Interview with Elena Trapé

Kristina Zorita
Kristina Zorita

Inteview with elena Trapé on the eve of the Spanish release of her multi-awarded film The Distances

Barcelona born Elena Trapé triumphed in the latest edition of Málaga Festival of Spanish Films with her second feature Distances—crowned Best Film Award, Best Director Award and Best Actress Award for Alexandra Jiménez. The film follows a group of long-time friends who travel to Berlin to pay a surprise visit to one of them, who is turning 35. The party turns sour. EWA had the chance to talk with Elena Trapé, who is also a teacher at the prestigious ESCAC Film School, Trapé is an eager quotas advocate, or “punctual measure to reverse an unjust situation,” she says. By  Kristina Zorita

How did you feel scooping three Biznaga Awards in Málaga?

“The project took us so long that we didn’t even have time to think about it. We were not able to foresee how it would be welcomed, let alone find an audience. But all the reviews during the festival were very good and winning these prizes touched me greatly, and undoubtedly enhanced the visibility of a very small film.

The characters are all in their mid-thirties. Is this a generational film?

We never intended to make a generational portrait—that would be too ambitious.  I just wanted to talk about the disappointment lying amongst this group of friends. The context is generational because of the Spanish economic crisis which damaged the bunch deeply. They were about to take a leap in their professional career, to find economic stability and build projects, all concepts linked to a wealth status. Only to realise abruptly that this would not happen, and probably never would.

As the film’s characters, you were 35 years old when you started writing the film. How much of your biography is planted in those characters?

I would never call this autobiographic. I did have friends who lost their jobs and had excessive mortgages. But in my case, it is more a process of self-identification with the film’s lived emotions. I felt deeply disappointed in one particular moment of my life and I started to build the script from that feeling. I love to talk about how time passes by so swiftly. Growing up comes with a melancholy, a feeling of loss. And at the moment those friends are, even doing what they like to do, there is a crucial dealing with expectations and reality.

At the beginning it seems there is one leading character but little by little the other four take their place. Why? And why did you place the camera so close to them?

It is a film of an ensemble cast. The character of Comas, the one turning 35 years-old, triggers the action, summing the thesis of the film, its core but in the end everybody has its own story and conclusions that come with it. We wanted to build solid group with different roles.

As for the camera, I wanted to be inside the action, stuck to the characters' gaze. The film is best understood through the moments they are quiet and listening to one another, rather than through their talking.

Why in Berlin and not in another European city?

There are many reasons. First of all, we got a scholarship to write the script in Berlin. I have been travelling to the city several times and I have witnessed it changing. I love Berlin. Moreover, the city seemed to be perfect for Comas’ way of life, the limbo he is in. At least until two or three years ago, you could have a reasonable rent with a long term contract. It used to be an affordable city. Besides that, when you first arrive in winter, it is dark, a city that seems to hide. That characteristic of Berlin was perfect for some characters’ ability to loose themselves.

How has Isabel Coixet become one of the producers?

Isabel has been a great supporter. I met her while I was making a documentary about her work. I had always admired her. She gave us a kind of symbolic support but it was the last push we needed.

You belong to a new successful generation of Catalan female filmmakers. Do you think that this generation has popped up by chance or by the result of a specific initiative? 

We have appeared by chance but I think it is also linked to our schools. The Catalan  ESCAC School and the university Pompeu Fabra have their own production companies. And for those companies, gender is not a factor when choosing a project.  So the fact that those schools are platforms is decisive. I am a teacher at the ESCAC and I see that female students are not entering the working force in the same proportion as male students. There is an underrepresentation. It is not just in cinema, it is a structural problem.

Should there be quotas for female filmmakers in public financing?

Yes. They are very necessary right now. Quotas should have a punctual function of reversing an unfair situation. It is important to give visibility and it is important to put on the table the unequal treatment (stadistically and financially speaking) between both sexes. It is outrageous. Between two good projects, let’s help the person who is going to have a harder path. Between two good projects, let’s help the one whose path will face barrels on its way. There should be punctual measures to turn the tables.