Maider Fernández Iriarte • Director of Jordi's Letters
“When you make a film about people with disabilities, it can cause a certain discomfort”
- Maider Fernández Iriarte presents her brave and moving debut, Jordi's Letters, in the New Directors section at the San Sebastián International Film Festival
A native of San Sebastián, Maider Fernández Iriarte (1988) worked at the Tabakalera cultural centre, was once a member of filmmaking collective Las chicas de Pasaik and was part of the team behind Kalebegiak (2016) (read more here). This week, she’s back on home turf to present her first feature, a documentary entitled Jordi's Letters [+see also:
interview: Maider Fernández Iriarte
film profile], in the New Directors section at the 67th San Sebastián International Film Festival. The project was selected for the Ikusmira Berriak programme in 2017 and went on to win the Rec Grabaketa Estudioa award for post-production.
Cineuropa: Virginia García del Pino, director of Basilio Martín Patino. La décima carta [+see also:
film profile], was your writing partner for your first film. How did this collaboration come about?
Maider Fernández: The screenplay was written in two stages. The first was when I was studying for my master’s in documentary filmmaking at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. Through the programme, I discovered the subject I wanted to focus on, Jordi, who became the star of my film. It also helped me develop my perspective and work out how best to approach the project. I spent a week talking with him and filming him at his home, and later I wrote up the questions I had asked. That gave me the beginnings of a structure and helped me identify areas I wanted to explore in more depth. Once I had shot almost all the material I needed, Virginia came on board and we rewrote the film during the editing process. She also helped me plan some new scenes, tighten up the structure and find the right ending for the film.
How did you come to know Jordi?
When I applied for the master’s programme at Pompeu Fabra, I had to submit an outline for a project I wanted to work on during the course. I was at a complete loss for inspiration, but then at the very last minute, I was struck by a sudden interest in miracles and came up with the idea of an observational documentary about Lourdes, in France, and its relationship with tourism. When I started to look into it, I came into contact with a group of pilgrims, and one of them was Jordi. From then on, he became my subject.
The documentary raises the question of faith — is that something you have a personal interest in?
I was drawn in that direction because in class we spent a lot of time thinking about the personal connection you have with your work. In the process I realised that I had been through a powerful emotional experience with the death of my grandmother; it was sad, but the feeling I had was bittersweet. I thought that this feeling was similar to having faith in God, and that’s what led me to explore Jordi’s relationship with faith and with God.
There are other films, like Vivir y otras ficciones [+see also:
interview: Jo Sol
film profile], that show different aspects of the lives of people with physical disabilities, which some audiences are not always comfortable with. How did you decide on your approach to working with a disabled subject?
I don’t think I planned it in a very cerebral way. I never thought of Jordi as disabled; I saw him as a person who expresses himself and speaks through a grid. I tried not to treat him any differently, and also to show him my own weakness in that I didn’t know all that much about cerebral palsy. In the end, Jordi became a friend and that’s how I treated him — like any other friend. When you make a film about people with disabilities or people who are marginalised, it can cause a certain discomfort. But the very fact that someone is questioning the film speaks for itself. The film really engages with the kinds of thoughts and emotions that the audience might be experiencing; sometimes they see things from my perspective, sometimes from Jordi’s. It is this interplay of ideas and questions that creates an emotional connection and lets people find their own bearings.
To achieve that sense of intimacy, did you need to use a smaller camera and less equipment?
When I first met Jordi, I was struck by how authentic he was, and the thing that fascinated me was actually the fact that he couldn’t communicate orally. I started to shadow him as part of my research, and in the process our relationship grew closer. When I started to film our conversations at his home, I turned up with just a tripod, a small video camera and two microphones. Later scenes were filmed in Lourdes with a team made up of a director of photography, a sound engineer and an assistant producer.
It surprises us to see how much personality, humour and energy Jordi has.
Watching the footage, that really hit me: he has a very filmable face and he has a lot of power in his hands. He has a big personality; he’s a strong person with a lot of confidence in himself despite all the difficulties of living with cerebral palsy.
(Translated from Spanish)
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