’ Fortnight (Cannes Film Festival). Her film, Carmen & Lola, tells the romantic relationship between two gipsy girls who fight for their love. Coproduced by Pilar Sánchez Díaz who is also the film’s cinematographer, the cast is mainly made of non-professional actors. EWA blogger Kristina Zorita speaks with both Echeverría  and Sánchez Díaz ahead of the Spanish release of the film on September 7th


What was so appealing in making Carmen & Lola your feature film debut?

Arantxa Echeverría – I was drawn by the challenge—being told I would never be able to materialise such a project. The film is about first love between two girls stemming from an ethnic minority. I was dipped in a world  so alien to me that I could not wait to embrace this kind of catharsis. Roma teenagers are unknown to us as a category, but homosexual female teenage love is even more unknown. This means the story’s protagonists neither have a voice nor a face. I wanted to give them visibility and to make them a reference for those who feel different in their culture.

Pilar Sánchez Díaz – I have always thought we could make a great film. It is a very necessary story, a song of freedom. I have to confess that it was tricky to deal with factors beyond our control (such as working with non-professional actors, clash of cultures, dealing with a low budget…). We’d been on the verge of breakdown almost till the end of filming?

I would say that the two main characters are an example of a triple discrimination …

A.E. – Absolutely.  They are women, gipsies and lesbians. Those are difficult steps to climb toward normalisation. As a woman myself I know what it’s like to go through many difficulties, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to have these three conditions at once.

Being a non-gipsy woman, how did you approach to the roma culture?

A.E. – With much respect and avoiding common clichés about the roma community. I surrounded myself with gipsies that believed in the project and they introduced me into their community gradually. As soon as their community understood that I wanted to focus on telling a love story they opened to us. It was months of working together, of knowing each other until forming a family of 200 people at the shooting.

And yet the film has suffered boycotting call from the roma community?

A.E. – In the social networks, we have found some foes—conservative gipsies who believe homosexuality is an aberration. They called me evil. But in those networks too, many young gipsy men and women praised the film, arguing it’s about time breaking taboos.

How did you face the photography work? The film is rich in details, close up shots of hands and earrings.

P. S. D. – When developing the story we usually take visual references, because an image is more powerful than a thousand words.  We thought that references of films with a naturalistic light, as Mustang and Dheepan with a camera so close to the characters, could be merged  to create the atmosphere in Carmen & Lola. We wanted the light to be so natural that the viewer had the feeling to live each situation with the characters and have their stomach or heart punched.

How do you combine working as a producer and as a cinematographer?

P.S.D. – Arantxa and I have been working together for a long time. And I have mostly combined both tasks. It has been a big challenge, even exhausting—but very rewarding. As a producer you are in the project from starting-point, you have to nurture it, take the bad seeds and ensure its growth until the film gets to the theatres.
Being immersed in the project since the beginning allows me to have an insider look that enhances my DoP job. I can envisage it since the scriptwriter is still working and that specific involvement gives me a sense of ownership of the project.

You have a long career as a filmmaker but this is your feature film debut. Why such a long time?

A.E.  – I guess being a woman hasn’t been much help. The producers, those who decide which films are made, are 90 % men. It is a business with a lot of money involved. The average budget of a film in Spain is about two million euros. When a producer is faced with five male directors and one female director, he likely goes for familiarity, for one of the men. The cinema is just a mere reflection of our society. Just 3 % of all CEOs are women, we are earning less than men, etc. I wish things could change. For that change, we need more uplifting culture and better education. Our society has to realise how obsolete current gender relations are.

You are working on your next project. Is it also a portrait of a marginalised society?

A.E. – My will is to display the various portraits of women in our society. Carmen & Lola is a song of freedom and love. As a woman, it is difficult for me to talk about feelings and gazes that are not mine. Additionally, we live in a society which has lost its values and money rules. I am interested in taking a look at what’s behind the curtains, arousing feelings that are lost. As a creator, I am in the urge of throwing light on things that do not work.

After its premiere in Cannes, Carmen & Lola has been screened in festivals in Badajoz (Spain), Hamburg, Bogota…  At the 25th European Film Festival Palić, Echevarría was awarded a mention as best director. Carmen & Lola has been pre-selected for the EFA awards, sold in the Netherlands and it will arrive at the French commercial cinemas in November.