AWFJ EDA Awards @ IDFA 2016 Filmmaker Interview: Maite Alberdi on THE GROWN-UPS

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maite-alberdiChilean documentarian Maite Alberdi enters the school for Down syndrome children where four forty-something adults have been in attendance for most of their lives, and now work in the school bakery. Anita, Rita, Ricardo and Andrés now feel that the school which has structured their lives is confining. They long for new challenges, greater independence and more personal space. In particular, Anita and Andrés are in love and want to marry, find their own apartment and have kids, but they’re stuck living apart and still dependent of their respective parents. Contemporary society is not equipped to help them achieve their dreams. Alberdi’s observational approach is compassionate in its revelation of their frustrations, and gives us a clear understanding of their perspective on the choices society provides for them.

As a director she has developed a highly particular style that achieves an intimate portrayal of the characters she works with, through everyday stories in small-scale worlds. In 2011 she premiered her first documentar feature, The Lifeguard, at IDFA. Trough Micromundo, her production company, she directed “Tea Time,” which also premiered at IDFA, winning the AWFJ EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Film in 2014, and went on to win Best Documentary Award at Miami International Film Festival, EIDF-EBS Korea, DocsBarcelona, FICG Guadalajara, among other festivals. Alberdi was nominated for the Goya Awards as Best Iberoamerican Film. On 2016, she premiered her shortfilm “I am not from here” which is nominated for European Film Awards.

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

Maite Alberdi: The idea for the film stems from a personal interest, I had a close aunt with Down Syndrome; my grandmother’s biggest worry was what would happen to her, when she was no longer around. My grandmother never thought her daughter would survive and raised her thinking she would always be there to care for her.

From this point on, I realized that this reality was becoming more and more common and that Down syndrome people lives’ expectancy had changed radically. When my aunt was born, her life expectancy was 25 years, today is 60, therefore making them a group that has reached adulthood, in a society that had not created the conditions for them to develop into adults. I began researching all the institutions that service adults with Down syndrome, who might have been in the same situation. That is how I found the protagonists of this story, and because they were the only ones that were still lifetime friends. Public institutions in Chile allow them to attend school only until the age of 25, many remain isolated in their homes after that.

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

MA: I learned from people with Down Syndrome that common sources don’t exist, I can’t stand it anymore to be told: -but they’re all so warm, or that they’re little angels-, Etc. Just like in any group, they’re not all the same, some are warm and some are not, there are those that are hard workers and those that are lazy, responsible and irresponsible, there are some that are very nice and some that are mean, those with good tempers and those with quick tempers and so on… They all have different dreams because they are different people, I think the film conveys that. We can identify with them as a group because we see distinct personalities and different ways of thinking, just like we would anywhere, as it was for all of us during our schoolyears or with our friends.

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

MA: About filmmaking, I learned that all the characters have different ways of being and of working. That’s one of the main differences between fiction and documentaries in my opinion, fiction teams are usually alike, the amount of people working and the film techniques that repeat from one film to the next. In documentary filmmaking, as we work with different characters each time, the shooting style and the production are constantly changing. In this one, which is my third film, the radical differences with the last one and among all of them, have become very evident. Same style and same way of observing, but with different techniques, new ways of relating, new ways of envisioning the frames, the sound, the editing. When you change the characters you always have a new challenge, it’s impossible to repeat, I have learned that you have to look for the best cinematographic language to represent each world. In this case, my decision was to leave out of frame all those people that were not disabled, so that we could connect with their world.

AWFJ: What were your biggest challenges?

MA: My biggest challenge was to break with the common belief and representation of Down syndrome people, to actually make the audience forget at some point, that they have a disability and identify with their wishes and their way of being, without seeing them as different people. To let themselves laugh and become emotional as they would with any other character, therefore reducing the gap. That was my objective and the biggest challenge, I hope I met it.

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

MA: I’m not sure about that, I do believe that women are more patient. That’s how I see the documentary, as an exercise in patience, of waiting for things to be revealed in front of the camera, and that this is something only time and patience can provide. You cannot rush reality.

AWFJ: What are your plans for the future?

MA: My future plans are to continue doing documentaries, which is what motivates me the most. To continue sharing my life with that of many anonymous characters and think about the world and society through them.

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

MA: Nicholas Phillibert definitely, for being my inspiration in his way of observing reality, for teaching me the concept of “scheduling chance”, for trusting that reality will reward us with what we are waiting for, if we choose the right place at the right time.

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

MA: My general advice is to defend your personal voice, don’t try to change it to fit a very chauvinistic industry model, or a society that’s still that way. Always defend your own voice, because that’s what allows us to create freely.

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