Paz Lázaro is section head and curator of Berlinale’s Panorama section. Born in Seville, Spain, she holds a degree in Spanish philology, English philology and sociology. Paz Lázaro started working for the Berlin International Film Festival in 2000 and has been Panorama’s Program Manager since 2006. In 2007, she became a member of the selection committee for the Competition. She is also part of the Berlinale delegates team for Ibero-American films and of the Berlinale Special Series selection committee. Before becoming a film festival curator, Paz Lázaro worked in film production, mainly in Spain, as well as in theatre production with artists including Constanza Macras and the Dorky Park Company. From 2004 to 2007, she was part of the curating team for Interfilm – International Short Film Festival Berlin. As a script consultant, she has collaborated with the ICAA in Spain, ICAU in Uruguay and FOPROCINE in Mexico for IMCINE, the Match Factory, as well as Ibermedia.
Ahead of this year’s Berlinale, Tara Karajica talks to her about the 69th edition of the festival and, more importantly, the 40th edition of the Panorama section, as well as the situation of women in film.
The Panorama section is described as “sexy, edgy, daring” but also explicitly queer, explicitly feminist and explicitly political. Can you elaborate on that? How do you personally see Panorama? What does it represent for you?
Paz Lázaro: As a part of the official program of the Berlinale, Panorama honors its name by offering a wide range of films. This year, there are fort-five films in the program, thirty-four are world premieres and nineteen are first features including fiction and documentaries. The above description has a lot to do with how the program is received, a mix of the international art house and politically relevant films from all over the world, and considering the number of first films (nineteen), also a place to discover new talent. For me it has a lot to do with thinking outside the box, leaving your comfort zone, creatively looking for alternatives and an awareness of the topic at hand without losing touch with the world.
In its essence, Panorama is embedded in the festival in a very organic way: the Berlinale is known for its inclusion, all sections work very closely together. Not only is Panorama very close to the Competition program but also to the European Film Market. We are in constant exchange with the companies and part of my job is to take the pulse of filmmaking at this point in time. The films we screened last year have had an utterly healthy festival run; it is actually hard to keep up with what film has its commercial release where, and how many awards they got on the way. Quite a joy to follow up with! Personally, being able to watch films throughout the year from all over the world is also one of the keys to my work. It gives you an understanding of what is going on in filmmaking. Travelling is especially important since it deepens that understanding and stimulates the very necessary exchange with the filmmakers, the production environment they work with. The rest is up to the filmmakers and their work.
How has Panorama evolved since you’ve been in its team?
P.L.: The festival and film world has changed a lot in the last thirteen years I’ve been a part of Panorama. Back when I started, programming was way more complex due to the different celluloid formats, for instance. Berlinale has always made it a priority to offer state of the art technology and allowed all formats the filmmakers work with. That made programming more challenging than now when you can screen a DCP in all cinemas, for example. Digitalization has, of course, been a huge part of that evolution. The number of films to consider keeps on growing in part because of the accessibility the digital filmmaking offers. As has the technological and VOD revolution and the introduction of algorithms to help audiences find their way in the vast offer beyond the festival life. How the market evolves has a direct impact on the festival. The same goes for the press coverage and the rise of social media. The most important part of Panorama’s evolution, I believe, is the engaging and wonderfully committed Panorama audience. Throughout all these changes, the screenings and the Q&As have remained full and engaging.
It is very important to monitor the changes and adjust where necessary without ever losing the identity of Panorama. And it’s important to listen to all parties involved. That’s why in the last two years we have added new team members like two new voices in our already amazing selection committee that brought younger visions and the distributor/exhibitor’s point of view with a total of four women and two men. Or, a new author for the communication strategy who brings the journalistic point of view for example.
What special stamp have you brought to Panorama since you took over the section in 2017?
P.L.: From the beginning, I wanted to experiment with the right size for the program and try and tighten it up while still offering a wide range of movie choices for all festival visitors. This is, of course, an ongoing process and a long-term one at that. But according to the ticket sales numbers, the size of the program should be about right now. The audience wants more access to tickets, which would mean more films, but the industry needs to be able to draw attention to their titles too, so it is a question of balance I’ve been following very closely over the past years. Moreover, as I have mentioned earlier, adding new voices and perspectives to the selection team has been extremely enriching as well. Again, it is about a balance of expert voices in the team and new ones.
What are, according to you, the filmmakers that have marked the section’s history? And vice-versa, how has being selected in Panorama contributed to their careers?
P.L.: We have this remarkable public audience that responds to films in a way that no other festival audience has. And they share the space of the cinemas together with most of the major representatives of the global film industry including buyers, distributors and festival programmers who converge in Berlin every year, plus a significant press corps that is increasingly as diverse as our audience. Bringing all three together in one room to watch your film is what leads to the contribution to the careers of all filmmakers in the program. This is one of main reasons both directors and producers remain keen on presenting their works with us.
In order to further answer your question, we would have to go back and see the Panorama Audience Award winners, the best sold films at the market and the best reviews over the years, and the list is long! Time will tell what filmmakers will leave their mark this year. I, for one, can’t wait for the results of the voting from the audience; it is one of the most thrilling parts of the festival!
Talking about the selection, what can you say about this year’s edition? What is special and what should we be on the lookout for?
P.L.: The 2019 program is as diverse as it gets. They are all made for the big screen – the bigger the screen, the better. It is interesting to see how many films have chosen heroines that are not exactly what you expect, but much more. From the manga artist to two very different police women (one looks like a rundown rock star and the other loves to wear glittery velour tracking suits), the bride to be, the mourning daughter: many of the protagonists are extremely free in many ways, but especially because they allow themselves not to be perfect and first and foremost to be who they are. This goes hand in hand with the very lively way many filmmakers mix genres and bend them to their own storytelling needs. I’m not sure if can call it a trend, but the lines between fiction and reality seem to fuse into each other in many of them, not just the documentaries. The futuristic films, for example, are not your usual dystopia either; we even have a science fiction film without the science! This year’s program also features exceptional cinematic discoveries and portraits of remarkable artists of all disciplines, ages and nationalities. Also, if you are interested in Asian, African, European or Latin-American films, you are in for a treat. An inspiring program for sure!
You are also part of the Berlinale delegates team for Ibero-American films and of the Berlinale Special Series selection committee. Can you talk about these hats you also wear for the Berlinale?
P.L.: Being responsible for the Panorama program doesn’t mean disconnection from all the other sections; on the contrary, the Berlinale is all about dialogue and coherence while staying true to each section’s identities. My work as a delegate allows me to understand the different sections better as well as it gives me a better understanding of a certain region or regions which, in turn, helps my program grow. We, delegates, make recommendations and learn a lot through the selection process thanks to this open dialogue. In the case of Berlinale Series, it is even closer; you can find a number of auteurs that are working between small screen and big screen quite comfortably these days. Following their work means following the different formats they work in too. But I only contribute to a small extent, of course; the section heads do a great job finding the best fit for their programs.
Women in film is a hot topic today. What is your opinion on the matter? How do you see the situation at festivals and what should change there?
P.L.: We, women, have always been a part of this industry. A lot of women before me have made their way into the professional world; I arrived when I could benefit from the breaking ground efforts many women before me have made. I am very thankful to them all and, at the same time, conscious that we need to keep on working on it and not just benefit from it. The question of visibility is most definitely finally happening or should I say starting to happen, but I think the discussion should open up more and not just look at women directors, but also producers and many, many other professionals. The situation at festivals is also evolving, indeed. I’m glad to see the transparency of the selection committees and the numbers taking place in more and more festivals. Ever since I started working for Berlin in 2000, the names of the selection committee were in the catalogue. And till today, there is a lot of ongoing work in gender monitoring and a continuous discussion on what else can we do.
How well are female filmmakers represented in your program this year? And in comparison with the previous years?
P.L.: This year, there a total of fifteen female directors from forty-five films. With 33% we are actually at a lower level than in other years, which also has to do in part with the overall presence in the festival, which is much higher. I am happy you ask about filmmakers and not just directors since the number of female producers should be around half, and the same goes for scriptwriters and DOPs. We are still working on the numbers though, these are not final, and they should be published partly at the press conference on January 29th and will be online by February 4th.
What can you say about the Berlinale and women over the years?
P.L.: The Berlinale is celebrating its 69th edition, so there is a lot to be said and not enough room in an interview. But I can speak from my experience about the changes that I have seen: When I started programming for the festival, all the program sections heads were men. All of them. Today the majority are women. I guess that means by 2020 if there should be a 50/50, we will need to include more men *smiles and winks*