An Interview with Isabel Coixet

Posted Sunday 05 Jul 2015


Spanish director Isabel Coixet started filming when she was given a 8mm camera on her First Communion. She received many accolades for her shorts, and founded her own production company in 2000, Miss Wasabi Films. In 1996, she made her first feature in English: Things I Never Told You. In this moving drama, the cast was made up of American actors led by Lili Taylor and Andrew McCarthy. Coixet achieved her second nomination at the Goya Awards for Best Original Screenplay. International success took place with the intimate drama My Life Without Me (2003), based on Nancy Kincaid's short story, starring Sarah Polley. In 2005, she won 4 Goya awards for The Secret Life of Words, (also starring Polley) a poignant story about the after effects of the Yugoslavian war on one woman. Coixet joined seventeen other great international filmmakers, among them Gus Van Sant, Walter Salles and Joel & Ethan Cohen, to make the groundbreaking collective project Paris, je t'aime, (2005) where each helmer explored a different Paris quarter. In 2008, Elegy was released. Based on Philip Roth's novel The Dying Animal, with a screenplay by Nicholas Meyer, it starred Pen�lope Cruz and Ben Kingsley. In 2012, her new project, (Yesterday Never Ends) premiered in the International Film Festival of Berlin, and opened the M�laga Film Festival the same year. The film explores the emotional scars of the economic downturn in Spain.

On a lighter note, Coixet's latest film LEARNING TO DRIVE stars Academy Award nominee Patricia Clarkson and Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley in a dramatic comedy about an improbable friendship.

We are thrilled to have secured some time with ISABEL  on the eve of the release of this film which opens in across NZ on July 16. For free tickets see competition details in the July 7 E News.

You originally trained as a journalist - how has this affected your work over the years?

I think the fact I start my professional life interviewing actors and film directors gave me an early view of what lay ahead of me....and also an immense sense of patience with journalists!!! It gave me also the priceless opportunity to be in movie sets being a fly in the wall and watching how movies were made and learn about the internal dynamics of filmmaking: always a mixture of collision of egos, babysitting and the army!!

You often write, direct and you control the camera in your films, which role do you enjoy the most or is there a blending of all three?

I absolutely love this three aspects of moviemaking. I love the beautiful isolation of writing, I love the endless drama and comedy and human nature at its best and at its worse of directing, and I absolutely love the freedom and control of being a camera operator of my films. Carrying the camera from the start of my career gave me the possibility to explore very deeply one of my favourite subjects: the intimacy's landscape. It's true there's a moment these three aspects blend in one, and when that happens it is pure bliss!!

Only 8% of Spanish film directors are women - a statistic that is repeated throughout the film world - why don't more women direct?

You can't imagine how many times I've been asked the same question in the last 25 years!!! When I start directing we were just three female directors in Spain - that was a much worse situation...

I think, among a thousand other reasons, Directing is about power, and power has been denied to women since the start of civilisation. Filmmaking requires a special kind of ego, stubbornness, determination and being (sometimes) absolutely ruthless, those are not "natural" qualities in a woman, and also they don't teach us to be like this. One of the things what always shock me is the patronising we have to suffer from film festivals and film critics. It's so boring sometimes is even funny. That's something I always try: to see the funny part of misogyny. Sometimes, it's really difficult.

Do women get what they deserve in the film world? (Less money, less profile?) Should they agitate to get on a par with male directors?

Not in the film world, not in the real world. I always think our problem is we, women, we are always asking for the same money and same rights. We should ask for MORE money and MORE rights, just to compensate it, all this centuries with NOTHING. Every time I say that in a meeting of professional women, people look at me like I'm crazy, well, I'm not!!!

We have always less money and we never have the same respect but at this point of my life, my concern is to keep making movies. I rather clench my teeth and move forward than complain.

The women in your films often get what they want in the end, but it's a painful journey - is this reflective of real life do you think?

Absolutely yes!!! That's exactly the story of my life and something what is a very personal thing: my motto is "in doubt, always chose the most difficult path".  What is the sense of a painless journey narrative wise? You need to challenge yourself and challenge your characters and your storytelling. And that's what I do. As Frank Capra said there's no rules in moviemaking, just try to avoid being dull.

So Hollywood - It has a huge influence - NZ like many countries is dominated by Hollywood releases, which have budgets that match our GDP. Is this good or bad for movies in general?

It's unfair for small but powerful films, in many cases, a thousand times better than Hollywood ones, which are  just buried under a ton of movies about men having hangovers or playing with oversized toys. It's really depressing. When you walk to your local movie theatre and the only choice you have is between Jurassic Park number 9 and Transformers 16. One of the few countries in the world protecting well their own film industry is France. Let's follow their example!

What advice would you offer to women who are considering a career in film?

Go for it. Don't listen to people saying how hard it is. Be well prepared for rejection. Watch movies non-stop, read everything, live, talk, watch, listen, observe. And again be very well prepared for rejection!!!!