AWFJ EDA Awards @ IDFA 2016 Filmmaker Interview: Lucija Stojevic on LA CHANA

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Lucija Stojevic’s La Chana is an up close and personal profile of Antonia Santiago Amador, the hugely popular flamenco dancer. Known as La Chana, Amador was revered by dance afficiandos for her vibrantly passionate spirit and extraordinary footwork. La Chana’s career peaked during the late 1960s, shortly after which she inexplicably vanished from the dance world and her own celebrity.

Stojevic delves into Amador’s complex personality and profound artistry by intertwining spectacular archival footage of La Chana’s performances with current footage of the now elderly Amador, living quietly in Barcelona, a physically frail but still highly spirited artist who spends her time entertaining her daughter, coaching talented young dancers and preparing for her own much anticipated dance recital, her first in years decades. She must dance sitting down, but her fleet footwork still awesome. And, for the first time, La Chana reveals why she stepped out of the spotlight at the height of her career.

Now Barcelona-based, Stojevic was born in Zagreb, Croatia, and brought up in Vienna, Austria. After receiving her MA with honors in Architectural Design, she attended the Prague Film School, earning certification in directing and editing. She has been working in the media world since 2006. In 2012, she set up the production company Noon Films S.L. in Barcelona. She’s an avid student of languages, and is fluent in English, German and Croatian fluently, very good in Spanish, and needs, she says, a refresher course in Italian. She’s currently learning Catalan.

AWFJ: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and the main characters in it?

Lucija Stojevic: I first met La Chana in 2012 through my flamenco teacher, Beatriz del Pozo. She spoke about La Chana often, telling me about the specificities of her art- she did things nobody had done before and that were extremely difficult. She showed me the clip of La Chana dancing in The Bobo at the age of 19. There was so much suffering, such raw emotion in her dance. I couldn’t help wondering “What’s going on here? Where is the pain coming from? What happened to this woman?” Then Beatriz took me to meet La Chana. I was immediately struck by this larger than life character: an eccentric diva in pajamas. And then she told me her story. From that moment on, it was very clear that this had to be a film.

AWFJ: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

LS: La Chana’s story highlights a number of topics that have both current relevance and universal appeal. As La Chana nears the end of her physical capability to dance, she needs to re-define herself. She challenges the audience to reflect on specific topics: aging, the imminent loss of something that defines you and that you love, acceptance and re-invention.

Meanwhile, the story of La Chana’s past highlights topics that have an important social relevance today. La Chana is giving us rare, intimate access to her Gitano world and how she lives and experiences it as a woman. Through her deeply personal story, we gain an idea of the role and treatment of Gypsy women in Spanish Gitano culture and what implications it has for a woman to suffer domestic abuse in a marginalized society.

Over the years, as I watched and listened to La Chana overcoming her obstacles, I learned the value inner strength can have.

AWFJ: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film?

LS: That it’s a beautiful profession but an unpredictable one. You have to be open and flexible to change. We got our best film moments at the most unexpected times and had to embrace this and at times, change the direction accordingly. And La Chana herself, being an older and wiser woman, gave me some valuable advice: “Whatever you do, be authentic. Give your truth.” It was difficult but good advice on many levels, and reminded me to stick to the core and not fall into conceptualizing everything too much.

AWFJ: What were your biggest challenges?

LS: I’m also the producer of the film and the biggest challenges were definitely on the production side. The film kept on being boxed into being a Spanish flamenco film, even though the story is universal and goes way beyond “Spain” and “flamenco.” But being boxed in made it difficult to get funding. In the end, it was only thanks to individual women who backed the film that it came to life.

In terms of directing, my protagonist is someone who could have walked out of Sunset Boulevard. As you can imagine, it wasn’t always a breeze…

AWFJ: Do you think that being female gave you a distinct perspective and/or way of handling the filmmaking process?

LS: I don’t want to make generalizations about how women and men approach filmmaking because I don’t think gender is necessarily a major player in the approach to the creative process of filmmaking. But I think in the case of La Chana, being a woman definitely gave me access that would have been difficult for a man to gain due to her social norms and circumstances. Also, due to the subject matter that had to do with the abuse she suffered, we maybe hit a wavelength and trust that might have been harder for her to establish with a man.

AWFJ: What are your plans for the future?

LS: I would love to embark on another feature documentary project but need to figure out how to be able to do it so that the balance between doing what I love, the dedication I want to put into a film and the compensation I get in return is more equal. This is the realist in me speaking. But I want to continue in this field. As La Chana proves in our film, it’s really important to pursue what you love, so I’ll figure it out.

Who are the Filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

LS: Though these maybe aren’t visible influences, during the making of La Chana, I often thought about films like Stories we Tell by Sarah Polley as inspirational storytelling, Cutie and the Boxer by Zachary Heinzerling for the intimacy he captured on screen, the films of Kim Longinotto for the way she works with characters and Grey Gardens by the Maysles brothers for ambience..

AWFJ: What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

LS: Keep pushing for what you believe in and don’t settle for less.

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