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Interview: Sebastian Silva (The Maid)

“Your emotional intelligence suffers and in a way you lose your own identity because you start to identify with the family that you live with, which is not from your same social class, and you misinterpret many things.”

Is it still possible to win a major film festival award with a shoe-string budget? Well, Sebastian Silva did so earlier this year with The Maid – his $300,000 price tagged production was awarded Sundance’s World Cinema Jury Prize (Dramatic), which is several nickels and dimes less than a film such as Lee Daniels’ Precious. The Chilean filmmaker struggled to get his second movie made, Chile’s film industry is perhaps still in the developing stages.

Silva’s first film, La vida me mata, was a critical success in Chile but his second movie, The Maid, is a little bit of a rarity, it managed to get distribution for the U.S. market. As we all know, films with subtitles are a tough sell these days, so having a movie released in Spanish, today, in New York theaters is a big accomplishment. Less than 7% of the yearly releases are in a foreign language, gone are the days where the latest Bergman film would see folks stand in line-ups that wrapped around the block. Since Sundance, the picture has traveled to Rotterdam, Seattle, Edinburgh, Karlovy Vary and cleaned up a couple of awards at the Cartagena Film Festival.

The Maid is the fictional story of Raquel, who has served as the live-in maid for a Chilean middle-high class family over a two decade span. Threatened when the family decides to bring on extra help in he shape of another maid, she engages in a series of frantic actions to hold onto her position – the portrait serves as an intimate exploration of the emotional identity of a maid whose life resembles the life of thousands of others in the profession in countries such as Chile, Argentina and Brazil.

I sat down with the 30 year-old filmmaker last week to talk about this small, but compelling comedic drama that he showed first to the family maids he grew up with. Needless to say, that the story borrows heavy on some autobiographical elements.

Sebastian Silva The Maid Interview

Barbara Celis: Is is true that the first two people who watched your movie were your two maids?
Sebastian Silva: Yes. To a certain degree it is an autobiographical story. I don’t think I would have written about it if I didn’t have this experience. I could talk of the subtle emotions and the oddness of sharing your house with a maid. It is a difficult subject if you haven’t gone through it. That’s why I showed to them first. I owed them.

BC: How was their reaction?
SS: They reacted quite well. The one in which the main character is based (Raquel in the movie) laughed a lot, much more than the second maid (Lucy in the movie) who couldn’t stop crying. The shocking part is that after watching the movie Raquel decided to quit. She was still working with my family and she left.

BC: You did also a screening in Chile only for maids…
SS: Yes. After winning Sundance I was interviewed in the Chilean T.V and even if the movie wasn’t done with any political or social awareness intention I spoke about the need of taking action and I told the interviewer that maybe maids should ask for some rights. So the maids union called me up and we decided to organize a screening only for maids before the official opening in Chile. It was probably the best screening ever. It was the most successful and exciting because they were totally into the story. They clapped to some scenes, they booed to some characters, they laughed, they were totally immersed in the movie and afterwards, in the Q & A, there were lots of opinions. Some critics had criticized me for not being more openly critical with the fact that in Chile we still have live-in maids but after this screening I stopped worrying about critics. Chile is a third world country, it’s a poor country with a lot of unemployment and we still have live-in maids, which is an institution we got from colonialism, it’s part of our identity, there is nobody to blame for it but I still think that maids should reclaim more rights.

Sebastian Silva The Maid Interview

BC: What was your main goal with this movie?
SS: I wanted to do an intimate portrait of Raquel. I wanted to show how as a live-in maid you stop having social life, and even sexual life because you don’t even have a place to sleep with your boyfriend, if you have one. Your emotional intelligence suffers and in a way you lose your own identity because you start to identify with the family that you live with, which is not from your same social class, and you misinterpret many things.

BC: You are currently living in New York, are you trying to make your next movie here?
SS: Yes, I want to make a movie in English because I know that it will be much easy to get distribution and its potential audiences are huge but I don’t think is going to be easy. I thought that once you win a festival like Sundance money will flow easily but the truth is that in the U.S. the movie business is an industry so everything is treated in a very serious way, as opposite as in Chile, where making a movie feels almost like a game, compared to here. In Chile nobody cares if actors are famous or not but here it seems a very big issue so maybe the whole idea of independent film in the U.S. is just a myth…

Sebastian Silva The Maid Interview

BC: What will be your next movie about?
SS: The title is “Second Child” and it’s a fiction movie about an eight year-old boy who is gay and falls in love with his uncle during a family vacation. His family wants him to like his little cousin but he is more interested in his uncle…

BC: How did you start in this business?
SS: I went to a very hippy film school in Chile, Escuela de Cine de Chile. It is a very small place but it is very good, if you really love making movies you will be happy there, if you don’t you won’t like it. After spending a year there I travelled around North America and then I started to write scripts but never with the intention of making movies out of it. A friend of mine though teased me into trying to make one so I took the script of La vida me mata to one production company and the miracle happened: they liked it a lot and said yes and produced it. I had lots of fun directing that movie, I loved all the parts of the process so now I have to keep going.

Elephant Eye Films releases Sebastian Silva’s The Maid on October 16th at NYC’s Angelika. Click here for future screenings in select cities. 

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