Spanish director Isabel Coixet returns to Berlin for the seventh time, this year with festival opener Nobody Wants the Night, starring Juliette Binoche as early 20th century Arctic explorer Josephine Peary. THR spoke with the 54-year-old director, now based in New York, about her special relationship with Berlin, women directors and shooting a film at the North Pole.
This is your seventh film in the Berlinale. What is it about the festival that makes it such a good match with a Coixet film?
I’m still on cloud nine about it. The Berlin Film Festival gave me the first chance to show one of my early films, Things I Never Told You, and from then on, I always felt very well welcomed here and I had the best Q&As with the audiences, who are truly committed to the films. I remember like it was today, when [Panorama curator] Wieland Speck told me my first film was selected for Panorama. From that moment on, I felt I started existing as a filmmaker. In Berlin, you feel movies are still relevant and meaningful and it’s a feeling you don’t always have in other festivals. Also, most of my films are set up in the winter, so I guess that’s important, too! I hope it’ll snow and people at the exit of the screening will feel they keep living in the film.
How would you say Berlin and its audience differ from other festivals?
Berlin is the only big festival in the world happening in a big town. So the festivalgoers are people who in the morning are working in offices, schools, at home, in restaurants, bars, shops and so on, and they make the screenings part of their daily schedules. There’s an incredible excitement in all the screenings. People are very well prepared with their questions. And from a totally shallow point of view, people in Berlin are the most beautiful people in Europe, boys and girls and transgender. It’s a fact!
You are the first Spanish female director to open Berlin and with a film about courageous women. How important is it to you to see more women’s voices in film?
Ahhhhh. Women’s voices. Now everybody in the press is talking about women’s voices. Why does everybody talk about the lack of female directors and nobody does a damn thing? We need action. We need film financiers with a true and sincere sense of what they can and must do — and do it. As they say in Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money.” Maybe this is asking for something impossible. Sincere financiers, I mean … We are a shocking minority. And what’s worse, a diminishing minority. And our salaries are always lower than our male counterparts. I will never stop fighting to make films. Never. It’s my life. It’s what I’ve loved to do since my parents gave me a Super?8 camera when I was 7 years old. I never ever thought then — how naive I was! — that the fact I was a woman would stop me. And it didn’t. Not because I’m courageous — I’m not — but I’m really, really stubborn! I think it’s truly a miracle I’ve done 11 feature films. But if for every filmmaker in the world, the road to making films is paved with stones, for a female filmmaker, it’s paved with f—ing big rocks. Give me the same stones as a male filmmaker. It’s all I’m asking for.
What drew you to Nobody Wants the Night?
The stark and mysterious beauty of the script. The fact that it starts as an epic adventure and then it’s something else. It’s based on true characters but fictional events. I was totally fascinated by it. I also love challenges and when I first read the script, I thought, “I have no idea how I’m going to do this, but I need to do it.” It’s like falling in love with someone dangerous. You can’t help it. In fact, it is much better than falling in love. With this film, I have no?regrets!
I imagine it wasn’t easy to film in the Arctic North.
Nothing was easy. Even going to pee was a nightmare. At some point, the two cameras we had were frozen, and we had to warm them up with our bodies! To go to the location every day, we had a one-hour drive on a snowmobile, sometimes in the middle of a snowstorm. Fifteen degrees below zero. There was no place to hide. No honey wagon, no coffee, no craft service, no nothing. There was a moment after 10 hours of carrying the camera, I stopped feeling my shoulders. It was the strangest sensation. And we had 80 dogs, not very well trained, shitting everywhere! But at the same time, it was exhilarating. I think I’m nuts, because the more difficult it is, the more I love it.
The Spanish film industry is celebrating 2014 as a bumper year in terms of box-office share and earnings. How healthy do you think the Spanish film industry is?
The Spanish industry is not healthy, period. And the film industry is just collateral damage. The good thing is every year people manage to do some very good films in very difficult circumstances. As a filmmaker and as an audience member, that is what matters to me. And this year I watched really good Spanish films. It would help if the government were more pro-film than they are. But since they are not pro-education or pro-culture in general, there’s not much we can do.
Why shoot in English?
And why not? The script was written in English, the main character, Josephine Peary, was American and it was the most natural thing to do.
How difficult is it to finance a film in Spain?
How difficult it is to climb Everest wearing high heels?