Elisa Paloschi took her groundbreaking documentary Driving with Selvi to Raindance this year and in between fundraising spoke to us about why she had to make this film.
I felt I could do anything I wanted; I came from the Canadian mentality where if you have a dream you work hard and you can probably achieve it. I went to Sicily as a young woman without a husband or a father and that the first question people would ask me, ‘where’s your husband’ ‘where’s your father?’ I had never faced that kind of discrimination or isolation before.
I had a production company in Sicily with another woman; we were very young and it was totally a man’s world; there were not women doing the work we were doing and we worked as camera women for hire and we did a lot of news. I did a lot of TV work to supplement and pay for my experimental films and short documentary work.
Film, Fatales has recently started a chapter in Toronto and there are now about 30 of us. There’s a lot going on and so many more woman’s film festivals and organisations like Chicken and Egg who fund women documentary filmmakers. In Canada we have Bravo Fact which is for short docs and this year they stated that 50% of commissions would go to women filmmakers which is exciting.
I consider myself a re-emerging filmmaker so I haven’t been accustomed to the traditional ways of making films and funding films. I’ve been self-propelled; I’ve always made opportunities for myself or taken opportunities when they have been offered to me.
Working in India as a woman can be complicated especially as a foreigner being unfamiliar with the culture, it took me a few years to work how I could interact so I could work as well as possible. If I was on my own a man would speak to me but if I was there with a man he would speak to the man instead of to me so that was a problem.
Making this film has been a challenge but I know I couldn’t have made it if I was a man, I wouldn’t have been able to enter into such intimate situations with the women who told their stories for this film. Up until 2 years ago the film was about multiple voices, about many women. I met and interviewed a couple of dozen women and many of them were very open with me, sometimes instantly, they just needed to tell their story. I did work occasionally with a man as a sort of fixer and often if he was in the room I would have to have him leave the room for them to open up so I know for a fact it benefited me being a woman in making this film.
I went to India as a tourist and it didn’t take long before I started to feel like I was living in the country on a very superficial level so I found a women’s shelter and started volunteering there every day. Selvi was one of many girls I met there, I was really interested in what she was doing and I think she is a real trailblazer. She was 28 at the time and had recently run away from a very violent troubled marriage and she was learning to drive, back when you barely saw women driving let alone a taxi. I was very curious, really fascinated by her strength. I didn’t plan to make a film about her but I kept going back and I kept filming more and over the course of the next 10 years it turned into a film that was about transformation.
I’m developing a social impact campaign for the film. The idea to start with is to get the film into communities in rural India where women and girls are the most marginalised and more likely to face the challenges that Selvi faced. We will be using mobile cinemas to get the film out there. We are also opening a dialogue about non-traditional livelihoods for women and developing economic agency for non-traditional work. I think Selvi being behind the wheel gave her so much respect for herself and from society and I think it’s important to get women into these kinds of roles. We’ll work with local NGOs and use the film as a tool and it will be worked into larger programmes.
I think there aren’t enough women’s stories being made and women’s voices being heard so I would like to be part of opening up that and frankly I’m drawn to women’s stories.
A lot of young women contact me and ask me for advice saying ‘I’ve been thinking about this film for years’ or ‘I’ve been writing a script or a treatment and the idea is really great what can I do?’ and I say just go and do it. Learn how to use a camera and shoot it yourself because you’re not going to get money easily and if you don’t start it will never happen.
I’m really excited with all the conversations that are happening [about women in the industry] that weren’t happening even just a year or 2 ago so I think that’s really positive but I think in the narrative film field it’s a lot different than it is for documentaries.
I personally don’t face a lot of challenges in this industry because I’m a woman; I face challenges because it’s a difficult industry.