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Ángeles Hernández and David Matamoros • Directors of Isaac

“Everything that happens in the film we have experienced ourselves”

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- We chatted to the Spanish producers, who made their feature-length directorial debut with a character drama that’s now touring the festival circuit

Ángeles Hernández and David Matamoros • Directors of Isaac

Isaac [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ángeles Hernández and David…
film profile
]
is the feature-length directorial debut by the pair of seasoned producers Ángeles Hernández (The Year of the Plague [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
) and David Matamoros (Vulcania [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
), of Zentropa International Spain. The film is currently in competition at the International Film Festival of India, Goa (IFFI), and we seized the opportunity to ask the directorial duo a few questions.

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Cineuropa: Why did you choose to make your debut as directors with a work by Antonio Hernández Centeno? What made you feel like you had a connection with it?
David Matamoros: Minor coincidences can sometimes make your life take an unexpected turn. That’s what happens in the first three minutes of Isaac, and it also happened to us: Antonio gave us the text of a stage play that he’d directed a few years beforehand, and we saw ourselves reflected in those four characters that drift around in life, looking for its true meaning. We thought that many people would see themselves reflected in several of the topics that it broaches, that it debunked a few myths that were following us around. And so we made the decision to try to get the rights so that some other directors could helm the movie. But thanks to a coincidence, we also considered directing it ourselves, and as such, we had to bring it into our personal territory, to the familiar space of the stories we have experienced ourselves, so that we could be as honest as possible with the story. Everything that happens in the film we have experienced ourselves.

Isaac has a pretty slick mise-en-scène... Is there anyone in particular that you learned from in that regard?
Ángeles Hernández: Working with Lars von Trier is a great education and makes you admire how he achieves it all. So one of the biggest challenges we encountered was how to take the vision that was in our heads and portray it on the screen. We were working with a huge number of role models in mind. We got together with Gina Ferrer, the DoP, and we tried to explain as much as possible in every shot, without resorting to gratuitousness, and subtly home in on the characters, while still ultimately telling the story. There are many directors that we’re mad on, such as Víctor Erice, but I think the biggest reference for the film is Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years [+see also:
film review
trailer
Q&A: Andrew Haigh
film profile
]
.

In Isaac, you broach some controversial issues, such as surrogate mothers... What is your stance on the matter?
ÁH: Film and television are faced with the challenge of exploring the many issues, settings and problems that motherhood throws up today, and also the roles of men and women in modern-day society. Surrogacy is one such example, but we also need more stories about queer motherhood, and to reflect on the various models of how to bring up kids, the taboo of breastfeeding, the devoted mother and the desire to make progress in your career while juggling it with family commitments… Every woman who wants to have children should have them, and every woman who doesn’t want them shouldn’t, as you don’t need them to fulfil yourself as a person.

You have both worked quite extensively in the area of production... Did that experience come in handy when it came to keeping things concise as directors?
ÁH: Probably. We have always maintained that the work of the producer is just as creative as that of the director, and we spend countless hours developing projects and coming up with creative solutions, to both financial issues and narrative ones: it’s like an enormous boot camp. And we’ve been lucky enough to partner up with directors whom you can learn a great deal from, such as Isaki Lacuesta, Lucile Hadzihalilovic and von Trier himself. We are passionate (and obsessive), and we are always learning from them. I think we have been telling stories ever since we started, albeit from the production side of the fence. And now we feel confident and secure enough to have faith in our own voice, and we are cool-headed enough to know what we are narrating.

What kind of festival run has the film had since it was premiered at Málaga and participated in the Atlàntida Film Festival? It’s now in competition at Goa.
DM: It’s been one of the most complicated years I can remember: it’s made us reflect on the fleeting nature of life and our own fragility, as we can’t take anything for granted. The reduction in the number of titles at festivals meant that many offers fell through: Isaac was dropped from two A-list festivals, when their line-ups were pared down from 500 titles to just 30. But we are lucky to be able to be at the IFFI in Goa, which is another of the FIAPF’s A-list competitive gatherings. Málaga was very important for us because it was the first one to be held after the lockdown! FICG Guadalajara is another event where it was a huge honour to be able to take part. We won the Golden Iguana for Best Director and the Best Actor Award for Iván Sánchez at the FICPV, again in Mexico. Tel Aviv treated us very nicely, too. And of course there was also Atlàntida, with its incredible programme.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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