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Silvana Santamaria • Producer, Soilfilms

“It's important that women are able to run their own companies”


- Germany's Producer on the Move speaks about her upcoming film projects as a producer and filmmaker

Silvana Santamaria • Producer, Soilfilms
(© Sven Serki)

Silvana Santamaria of Berlin-based production company Soilfilms has been selected as a participant for this year's edition of the European Film Promotion’s Producers on the Move programme in Cannes. Last year, she presented the feature film Pamfir [+see also:
film review
interview: Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk
interview: Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk
film profile
by Dmytro Sucholytkyj-Sobtschuk in the Director's Fortnight section. We talked to her about her origins, the topic of migration, and her ambitions. 

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Cineuropa: A recurring theme in your own films as well as those you realise as a production company is migration. Do you yourself have a connection to this?
Silvana Santamaria: I was raised by parents from two different countries of origin. My father is from Sicily, he came as one of the first immigrant groups to Germany. I always wondered why he left his family and his community, what he felt and what hopes he had. I began to be more and more interested in the topic at the time of the war in Yugoslavia which started in 1991. I met a family from Kosovo in 2006, who waited 15 years for their residence permit. At that time, migration topics were not yet talked about in the mass media. I did my first feature documentary Status: geduldet (lit: Status: Tolerated) about it, then five years later migration became a big issue in Germany, during the wars in North Africa and the Middle East. By then, I had already made three films about it. My second film was shot in Kosovo and won the Max-Ophüls-Preis for Best Documentary. The third one was shot in 2011 in Sicily and focused on migration from North of Africa. I got more and more interested in Europe's direct neighbours, and that’s when I started working with filmmakers and people from the Mena region. 

How did that start concretely?
My first encounter with Muslim culture was when I made Status: geduldet. Besides that, I was raised in a working class neighbourhood and I was surrounded by Muslim families from childhood. I produced a documentary in Turkey about the Gezi park protests, and in 2014 I produced a feature fiction on the Syrian border in Turkey. We shot with Syrian kids while we heard and saw the bombs from Syria on a daily basis for weeks. It was a very intense time. From there, I developed more projects in the region. I worked especially in Tunisia, where I’ve now made three fiction films. 

How did you know through what medium you wanted to express yourself?
In my imagination, I thought that for the topics I’m interested in, film was the medium that would reach the biggest audience. The challenge is making these films and, at the same time, appealing to a broader audience. One step towards that was Pamfir, which premiered in Cannes last year. It had successful theatrical releases in different countries and got a lot of attention and important awards worldwide. 

Why did you want to found your own production company?
In 2013, there were only a few companies with female owners. However, I think it's important that women are able to run their own companies. It's not necessarily because we are doing something differently, but as women we just should have the equal right to be in charge of the whole process of making films, and of the budget of course. We are mature and competent enough to handle higher budgets and to get an equal share of state and public funds. 

What does the name of your company mean? And what do you want to achieve with Soilfilms?
I like the idea that the company can be a fruitful soil, from which seeds grow into big trees. We want to keep producing films that talk about relevant social and political topics. At the moment, we are developing higher budget feature films as well as series. But I still do smaller projects, like the film The Witness in collaboration with ArtHood Entertainment. The latter is a drama, written more as a thriller, with a strong 60-year-old female lead and directed by Iranian filmmaker Nader Saeivar, who wrote the film together with Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. We will start shooting in a few months and are looking for distribution partners. I am also financing my second fiction feature as a director, which has been funded in development by Film Fund Luxembourg and in which I will again talk about migration, this time in the UK and from an Italian perspective. 

You work closely with TV channels. How would you describe that experience?
German TV channels are very important in the beginning of a project; without their contribution, it is difficult to finance difficult and smaller films. Foreign channels normally get involved when the film is finished and they buy the films afterwards. I have had good experiences working with TV channels so far. The persons in charge understand the artistic approach and have been very supportive. 

What do you expect from your participation at this year's Producers on the Move programme in Cannes?
We can connect with other talented European filmmakers, as well as with world sales and other industry professionals, and there will be a specific networking programme focusing on the Arab world. Moreover, having been selected is a way of showing appreciation, it gives us producers special visibility for our current and upcoming work. 

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