HotDocs Interview – THE SPOKESWOMAN director Luciana Kaplan

“For the first time in Mexican history, an indigenous woman will have the possibility of running for president. The documentary follows Marichuy, a traditional medicine woman, on her journey to heal the country. Her trip across Mexico’s territories, supported by the National Indigenous Council, will show us the situation, challenges and organization within Mexico’s indigenous communities today, making very clear the tremendous amount of racism and classism in Mexican society. In the end one question pops up: progress for whom and on behalf of whom?” Filmmaker Luciana Kaplan on THE SPOKESWOMAN which is screening at the 2021 edition of HotDocs. 

So you’re back at HotDocs this year! Tell me about your previous visit here and what your experience was like.

This is my third film at HotDocs. It’s very important to me that this film connects with Canadian audiences as it is a country that has its own experiences with its First Nations population that has faced many challenges and I’m looking forward to contributing to the debate on what’s happening amongst indigenous communities all over the world. I screened EUFROSINA’S REVOLUTION at Hot Docs in 2013 and RUSH HOUR in 2018 and it was fantastic to actually be there and discuss with a very different audience that had a diverse approach and brought new questions to the subjects I was addressing in each film. 

How did you get your start in the business and what have you worked on in the past?

I studied filmmaking at the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica in Mexico and I started to work on a very early stage in my career, first as a script supervisor and then as a documentary filmmaker. Having these two parallels experiences really helped me to find my way into the industry in Mexico. I’ve done a lot of work in the documentary film arena. Directing, teaching, producing, being the director of Ambulante’s grants, and as a jury member in different Mexican and Latin American grant programs for the past 20 years.

How did THE SPOKESWOMAN come together?

On March  2017, producer Carolina Coppel contacted me with an interesting idea: documenting the first indigenous woman to run for an independent candidacy for the Presidential Elections, supported by the Zapatista movement and the  National Indigenous Congress. We thought it was a unique opportunity to follow a historical event that was going to show in an interesting way the current situation of indigenous communities in Mexico as well as the evident racism and classism in the country. We asked for permission from the  National Indigenous Congress and luckily they agreed. Alebrije Films support us to start filming in May 2017 when Marichuy was presented as the Spokeswoman and then the project actually started, We applied for funds from the National Tax Stimulus programme Eficine and was supported by it in order to finance this amazing trip all over the country, documenting this historical event. We filmed for about 2 years and it took us 3 years and a half to have a final copy of the film.

What keeps you going while making a project? What drives you?

I try to choose subjects that deeply attract me, regarding issues and questions that I’m really interested or haunted by at the moment. I feel that the possibility of having long periods of time to think, experience, and reflect on the matters of my interest while I’m filming is what drives me, besides the close relationship with the characters I develop during that time,  that end up, many times, as friendships for life. I really like when people approach me after seeing one of my films and tell me what the film made them think of or reflect on, things that I actually never thought about before.

What was your biggest challenge with creating this doc, and what was the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

Well, it was three and a half years of a big adventure. At first, we toured and filmed all over the country trying to tell the story in the most powerful way possible. We traveled long distances, to very far communities. Many hours on planes, vans, taxis. And then we had so many subjects to talk about that it was really hard to choose what to put in the film and what needed to go out. The editing process was very long and I ended up editing the film myself in its last stages!

Let’s get technical! Tell me about the cameras-slash-equipment you used and the post-production process.

We had very basic equipment. An FS5 Sony camera, with multiple lenses and a saddle bag. Only natural lighting, we did carry some extra LEDs but we never used them. We edited in Avid. The sound post-production was made in pro tools and we mixed at a THX Studio.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your work at HotDocs?

To share a subject that’s also very important to Canadian audiences, to make Canadian people reflect on their own relationship with First Nation populations, and from there I hope very rich discussions can occur.

Of course this is an unpredictable time having this show virtually. How do you feel about movies being shown in this format & do you feel this is right, or do you wish to have a more traditional theatrical release?

I think there is a good side of online presentations, as a lot of people that are not normally able to go to theaters, because they live in other places or are just busy,  have the possibility to watch films at home. At some online festivals or presentations we actually had 1000 people watching our film in four days and that’s amazing! On the other hand, in-person Q&As and interaction with the audience is vital for a filmmaker, so now that it’s not possible to do that, a part of the process is missing. You cannot see people’s reaction to your film live, or talk to people after the screening. I miss that a lot.

Where is THE SPOKESWOMAN going next?

I’m developing two projects. A documentary film and a fiction film. The documentary film, called “The Invisibility Treaty” is an exploration of an invisible woman who cleans public spaces in Mexico City who feel invisible or misrepresented . It’s an experimental black and white film with a very free narrative, and I’m directing and producing it. The fiction film project, “Damage Control” deals with the moral dilemma of an Argentinian-Mexican political artist who discovers his father was a snitch during the Argentinian dictatorship during the 70’s. I’m still at the script writing stage.

What is the one thing that you would say to someone wishing to get into filmmaking, either short or long format, especially now as things are changing at such a fast rate?

I think the most important thing is the urge to communicate something, to have  a story to tell in your unique point of view. It doesn’t matter if it takes a long time or a short time to achieve it, but passion, for me, the urge to tell a story, is the main ingredient in wanting to become a director

And finally, what is your favourite documentary of all time and why?

I have many! It’s a tough question. Maybe I will go with SANTIAGO by João Moreira de Salles. I love the way he presents a charismatic and very close character of his childhood (his own butler)  while he reflects on the difficult process of being a documentary film director. It’s a beautiful, melancholic and creative way of storytelling.

THE SPOKESWOMAN is now streaming at HotDocs Online!

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