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Mexico / Spain

Laura Herrero Garvín • Director of La Mami

“I never look for stories; they come to me”


- The Spanish filmmaker headed to Mexico City to shoot this excellent documentary that explores the Barba Azul cabaret, a female-dominated world governed by sisterhood, familiarity and empathy

Laura Herrero Garvín  • Director of La Mami

La Mami [+see also:
film review
interview: Laura Herrero Garvín
film profile
is a co-production between Spain and Mexico helmed by Toledo-born Laura Herrero Garvín. After taking part in numerous festivals on both sides of the Atlantic, from Morelia to Abycine, it is now landing in Spanish movie theatres, distributed by Elamedia. To mark the occasion, we called up the filmmaker to ask her a few questions.

Cineuropa: Was it particularly complicated to film in a space as confined and as private as the ladies’ toilet in the Barba Azul cabaret?
Laura Herrero Garvín:
It was difficult because that bathroom is a tiny place with lots of mirrors. However, given that I spent three years observing and spending time with the girls who used it, I was able to camouflage myself; I knew the movements I had to make in order to shoot in each corner, I knew exactly where the lines of sight from the mirrors intersected, and I even managed to melt into the space, as I knew it perfectly.

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You must have had a very small crew...
Yes, it was just a sound recordist, an assistant director/camerawoman, and me, with the camera and doing the directing. Furthermore, we used prime lenses: it was all pretty intense.

Spending so much time with the protagonists must have resulted in this intimacy that the film is steeped in
When I found out about the place, met La Mami and decided to make the documentary, I knew almost straight away that it wouldn’t be easy to persuade the women who work there, who are stigmatised to a great degree and judged by others, to appear on camera. That’s why I spent a lot of time visiting them, investigating and just being there, until I won their trust. With La Mami, it was easy, but with the girls it was harder, and I approached them to discuss how to shoot the film, as I was aware that I was invading their place of work. And so we looked for individual methods: some of them didn’t want to appear, others only wanted their voices to be heard, some wanted their body to appear but not their faces, and still others were happy to appear in their entirety. That’s why I was careful with the camera to respect those who wished to conceal their identities.

But how did you come across such a special place?
I never look for stories; they almost always just come to me. I became aware of it because musician Josué Vergara, who I worked with on El remolino, my first film, and who also composed the score for this one, told me, because I like dancing: “I have to take you to this place! You’re going to love it!” We went there one night with a few friends, and I met La Mami on one of my trips to the ladies’ toilet. I remember a girl arriving and saying to her, “A client has just proposed to me; I really like him and I want to marry him.” Then, La Mami replied: “You’re really drunk, girl; you can’t trust this man. Stay here with me!” Then another one arrived: “Mami, how do I look in this dress?” And another one: “Mami, I’m so tired…” Then I began to understand that this woman wasn’t only the lady who cleaned the toilets, but something more than that, and I realised that something very interesting was happening in that cramped space. At the end of the night, I plucked up the courage to tell her that my job was to tell stories through the medium of documentary film and that I would love to delve deeper into her story. That’s where it all started.

El remolino was staged by Mexico, but you produced La Mami with Spain as well. Is it therefore a kind of stepping stone to enable you to come back to your home country?
Yes, I really wanted to come back and take a small step towards Spain.

What kinds of reactions has the feature been getting at the various festivals it has played at?
In Mexico, we were selected for the Guadalajara, Morelia and Ambulante Film Festivals, to name a few. We also got selected in Europe. I remember a Russian festival where a lady was moved because the last time that La Mami says goodbye to one of the girls, she runs out of toilet paper. It’s little details like this that people from lots of different places experience. The movie is so personal and intimate that it can elicit universal emotions. Many people feel like it speaks to them, even though it’s set in a very different reality.

How has the pandemic situation affected the film’s run?
We haven’t crash-landed, as such, but we’ve done a lot of gliding: we were flying high in March 2020, as we were about to go to the Málaga Film Festival (which was postponed until the summer), we had the presentation at SXSW and at the Guadalajara Film Festival (Mexico), and we had lots of journeys lined up to Asia, America and Europe. Suddenly, COVID-19 reared its head and everything ground to a halt. Either things got cancelled or they got moved online – somehow, things just locked up. It picked up a bit in August, but you could really feel the drop in attendance, even though there have been sizeable audiences that have seen the film at online festivals. Let’s see how the Spanish theatrical release goes…

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(Translated from Spanish)

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