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Ainara Vera • Director of Polaris

“I think that by making this film, I became less romantic about life”


- The Spanish director breaks down how she made her fascinating documentary about two strong sisters who are poles apart – in more ways than one

Ainara Vera • Director of Polaris
(© Zinebi)

Pamplona-born director Ainara Vera premiered her second feature, Polaris [+see also:
film review
interview: Ainara Vera
film profile
, as an ACID screening at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. As part of its fruitful festival run, the film about two strong sisters poles apart is now on show at Bilbao’s Zinebi, where we caught up with her for a chat.

Cineuropa: Could you tell us about the extreme shooting conditions and the size of your crew?
Ainara Vera:
We shot in Iceland, Greenland and close to Marseille. Actually, we had the biggest crew when we were in Greenland: there were three of us, which is the maximum we ever were. There was one sound person, me, and either a Greenlandic DoP, Inuk Silis Høegh, or a Greenlandic assistant, who was on the second shoot there.

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What was really tough was when we were filming in winter in Iceland – these are the first images you see, of the snowstorm – and that was crazy because, for instance, I didn’t know that one of the most frequent car accidents at a time like that is when you open the door, and the wind is so strong that it blows the door back at you. Inuk almost broke his nose like that, but he carried on shooting!

You met Hayat while working as an editor on Viktor Kossakovsky’s Aquarela [+see also:
film review
interview: Victor Kossakovsky
film profile
. What made you want to make her the protagonist of your next film?
Hayat appears in just a few shots in Aquarela, and when we were filming for that, I realised that she was pure power on camera. Not only this, but she had this exceptional job in a man’s world. She comes from a terrible background, and what she has achieved is incredible. So all those components came together, and I thought she deserved a film and could hold together an entire film by herself.

You’ve said that you then became friends with her, so at that point, how did you intend to maintain objectivity?
I wouldn’t say “friend” is the right word, because it’s something more powerful and more fragile than friendship. It’s strange because, on one hand, you are making a project together, so whatever happens between the two of you, you have to continue because you’ve made a commitment, while on the other hand, you go much deeper. I shared intimate things with her that I didn’t even share with my sister. To keep it objective, time was key. It was very important to be with her and to live these intense moments, but also to give the film time to be edited, and to reflect as well.

Was it a conscious decision only to focus on the faces of the sisters and baby, and no one else?
Yes; I soon realised that in their lives, there were so many people coming and going. Maybe now they’re more stable, but when I met them, for example, Leila had one friend who was her best friend on Earth, and then one week later, they weren’t talking to each other. So I realised that it would be complicated and messy to have so many people coming in and out, so I thought, “Okay, who are the important ones? I’ll just focus on Hayat, Leila and the baby.”

Has working with Viktor Kossakovksy influenced your directorial style since your first film?
The thing is, I started studying documentary filmmaking because I loved his films. So when we met, it was obvious that we understood each other very well in terms of movie-making. Of course, he taught me most of the things I know when it comes to the craft of film. So I owe him a lot.

How did COVID-19 influence the production of the film?
In a way, it was good that COVID happened because I spent a lot of time watching what I had already filmed and gaining some distance. The last shoot just before COVID was challenging for me, emotionally, and this is when I was not being objective. So all that time in lockdown really helped me gain some distance, heal and renew my energy.

Do you think the sisters will break the cycle of abandonment that their family has suffered for generations?
I think that by making this film, I became less romantic about life. I used to be very romantic, idealistic, hoping for the best, but this film lowered my expectations. Having said that, I think they are breaking the cycle in the sense that Leila really loves her child and is mindful of the possibilities that she has with her daughter. Since the point when I met her, she has made a huge leap in terms of responsibility. Hayat is travelling the world and is in a good place, economically. So I think in a way, they are breaking the cycle, but the next generation probably will not have the emotional wounds that they have. As for them, the wounds that they have are something they will have to live with for the rest of their lives.

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