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Interviewing Gonzalo Maza, Oscar Winner for best foreign film

My name is Gonzalo Maza, I’m a screenwriter.
I started my studies here in London at the London Film School as a Master in Screenwriting
in 2016, and I came to live at International Students House
in the same year. I wrote a film called ‘A Fantastic Woman’ before
I came here, and when I started in
London it began to be released all around the world. The film was very well received — it won an award
at the Berlin Film Festival for Best Screenwriting and was nominated for the Golden Globes
and Academy Awards. More recently, it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film a few weeks ago. I live here with my family — my wife
and kid — and I feel very lucky to be living in International Students House. It’s
so diverse, so open, it receives people from very different communities. I feel very comfortable
living here with my family, and I think it’s a great experience.
At the moment, I’m still a student here in London doing a PhD in Film based at the
University of Exeter but researching screenwriting London. Screenwriting is
a very complex matter that, in a way, is taken very lightly in the industry and screenwriting
studies are important now to make people aware of its complexity.
‘A Fantastic Woman’ is film about a transgender character called Marina. The
film begins when her lover dies. He’s an older man, she’s 27 and he’s 50. When
he dies, Marina has to tell the family about his death, but the family turns against her.
She has to deal with microaggressions and the problems others had about her being with
him, so in a way Marina has to show everyone that she’s a normal person like anybody
else. Living in this world in 2018 and to be forced to show the world that you’re
just a normal person seemed strange. We based the film in that.
The reason we decided to make a film about a transgender character didn’t come at the
beginning of the creative process — actually it was at the end. We wanted to make a film
about grief. We wanted to make a film about the sense of loss when someone you love dies.
At the end of the process we decided to make the character transgender because we realised
that we live in the world alongside this very specific community, and people have a lot
of issues with them. We knew so little about ‘transgender’
when we began, so we did a lot of research, we learned a lot; we felt ashamed of ourselves
for not knowing more, for example not knowing that globally the life expectancy of a transgender
person is 35 — maybe because their lover killed them. It’s a very rough life. At
that point we definitely wanted to make the character transgender. The film isn’t just
about being transgender, there’s a story that comes before. Marina lives in the story
like any other human character. When we were doing research for the film we
started interviewing transgender people. We got to know Daniela — she was an actress
doing theatre but she’d done a film before. Not only were we fascinated by her and her
charisma, but she was our introduction to issues facing transgender people. She was
open to answering all our questions. Later, the director Sebastián Lelio — who
also wrote the film with me — was thinking maybe she might be the right actor for the
role. It took a while but at the end we made the decision and I think it was the right
one. She’s such a character in her own way — she really has a political position within the
film, she was very open and aware to realising the importance of the subject.
It definitely wasn’t our intention to make a ‘statement film’. However, when you
make a film you have your intentions but reality can take a different course, and this was
the case. People really embraced the film in a way that we weren’t expecting at all.
We definitely wanted audiences to understand more about transgender people, but we weren’t
prepared for the impact ‘A Fantastic Woman’ had in so many countries and how many discussions
we started. Yes. Every artistic film is a political film.
Every time you write your story it’s about something, and the reason you write about
it is because you think it’s important. We were rally aware that we live in a world
full of injustice and this is one tiny story about one person’s injustice. You can definitely
understand ‘A Fantastic Woman’ without being transgender. In our daily lives we all
feel injustices and aggressions that aren’t necessarily related to our sexual identity — think
of our skin, social class, education, country, religion… I think lots of people can relate
to the film in a political way without being transgender themselves, and that was our main
goal — that a huge amount of people connected with what Marina was feeling rather
than what Marina is. Diversity is a big issue in the film industry
now. Films are mostly made by men, of a certain age and skin colour, and it’s a problem.
At the same time, there are other efforts in the industry to change that. I feel that
especially here in the UK it’s working — as a foreign screenwriter I can make a career
here, I feel welcome. If you work hard enough you can get a chance to make what you want
to. But at the same time, there is a level that becomes hard to reach for us.

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