Interview with Vanesa Fernández

Kristina Zorita
Kristina Zorita

Zinebi, the International Festival of Documentary and Short Film of Bilbao (North of Spain) celebrated its 60th edition from 9th to 16th November.  For the first time in 60 years, the oldest festival of its kind in Europe, has a female director. Researcher and academic Vanesa Fernandez has worked for many years as a festival programmer before stepping up the ladder. A staunch  feminist, Fernandez talked to EWA about the festivals’ duty scheduling more films directed by women and the difficulties for female filmmakers to direct their second features.

As the new director, where will you take the festival ?

In general, we will keep scheduling independent films of all genres and formats. One of our assets has been to  bet on newcomers. We will keep doing it. Talking about newcomers and all kinds of formats, women filmmakers have always had a place in the festival. For instance, in this edition of Zinebi, we are going to put a focus on Iranian women newcomers. And all the juries of this edition are women working in the cinema.

Aside from the programme, what presence do women have  in Zinebi?

For me it’s important to have women in the selection committee, and not t only in the departments usually run by women as the films traffic and guests’ coordination. You are a window to the world, foreigners are coming and the female presence should be important. Being a feminist nowadays is not an option. You can choose to be a vegetarian or to take yoga lessons but feminism is not an option. And even less when you have an institutional position. I have a double duty: as the head of an international festival and as a citizen, mother and sister.

You are the first woman director of Zinebi in 60 years. Was it time for things to change?

I guess so. There was a public selection with female and male applicants.  Besides that, if you look at the international festivals’ panorama, in 2017-2018 there has been a change of paradigm. Cecilia Barrionuevo was chosen as  head of the Festival of Mar de Plata in Argentina, Eva Sangiorgi started leading Viennale (Austria), Andréa Picard has been named the new artistic director of Cinéma du Réel after having produced one of the best sections of Toronto, and so on. Suddenly, many female festival programmers came out of the shadows to take power positions in festivals.

Most of them are directors of documentary film festivals. It seems to repeat the pattern of documentary as a feminised area, does it not ?

Yes, I usually talk about this with women filmmakers visiting the festival. Given the difficulties they have to get into commercial cinema, to get bigger budgets, women are more comfortable in the documentary field or making different kinds of cinema. For instance, there are a lot of women making experimental cinema. At the cinema craftwork, women have  found a more comfortable place with fewer obstacles.

Which obstacles for example?

For three years now, in Zinebi, we have had a new section called First Films. When we talk with those first directors, the women filmmakers always tell us the same story: you might have the chance to do a festival route with your first film, even to get commercial distribution, but to make a second film is really complicated. Moreover, the second film production could coincide with a vital moment in a woman’s life. The balance of family and work is worse for women and especially in such an unstable profession.

Zinebi also has a short competition. How easy is it for female filmmakers to take the leap from short to longer films?

It’s also hard. Long feature demands bigger budgets and producers, usually men, prefer men to women for producing a first feature. Thankfully, in Spain, a bunch of female producers have started working. It is complicated for them too. But they also have a duty. They should back first features made by women. Female producers are an important link in the cinema chain.

Should festivals help give women filmmakers more visibility ?

Yes, we should. But I do not believe in quotas for women directors. I think that the process is already evolving naturally. In 5 years time, everything will have changed. There will be more films directed by women even in Cannes and Venice.  More women in the selection process of bigger festivals will make it possible. In any case, aside from quotas and who is directing the film, for me, it’s also vital to change the narration of the films. We are fed up of being raped, beaten or being the lovers of the male main character. We should also be the main characters. Be protagonists also on the screen.