Sandra Seeling Lipski was born in Berlin, Germany, and moved to Mallorca, Spain, when she was nine years old. She started acting professionally at the age of fourteen and never looked back. Acting has always been in her life and she needs it to satisfy a certain urge to express herself. After studying at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York, Sandra moved to LA and started working on a number of comedies, including Sasha Baron Cohen’s “Brüno.” She guest starred on TV shows such as “CSI NY” and Jon Favreau’s “In Case of Emergency” followed soon after. She is currently starring in her own projects that include three short films and a debut feature that is in development. In 2011, she came back to her hometown of Mallorca and founded the Evolution! Mallorca International Film Festival (EMIFF), an independent film festival that bridges cultures and people.
Tara Karajica talks to Sandra Seeling Lipski ahead of the 8th edition of the Evolution! Mallorca International Film Festival.
How and why did you make the switch from acting to directing and producing?
Sandra Seeling Lipski: I wouldn’t call it a switch, as I still regularly act in my own and other productions. In 2008, there was big boom in the industry; independent filmmaking became more accessible than ever, with affordable equipment making it easier to produce. I was craving more control over my career and the kind of projects I could be involved in. All this led me to start writing, producing and directing my own films.
How was EMIFF born?
S.S.L.: In 2010, after finishing my first short film Going Down, I decided to go back to film school and major in directing and producing at the Los Angeles Film School. My thesis film, My Mother, was invited to screen at festivals in and around California, which introduced me to the exciting world of the Film Festival. I was looking forward to submitting my film to the Mallorca International Film Festival, a place I grew up in and where my family is still living today. My hope was to enjoy the film with my whole family present; this dream was quickly shattered when I noticed that Mallorca did not have a Film Festival! Right away, I felt a calling and saw an opportunity to create the Mallorca Film Festival myself.
What were the best surprises? The challenges, the victories? How has it evolved since it’s founding?
S.S.L.: The Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival, as the name suggests, is an ever-evolving entity. Each year, we are surprised by the rising numbers of submissions, which makes us extremely grateful and we want to work even harder to improve the filmmaker experience year after year. Each year, we spend a great amount of energy on securing private sponsorships. Our victories are signing the sponsor contracts and securing the budget we need to producer another amazing festival for our filmmakers. During our first edition in 2012, we screened twenty-four films in three days and welcomed less than 500 guests; last year we screened over a hundred films in seven days and sold over 3,500 tickets.
Its mission is to bridge cultures. Can you elaborate on that? In that sense, can you talk about EMIFF L.A.?
S.S.L.: The “See the Winners” edition which took place in L.A. for consecutive years was a great example of our mission “Bridging cultures / bridging people.” A selection of the winning films from Mallorca where showcased at the Los Angeles Film School each summer, before the next main event would take place in the fall in Mallorca. As the ever-growing event in Mallorca is demanding all of our team’s attention now, we have had to put the “See the Winners” program on hold, but I hope that we are able to grow our team and bring back the EMIFF L.A. edition soon.
Can you talk about its name? Why “Evolution”?
S.S.L.: Evolution is “the gradual development of something” and this is what we are thriving for with the festival. Every year, we improve and grow, consolidating our mission and refining the filmmaker experience.
What is the best thing about the Evolution! Mallorca International Film Festival?
S.S.L.: The best thing about EMIFF is that it brings together different cultures, languages and traditions to celebrate independent film.
What is the selection process like? What do you look for when selecting films for EMIFF?
S.S.L.: EMIFF opens submissions in January and the programmers start watching films in April. We look for films that reflect our mission of bridging cultures and bringing people together – this can be reflected in the storyline, in a film using more than one language or the diversity and inclusion of the cast.
Do you operate by quotas in your selection? Are you mindful of the presence of female filmmakers in your selection?
S.S.L.: Yes, absolutely – we are always very mindful of the female filmmaker presence in the program.
What can you say about this year’s selection? What should we look out for?
S.S.L.: This year, our mission statement seems more pertinent than ever. The program takes a critical look at today’s Zeitgeist. With “Love Cuts” we ask; how is our youth doing? With “Krow’s Transformation” we explore the reality of LGBTQ lives and our Opening Night film, Come as You Are, reveals the discrimination still felt amongst disabled communities. Film expresses unity and broadens horizons; EMIFF presents over eighty films from seventeen countries from both local and international filmmakers. You will witness stories of endurance, bravery, struggle, sacrifice and most importantly, unwavering love. We aim to unite, inspire and smash intolerances as we continue our mission of bringing cultures and people together.
When you select films, can you exclude your personal taste? If so, to what extent?
S.S.L.: I don’t aim to exclude my personal taste; to the contrary, I try to encourage it as much as possible to give the program its uniqueness! My intention is to curate a diverse program that speaks to a wide ranging audience including kids, young adults, the middle-aged and seniors. I think it is my personal taste that distinguishes EMIFF from other festival programs.
What is a good film, according to you?
S.S.L.: A film can have bad sound, average production values, OK actors, but the story has to be good. It’s all in the story and how it is told. Story is key and the most important aspect of a good film for me.
Shorts have an important place in EMIFF’s program. How do you see the short form today? Why is it important for you to screen short films at EMIFF?
S.S.L.: A good short film is incredibly hard to pull off. To tell a good story in less than fifteen minutes, to engage the audience and be impactful, with a specific point of view, is not an easy task. Short films are important for the festival for many reasons; it supports young filmmakers, of course, and introduces the audience to an extremely satisfying viewing experience, exploring five or six different stories in ninety minutes.
How would you define EMIFF and its artistic direction? Has it evolved over time?
S.S.L.: EMFF’s artistic direction is reflected in our diverse and inclusive programming and our mission “Bridging Cultures/Bridging People.” Over time, our goal is to stay true to this mission, stay connected with the current international Zeitgeist and show stories which are thought-provoking. In the end, it’s the filmmakers and their work that set the tone for what a program can be.
How do you make sure that the program is appealing to both filmmakers and the audience?
S.S.L.: I treat them as a whole, as one entity. I ask myself what topics are current in the world and what are the stories that need more attention, a bigger platform to eliminate possible prejudice.
What is the audience’s response to EMIFF and its films?
S.S.L.: The audience’s response has to be one of my favorite moments of the festival each year, when a film has finished and the audience stays seated to take a moment to digest what they have just experienced. Then, they exit the film and to start a conversation; sharing their thoughts, surprises and possibly new points of view with their fellow audience members. It is so satisfying to see.
How are its numerous industry events helping it in its growth?
S.S.L.: At EMIFF, we call our industry events the “Producers Club”. This includes panels, a Pitch Forum, masterclasses and workshops. These events help attract another kind of audience including young filmmakers and students. Filmmakers who visit any festival hope for a very full experience that includes great films, educational industry events and high quality networking. At EMIFF, we thrive to cover all those bases and help nurture new filmmaker connections that hopefully result in new collaborations and projects.
Many of them are certainly aimed at actors. Why?
S.S.L.: This year we actually created workshops that invite a variety of film professions; for example, our Casting Workshop with Lucinda Syson is also aimed at directors, producers and casting directors to experience the casting process from a different point of view. Our “Scene Machine” workshop unites writes, actors, directors and cinematographers and guides them to produce and shoot an original scene which will then be screened in the cinema on the last day of the festival.
Do you work with other film festivals around the world?
S.S.L.: We enjoy several collaborations with festivals around the world like Hollyshorts and New Filmmakers L.A. in Los Angeles, Newport Beach Film Festival in Southern California, Menorca Film Festival in Menorca, Spain, and the Andorra Kids Film Festival in the North of Spain. Our collaborations include the exchange of films, program consultations and simple support for each other on every level.
How is EMIFF helping the Balearic Islands’ film industry? Where and how is it positioned in the Spanish film industry and its festival circuit?
S.S.L.: EMIFF is the main event in the Balearic Islands that connects local filmmakers with the international film industry. Four years ago, we started a special section in the program called “Made in Baleares” with the sole objective to provide local filmmakers with a special platform to get their projects seen by an international audience. “Made in Baleares” has continuously grown over the years, presenting a record-breaking twenty-four projects in the program last year. This year, we look forward to continuing to champion Balearic films and their filmmakers. It is also important to mention that due to the local government grants, all our industry panels are free to attend for local filmmakers, to help facilitate their access to great information that can help create new projects. This initiative boosts attendance and gives Balearic filmmakers the chance to network with significant contacts and therefore have the opportunity to improve the production of their projects.
EMIFF is positioned at the end of October, very close to the three major film festivals in Spain: Sitges, San Sebastián and Gijón. These dates work perfectly for us because Spain is in the throes of film festival buzz and Mallorca slowly turns from its summer tourism to a more cultural tourism. Also climate-wise, it could not be better as the end of October, as it marks the Indian summer in Mallorca when visiting filmmakers can enjoy a Mediterranean beach swim in the morning followed by industry events and film screenings in the afternoon.
Can you talk about your film career and your future projects?
S.S.L.: My film career as an actress slowed down a little bit whilst I was pregnant and gave birth to my first daughter last year. After the 8th EMIFF edition at the end of October 2019, I will fly back to Los Angeles and prepare a couple of new roles for various film projects; unfortunately, all details are still under wraps. From a filmmaker point of view, it is my deep desire to finally finish a feature film script I have been working on for the past four years and I’ll hopefully shoot it in Mallorca in 2020; it’s a family drama telling the story of two sisters who return to the childhood home to uncover their mother’s dark secrets.
There has been a lot of talk about women in film in the past two years. What do you think of the situation of women in film today? How is it in Spain?
S.S.L.: I believe the conversation about women filmmakers should continue and expand every day. The situation for women in the film industry is glorious! We have an abundance of opportunities waiting for us to be used and it has never been a better time for female writers, directors, and producers, etc. to pitch their projects and get support. The industry right now is sensitized to support females in film and we have to get our ducks in a row and take advantage of the opportunity. In Spain, an organization called CIMA (Asociación de mujeres cineastas y de medios audiovisuales) is a great advocate for female filmmakers. They support women wherever possible; write grants, get equal pay and also act as a support system.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker? And your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
S.S.L.: One of my favorite filmmakers is Sofia Coppola; I admire her exquisite way of telling stories. My favorite film by a female filmmaker would have to be Lost in Translation. Of course, one of my biggest dreams is to bring Sofia to EMIFF and celebrate her vision and work.
What does the future hold for EMIFF?
S.S.L.: The future is bright! We will continue to do our best to make filmmakers feel extremely welcome and visible, to curate interesting and challenging programs as well as invite high quality guests who aim to educate and inspire our ever-growing audience. Outside the festival, we aim to create a platform that can help filmmakers find funding for new projects and convert EMIFF into the key event for independent cinema in Europe.