Ahead of the UK premiere of Best International Feature nominee Princesita at the Raindance Film Festival 2018 Opening Night Gala, we sat down with director Marialy Rivas to talk about the film.
How is it to be a female filmmaker in the Chilean film industry?
For a time I thought it was not the same than being a male director but similar. In Chile we don’t have a proper industry, as only a very few people make money off of films every once in a blue moon so movies are still mostly passion projects, you have to apply to government grants, wait a long time to be able to win one of the two annual grants a year per category between hundreds of applicants and even then, most of times, you still don’t have enough money to make your movie. So I always thought: it’s hard for everyone. This is still true, but then I started to realise as time went by that most Chilean female filmmakers are in their second movie in their 40s whereas guys are in their second movie in their 30s. I think this has to do with two factors: one external, a field dominated by male producers and male investors and one internal, as women we are taught to be perfect before doing something, so we take longer, we prepare longer the films and we prepare longer ourselves to jump into a feature through short films, documentary work, music videos, etc.
I have been privileged to have had my career in Fabula but even in that scenario I started to direct fiction later than the male directors of my generation.
How was working with the Larrain brothers’s Fabula?
They are simply the best. They support you in every step of the way and give you complete freedom to take your story wherever you wanna take it artistically. I must say they even push you to go further and bigger and they completely trust you. If you need help or advice they are always there, they are generous with their time and they have transformed Fabula in a family filled with the most talented and passionate crew. We usually visit each other’s shooting with Pablo and Lelio and I have on top of this the luck to have met them both way before any of us started doing fiction, so seeing every one succeed and make wonderful and relevant movies has been a beautiful and magnificent ride that I’m grateful to continue experiencing.
The film has a heavy and uneasy subject. Why did you decide to pick up such a theme and how did the story come along?
In 2012 many people thought the world was going to end, in Chile a family of only men was taken to custody under allegations of abuse to their niece. They were a family cult that claimed the girl was the chosen one to carry the Messiah that will avoid the end of the world.
I was in awe about how these men were incapable of even considering the desires or will of that particular girl. Of course no 12 year old will want to have a baby and also the poignant question on who will impregnate her to be the unwilling mother.
Consider that Chile didn’t have abortion law, in any case, and not even a rape law until 2017. That story for me resembled the story of all women; they were socially valuable as a vehicle to male objectives, and not by themselves as human beings with their own dreams.
This was the starting point for the film, from there I had to enter and embrace the darkness associated to abuse but also the resilience and power that lies inside every woman and child around the world.
Was it difficult to find a young actress who would take upon such a psychologically heavy part to play?
Yes. We searched among many girls of different ages, we tried girls from 11 to 18, and we ended up going with Sara that had the fierceness that was needed for the role. We did a lot of preparation with her and the rest of the kids. We started studying movies with complicated subjects played by kids, like Tomboy, and then we built bios for the characters with the kids so they could have tools to separate themselves from the characters, we did several rehearsals and went through the most complicated scenes in detail. Also Sara always understood she was being generous and was giving a voice to girls around the world that didn’t have her luck to have loving parents and a beautiful life. I saw Sara grew in front of my eyes; she was always brave because she loved the project and believed deeply in the need of telling this story.
How did you manage to tell such a tough and brutal story in almost fairytale like way? How did such an approach to the subject come to you?
I didn’t want to shoot the movie in any explicit way; it was an ethic choice for me from the beginning of the project. I also wanted to talk about child abuse as a child experience, so I did interviews with several women that were abused during their childhood and got counseled by a psychiatrist that has worked with victims of the biggest cult in Chile and psychologists that have worked with abused women and children. What struck me the most in these recollections is that these women didn’t remember the abuse as one might think a person remembers such a concrete physical experience; all of them just remembered confusing feelings and pieces of images that sounded to me like a blurry nightmare. This was the starting point.
The movie has to be built from the point of view of the child, seduced by the abuser, were the child is manipulated to not morally judge the experience, were the abuser knows how to stimulate erogenous zones and were usually that adult is larger than life for that particular child. This guided me to treat the movie visually as a paradise that turns into hell because that is how Tamara inhabits this experience.
Then the fairy tale side of it, it came together from many sides. The original family called the girl Princess and she lived in the south of Chile. I think we are the faraway land at the end of the world. At the same time, if you read the original tales for children as they were told in Europe before crossing to America, they were extremely dark as they were designed to work as cautionary tales, for example in the original story of The Sleeping Beauty, the Prince rapes the sleeping girl and she only wakes up when she gives birth to twins. Little Red riding Hood is of course a way to talk about abuse and so on.
All of the above crystalized the aesthetics of the film.
Was it important for you to touch on the subjects of patriarchy and female empowerment in Princesita?
Yes. For me Princesita is a small story that echoes the story of all women among history. Of course not all of us have been sexually abused, but the female experience is built on abuse against everything female and on the power and resilience of our gender. Against all odds we have prevailed.
Miguel teaches Tamara a worldview, what and how to think, whom to desire. It is said that what separates humans from animals is the capacity of creating a fiction that we can all inhabit together. For me, Miguel is the Patriarchy. In our Judeo Christian society, the fiction of a male God teaches us that he is the one who is able to create life, not women as any observer of nature will conclude, so this male God creates first a man, and then from that man, he gives life to a woman. This is clearly a way to deprive women of the immense power of creation that we hold, which is unstoppable and immense.
So for me, we as woman, you have to burn it all down to be able to be truly and completely free.
Book your ticket for the premiere of Princesita at the Opening Night Gala of Raindance Film Festival 2018, followed by a Q&A with Marialy Rivas and an after party.