"To not create right now is like dying"

Filmmaker Paula Ortiz has ventured into the movie business with a very personal vision

Lola Huete Machado
Roberto Álamo and Maribel Verdú in 'De tu ventana a la mía'.
Roberto Álamo and Maribel Verdú in 'De tu ventana a la mía'.

Small, attractive and talkative, filmmaker Paula Ortiz seems ambitious. As soon as she opens her mouth, stories connected to her childhood memories flood out, and she has a theoretical way of speaking, revealing her other profession as a teacher.

Her Goya Award-nominated debut feature, De tu ventana a la mía , was released several months ago. The film -- which brings together three women, three landscapes and three periods of the 20th century (the 1920s, 1940s and 1970s) -- has been a pure labor of love for her, but also a torturous initiation process, during which she was forced to abandon a lot of her ideas. "The work tells the story we wanted to tell - it doesn't betray the original idea." But it's obvious that she's holding back a little. "I'm fine," she says. "I am like the character of Violeta [in the film] once she has grown up and started out on the decisive stage of her life," she says with a chuckle.

Question. Why go and see your film and not the latest Batman , for example?

Answer. [Laughs] I think you have to see both. The greater the number of imaginary worlds and stories, the better. [...] Why our film? Well, it's trying to be an emotional journey, a tapestry of female experiences, of individual universes outside the canon of commercial cinema. Worlds of ours that aren't often told. [...]

The greater the number of imaginary worlds and stories, the better"

It tries to be three stories of three personal reconstructions. One facing death [starring Maribel Verdú]; another facing illness [starring Luisa Gavasa]; and that of Violeta [Leticia Dolera] is the biggest step, one of conscience. She decides and she acts. The others are carried along by circumstances. But she isn't, she chooses. She is the most important.

Q. How do you solve the problems of today's Spain in crisis? How do you feel about it?

A. To stop creating right now is like dying. This is a terrible moment. But you have to take the vital decision not to stop. I am still writing. I am working on two scripts, one of which is immediately doable - I could shoot it tomorrow morning with a camera and a few actors, if i could convince them. [Laughs] Buried [directed by Rodrigo Cortés] was exactly that: one space, one guy... You have to think, what do I have now to tell what I want to tell? You don't have to stop telling stories, even less so now. [...] When things break, others are created, and everything gets cleaned up. If the rules don't work, you have to change them. That's where we are right now.

Q. When did you decide to start taking filmmaking seriously?

A. They gave me a grant for my thesis. It was about theories of North American screenwriting and I requested a transfer to the United States. That not only changed my way of thinking, but also my attitude. You don't study anything there that you couldn't learn here, but it is the approach that is different. I had a wonderful teacher, a screenwriter. He said to me, "You can't do a thesis like this if you don't write [a script] yourself." I like that practical approach. They take the work as it comes. "You are conscious of what you want to do because you do it..." It cured me of my insecurities, that way of thinking like, "Ah, I don't know anybody, I'm not in the loop..."

Q. And are people in the business collaborators?

If the rules don't work, you have to change them"

A. Many are, yes. But film is very strange as an art form; there are such long processes, with so much pressure and so much change, so much financial, technical and human investment. Many things happen both inside and outside. And apart from that, it is an artistic fact: there are a lot of egos. I have found the most help where I least expected, from people who make very different films, and they ask you, "What's the matter?" "I am stuck." And they say to you, "Do you want us to get involved..?"

Q. Who, for example?

A. Leticia Dolera, and directors such as Paco Plaza, Miguel Ángel Lamata... They sat down to help me, getting involved in my story and way of doing things. And there were people who were supposed to better share your style of auteur cinema, who... oh my... I learnt a lot.

Q. Are you one of those people who obsesses over a story, or are you more balanced, able to switch off?

A. No, I'm not at all balanced; what I am working on stays with me 24 hours a day. I never turn off my computer, nor my telephone - even less so now they are always with you. It's wonderful, but also a life sentence.

Q. How did you choose your actors?

A. Carlos Álvarez and Luisa Gavasa were there from the beginning - they are my teachers. Maribel Verdú came on board first. I sent her the script. A teacher in the United States told me that one way of starting was to pass the script to an actor. And the telephone conversation with her was surreal: that I'm a nobody, and I can't guarantee that this will come off... She was very conscious of what I was asking. She has been the driving force behind the film. Leticia came on board later. For her character, Violeta, we did an audition. For me, she was a discovery as an actress and a person. She has so many nuances, and is so subtle. She was a character who scared me - it was very easy to make her prudish or a Lolita type, but it might have failed if she was too young or pretty. And Leticia has that hypnotic something...

Q. There is a group of wonderful female directors, such as Icíar Bollaín. Do you feel part of that?

A. Icíar and I have met, in Shanghai. I know they are supportive in corporate terms - it is a question of balance. This is a very male-dominated industry. Women don't get big adventure films, like those of [Alejandro] Amenábar or [J. A.] Bayona... Icíar is the exception. I would love to do something like that. And yes, that fraternity does exist. I don't know it because I live outside of it, which is both an advantage and disadvantage. I love living in Zaragoza. I give classes there, I continue to write and I am productive, but you are disconnected. Icíar seems to act according to her beliefs. She's very normal; a person with whom you can speak on equal terms about your situation, projects and fears without her prejudging you.

Q. Why do you always speak about yourself in the plural?

A. Because the film is not mine. If just one piece was missing, it would not be what it is. Cinema is a collective art. The director holds the compass, but everyone adds pieces to the puzzle... If one of the actresses in the film were missing, it wouldn't be like it is; if the art director had been different, the greenhouse [in the film] would not exist; if a friend of mine had not shown me that corner of the Pyrenees, it wouldn't be like that... It is an act of integration, and the more it is, the more your film and you yourself are going to get from it.

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