Pilar Palomero: “For me filmmaking is about communication, about exploring emotions and reflecting on humanity.”
Born in Zaragoza (Spain), Pilar started in 2013 an MFA in filmmaking at Film Factory (Sarajevo) under the leadership of Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr. Before, she worked for several years as a screenwriter and film teacher. Her short films have been screened at festivals such as Warsaw International Film Festival, Sarajevo Film Festival, Doc Lisboa, St. Louis International Film Festival, Festival de Cine de Huesca, Festival de Málaga, or Busan International Short Film Festival, among others. She is a Berlinale Talents 2017 and Sarajevo Talents 2016 alumni.
In 2016 she was one of the eight residents of Pustnik Screenwriters Residency, where she developed her debut feature film LAS NIÑAS, which competed at the Generation Kplus Berlinale 2020. Being a part of Putnik team myself, I had the chance to get in contact with Pilar and discussed about her roots, her beliefs, and her debut feature films LAS NIÑAS (Schoolgirls).
Pilar, what is your most favourite film and when was the first time you’ve seen it?
I really can’t choose a film, but I can tell you what directors I love, who had an impact on me. One of them is Luis Buñuel – he was from Aragon, as me. I was 14 years old when I watched Belle Du Jour on national TV; this was the very first film of Buñuell that I saw and I was shocked. I also love Fellini and Bergman. I like the old and classical directors, and choosing contemporary ones that defined me is hard.
When have you discovered your love for filmmaking?
When I was little I used to write short stories and novels, I wanted to become a writer; I wasn’t aware I could be a filmmaker – we didn’t have any film classes in school, like today. I have no idea at which moment I realized that the moving images could give me more chances to express what I wanted rather than just words – I started studying filmmaking when I was 24. I studied literature before, so I think it was something I discovered step by step.
Has literature helped you in any way?
Studying literature was a great opportunity, it created the space for me to read a lot, and some of the books I discovered back then had a great impact on me, on the way I understand and feel cinema. For me, filmmaking is about communication, about exploring emotions and reflecting about humanity.
In Las niñas, your first feature film, you tell a story that it seems you experienced in many ways.
Las Ninas is half autobiographical and half fiction – the action takes place in 1992, and the context of the story is very similar to what I grew up like. The story of Celia (the main character) is the fictionalized part, even though it’s based on reality. I wanted to make a film about education in 90’s Spain – not the education you receive in school or from your family, but of all the other things around us that shapes us: friends, what we read, what we watch on TV, everything contributes to our personality.
The year the story takes place in is not randomly picked – it’s a specific moment in Spain’s recent history, the year of the Olympic Games in Barcelona and of Seville Expo. Spain was finally feeling like a modern state, but some people’s mentalities were still very traditional, and I think the education of many people of my age was based on this contrast – modernity versus tradition. For me, the film is more about the environment of those times, and also about a little girl opening her eyes to the real world, for the first time.
Four years ago you came to Romania, at the 2016’s edition of Pustnik Screenwriters Residency. In what stage were you with the script and how did it change since then?
In a very early stage of development – the ideas I wanted to express were the same, but the plot turned quite different. Back then, Celia was one of the three sisters and each of them represented education at a different age. I remember at Pustnik was the first time I pitched the story in front of Romanian producers and my fellow colleagues. I was aware the story is deeply rooted in Spain’s history and some things are lost in translation, so it was really important to me to see if the story can reach a universal audience.
Has the experience at Pustnik improved your story?
It was a dream. Suddenly you have one week to write your story and you don’t have to worry about anything else – you have amazing food, you’re in an amazing environment, and it gives you a lot of energy to be within a group of people who are all working on their scripts. It was a good moment to reflect and write, which is difficult to find in your daily life. And like I said, pitching my ideas was also great, it was the first time I was talking about my story to an audience.
A film with children in main roles is not an easy task, still you did a very good job for your debut. Can you tell me more about the casting process? About your personal experience.
It was amazing, it was a part I really enjoyed. I worked with a casting director with whom I watched all the girls in Zaragoza – I really wanted the girls to be from my hometown, we have a specific accent and also because of this romantic idea: I really love my city and I wanted to portray it in the film. We saw almost 1000 girls and I was amazed by the reaction of the people of Zaragoza – they were happy to help, spread the word and be part of the casting. It was also difficult; I saw a lot of girls and I liked many of them but I had to decide in the end. What I did is that even though I wanted to find girls very close to my characters, I was open to changing the characters in my script depending on the personality of the girls I liked.
So you kept writing even through the casting process.
Yes, even during the shootings. For example, Celia didn’t know the script and her reactions weren’t always the ones I imagined. It was really fun to work with all the girls. It was a great experience and I can’t wait to work with them again (laughs).
Have they easily understood the times and subject of the film? They are part of a very different generation than yours.
It was an interesting process. The girls never read the script, so during rehearsals it was more about playing and having fun; they also had history classes about 1992 Spain – we were showing them different programmes from that time, like Las Mamachicos, in which ladies were half naked and dancing on TV, and the girls didn’t notice such a big difference between how the female body was exposed back then and now. Even though nowadays the situation has changed because we talk about it and we are aware of it.
You had a great premiere at Berlinale 2020, where you gathered some very good reviews. Unfortunately, everything went downward for the film festival industry, right after Berlinale. How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the festival circuit for Las Ninas?
It had a huge impact for us. After Berlinale, we had some other festivals to attend, most of them got cancelled or moved online – which made it impossible to participate. After Berlinale, Malaga Film Festival was next – which is one of the biggest festivals in Spain, and we had to have our Spanish premiere there, but it was cancelled three days before. We were shocked but we also understood it was a moment to wait and to be patient. Now we know Malaga FF will happen in august and we just hope everything will be fine. I know the film is in the best hands when it comes to distribution and our plan is still to premiere in Spain on September 4th. Now, looking back, I think we were very lucky to have the chance to premiere in Berlinale.
What about you: how has it affected you and your future projects?
I knew I was about to travel for a while, and then everything suddenly stopped. I realised this is the best moment to start developing my next idea, which I did and we are now close to our first draft of the script. And honestly, I don’t think I could have found the time to write, not even a logline, if I was running around between festivals, so for me this time has been all about writing, reading and watching films. It was a very productive time.
Nowadays there are quite a few female directors and a lot of you are really talented, but this wasn’t the case 10-15 years ago. How does it feel to work in a field dominated by male directors? Have you ever felt the lack of representation?
Yes. For me, a particular thing explains the situation very clearly – when I was in film school, where I studied film, we were more women than men. When I graduated and started to work, I realized there were mostly men, so what has happened in between? I can see things changing now – there are many more female directors in Spain but we are still far from an even percentage.
What kind of director do you think you are?
I don’t know what kind of director I am, but I can tell you what kind of director I want to be: honest and brave.
Is there a bigger dream you wish to accomplish one day, in your life as a filmmaker?
I never thought about it. I think my biggest dream is to keep making films.
Natalia de Molina, Andrea Fandos