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Spain / France / Switzerland / Cuba

Patricia Pérez and Heidi Hassan • Directors of In a Whisper

“Our film knows no borders”


- We caught up with Patricia Pérez and Heidi Hassan at MajorDocs to talk about their new film, In a Whisper — one of the season’s most moving and sensitive documentaries

Patricia Pérez and Heidi Hassan  • Directors of In a Whisper
Heidi Hassan (left) and Patricia Pérez during the MajorDocs festival

In the incomparable setting of Palma de Mallorca, audiences at the MajorDocs festival packed out the room, applauded wholeheartedly and joined in a lively discussion following the screening of In a Whisper [+see also:
film review
interview: Patricia Pérez and Heidi Ha…
film profile
, an epistolary film directed by and starring Cuban filmmakers Heidi Hassan and Patricia Pérez, both graduates of the International Film and TV School in San Antonio de los Baños.

Cineuropa: Your film is about two friends who have drifted apart: yourselves. Did the documentary bring you back together?
Patricia Pérez:
That’s one way of looking at it. The financing process took a really long time, but the creative process only took a year or thereabouts. We spent a long four years drafting and redrafting the screenplay to try to get financing before production could begin. All the while you are working on an autobiographical project, your life keeps moving forward, and it was fundamental that the film remained focused on the two natural settings for the correspondence, Geneva and Galicia.

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The film is a co-production between four European countries and has two Cuban directors. How did you bring it all together?
Heidi Hassan: Well, we live in Switzerland and Spain, so those two were involved from the start.

PP: We tried to find producers in the locations where the film is set (Geneva, Galicia and Cuba), but the Swiss producer was used to working with a French production company, and in order to be eligible for the CNC fund France needed to be involved.

The film has been shown at various festivals — IDFA, Athens, Malaga — before MajorDocs. What kind of reactions has it been getting?
HH: While we were working on the project, we kept asking ourselves, “who is this aimed at?” We always thought that the story would resonate more with women, probably of a similar age to ourselves, and with immigrants. To our great surprise, at the end of each screening we’ve had as many men come up to us as women. Teenagers also love the film, and older people. We didn't anticipate that it would appeal to such a wide spectrum. Then there are differences across countries — in the Netherlands and Sweden it made a lot of men cry. In a Whisper knows no borders.

It’s easy to empathise with the film’s themes of friendship and motherhood...
PP: For a lot of men, the film opened a window onto something they had never really looked at before, and they were greatly struck by this female nakedness, this willingness to share a private world. They knew that this world existed, but were not allowed to take any part in it. Suddenly, the film has given them this chance to participate. The film is narrated by two women, and if you are not a woman yourself that might arouse your curiosity.

HH: The film leaves a door open for anyone interested in peeking into our world.

The Spanish title, A media voz (“in a half voice”), can be interpreted in different ways. Each of you contributes one half of the voice of the film, but it can also mean talking in whispers, which ties in with its sense of intimacy. Are there other hidden meanings there?
HH: The title reflects the film’s intimacy, but it is also a reference to issues that we don’t talk about, or that we speak of from a place of shame, like motherhood or immigration itself. A few people have said to us that the film begins in a whisper, but ends in a shout of affirmation. I think that’s a lovely evolution.

Was it the need to get back in touch and restore your friendship that led to the idea for the film?
PP: Our separation was the inspiration for the film; by the time we started production we were already back in contact. The film was inspired by our relationship.

In a Whisper also explores the imperative of cinema — how the urge to make films is like the urge to breathe.
HH: That’s exactly right, although we can't say why it happens, but it comes through in the film.

PP: Neither of us are super conversational or extroverted, but all of a sudden, we’ve made this film and everyone says, how can you open yourself up like this? The truth is we feel so comfortable in this medium that we don’t even experience it as a form of exposure. We’re inspired by the images, by finding the exact right sounds and words, and that drives us to communicate in this way.

HH: Filmmaking is a very comfortable place for me, a place where I can be myself.

PP: Sometimes when we’re talking it’s hard to find the right words, because what we probably need isn’t a word at all, but an image or a sound that more accurately expresses what we are feeling. That’s why cinema was so important as I was creating this audiovisual letter for Heidi — she was the original viewer I wanted to speak to.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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