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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2019 Competition

Belén Funes • Director of A Thief’s Daughter

"Making a film is about improvising"


- Feature film newcomer Belén Funes battled it out for the Golden Shell in San Sebastián with A Thief’s Daughter, a drama focused on a young mother faced with a serious family conflict

Belén Funes  • Director of A Thief’s Daughter
(© Lorenzo Pascasio)

Belén Funes (Barcelona, 1984) had the support of Isabel Coixet for her first short film, Sara a la fuga, which was shot in 2015 and which earned itself a nomination within its category at the Goya Awards that year. Two years later, Funes gave us La inútil. Now, the director is taking her first steps into feature film with A Thief’s Daughter [+see also:
film review
interview: Belén Funes
film profile
, a work which screened in the official selection of the 67th  San Sebastián International Film Festival last week and which made its presence felt amongst the other works in the running for the grand prize.

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Cineuropa: There were a lot of expectations surrounding your film, which made an appearance at the Abycine Lanza Film Market (read here) while in post-production...
Belén Funes: I think first works attract a lot of attention. Always. It’s the same for me: I always pay close attention to those who are making their first films. I studied screenwriting at San Antonio de los Baños (Cuba) and film direction at ESCAC. For a certain period, I worked as an assistant director and forgot about directing, because I wasn’t sufficiently motivated and I was insecure over my abilities. So I involved myself in the mechanics of the industry. It was difficult for me to eventually stop and decide to do my own thing.

So how did this change of course come about?
It was at a time when I had very little self-esteem and I went to work thinking that directing wasn’t for me, that it didn’t interest me and that I didn’t want to do it. I decided to earn a living as a technician. But I didn’t have any work. So, to get out of the house, I started shooting short films. My protagonists are always girls and there’s a lot of myself in them.

Who are the great filmmakers you most like?
These days, I’m very interested in how to make a film so that it turns out the way that you want it to: Éric Rohmer, the Dardenne brothers... An ultra-professional approach isn’t always of interest to me, because it can eat away at the film you’re trying to make: it can only be a drawback, because whilst everyone might be very good in their roles, making a movie is about improvising, to a certain extent. In film, production processes are always huge because there’s a lot of money involved. It’s not like painting a picture. I feel that films must be protected from all that, and in the end, I opt for the approach which will best transform my film into what I want it to be. I’ve started to read John Cassavetes, to see if it illuminates me any further on the topic, because I’m very interested in his filmmaking approach and intentions.

The family – in conflict – is at the heart of A Thief’s Daughter...
The family is a really inspiring area of study: when I try to analyse the relations between the members of any family, I find them fascinating. I wanted to talk about the toxic nature of a family tie that’s dead, rotten, but which the characters are unable to sever because the bonds of blood are very powerful.

The film’s central character, Sara (played by Greta Fernández), lives in a shared apartment that’s part of a social housing project. How did you look to convey this particular situation?
There was a long period of research involved, very long and quite stressful, because at that particular point in the process you’re not writing, you’re just asking questions and investigating. You get the impressions that the film isn’t progressing. It is, of course, but on a different level. We met girls who’d been in similar circumstances to those we portray in the film, and they’d had a child: they were all around twenty years of age. That’s where we got the idea of giving Sara a son and bringing the character of the child’s father into the picture.

How was the shooting process, and the team?
We tried to work it so that there were only a few of us on set, where there are usually lots of people; but we organised an intuitive way of working: the actors arrived dressed, but not in make-up. The children didn’t follow these same procedures, although they did make their way straight to the set, so that they were in a more natural frame of mind, rather than being too aware of the fact that they were making a film. With the help of my director of photography (Neus Ollé-Soronellas), I tried to identify inspiring visual references and looked to speed up the shooting process so that we could move around a lot during the day, because the film is shot in many different locations. And, above all, we always gave priority to the actors. There were six weeks of filming in total, and I worked with the same technical team as on my short films.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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