Estefania Arregui has an MBA in Cultural Management and a PG Cert in Festival and Arts Management. She worked at Cannes Film Festival, Take One Action Film Festival and Leith Late Arts Festival, amongst others. From 2015 to 2020 she was the General Producer of Ecuador’s International Documentary Film Festival – EDOC. She is the co-founder and CEO of Trópico Cine, an independent distribution company based in Ecuador. She is also the co-director of EQUIS, Ecuador’s Feminist Film Festival.
Tara Karajica talks to Estefania Arregui, one of this year’s Berlinale Talents, about her career in film distribution and the film festival circuit and women in film today.
How did you get into film? Why did you choose this particular field?
Estefania Arregui: I was always curious about film. When I was sixteen, I did an internship at a film festival that used to exist in Ecuador, Cero Latitud. From that moment, I knew I wanted to work at film festivals, but as there is no specific degree in that field, I decided to go to Film School instead and then do a Master’s that would allow me to work at film festivals.
What sparked your interest in film festivals?
E.A.: My experience as an intern at CERO LATITUD Film Festival when I was sixteen years old. I loved to work at a place where people met to talk about films, where the audience would meet the filmmakers and where you could attend different activities surrounding films.
You have worked at numerous film festivals around the world. How has this accumulated festival experience shaped your career and what has it taught you on a personal level?
E.A.: I’ve had the chance to work at very big festivals and very small ones as well. So very different budgets and processes. This has allowed me to shape my own festivals and the way I chose to work with my team, the sponsors and stakeholders.
How does it influence your work as a distributor?
E.A.: Festivals are one of the many distribution windows a film has. So my job as a film festival and as a distributor is very similar. I have to decide how to communicate the film to the audience. Which film would work best at which venue, with what audience, etc.
You co-founded the independent film distribution company, Trópico Cine. Can you talk about that?
E.A.: Trópico Cine is an independent distribution company that I co-founded with two friends, five years ago. We created it with the goal of diversifying the film offer at cinemas in Ecuador. More than 90% of the films programmed at Ecuadorian cinemas come from Hollywood and we wanted to change that. In the five years that the company has existed, we’ve distributed fourteen independent international films in Ecuador.
In that sense, what is the state of indie film today, according to you?
E.A.: Indie films are always facing very important challenges to find financing and audiences. I believe with the rise of digital platforms and VOD platforms, indie films could have more challenges to meet their audiences because the windows have diversified. Now, you do not to have a big investment budget to premiere your film in cinemas, you can just upload it to a platform. However, this can also be very dangerous if you do not have a specific strategy and if you do not choose your platforms well.
How do you see distribution today, especially with the different platforms?
E.A.: The film distribution models are constantly changing. For years, distribution has had a very specific order and a release window system. Today, this is no longer a reality. The rise of digital and VOD platforms has changed the logic completely. I believe everyone is trying to find their own models according to the films and territories they have. It can be vey confusing, but also very inspiring because distribution can become a very creative job.
How do films made by female filmmakers fare in terms on distribution today? Is it more difficult to distribute films made by women directors?
E.A.: Before, nobody cared if a film was made by a man or a woman. Nobody talked about the disparity between male and female filmmakers. I don’t think it is easier or harder to distribute women’s films, I just believe that, due to the inequalities of the film industry, there are less films made by women than by men. It is just now that women filmmakers and films made by women are starting to have more visibility. The rise of women’s and feminist film festivals have contributed enormously to this visibility. Also, VOD platforms that exhibit only women’s films or that create special sections for them are starting to emerge. Sales agents are also becoming more specialized.
What is the film you distributed you are the proudest of? Why?
E.A.: Alba by Ana Cristina Barragán. It is an Ecuadorian film that I like very much. It tells the story of a young teenager and her relation with her father. The film is very intimate, but also very relatable. The film was very successful from its very start. It started at scrip stations all over the world and ended up premiering at Rotterdam and wining a Jury Prize at the San Sebastián Film Festival. Trópico Cine did the distribution in Ecuador. We were able to show it in almost every cinema in the country.
What is the situation of the film industry in Ecuador today?
E.A.: The Film Industry in Ecuador is always very unstable. Public Funding in the last years has decreased a lot and these funds usually support films until their post-production. There is no support for distribution companies and very small funds for releases. Film Festivals also struggle a lot to find their way financially. We usually depend on donations from public institutions and NGOs and some sponsorships from private funders.
You co-founded EQUIS, the first feminist film festival in Ecuador. What prompted that? What is the festival’s mission?
E.A.: EQUIS is Ecuador’s first feminist, international, independent and non-competitive film festival. By showing great films, it offers a place of discussion around gender and sexuality, promoting equal rights and opportunities for all human beings and questioning gender stereotypes in order to create a better society. As well as inspiring other women to make movies and talk about their stories. Virginia Sotomayor and I created the festival because we are both feminists and we believe that cinema is a very powerful tool to communicate.
Who are your partners? Do you work with other feminist film festivals around the world?
E.A.: In terms of financing, every year we have to look for new partners to finance the festival. Our budget is never secured. We always try to work with as many feminist organizations as possible. Last year, we collaborated with more than twenty organizations that work in Ecuador. They fed the Q&As after the films, wrote articles in our fanzines and helped us spreading the word about the festival.
In that regard, there are many feminist film festivals around the world. Why, do you think, there is a need for them? Are they instigating change or helping change things on a global level?
E.A.: I believe that every feminist film festival responds to a need that society has to watch films with inspiring women who tell real stories and escape stereotypes. We live in a time where we need to talk about feminism, about equal rights and film festivals are a great tool to do so. Film festivals have the capacity to summon people and to encourage discussions around the films and this is a great motor of change. So yes, I think that feminist film festivals are great tools to discuss gender equality, to question power relations and inspire change.
What is the selection process of EQUIS?
E.A.: We choose films in two ways. The first one is by looking for them and contacting producers and sales agents to invite them to participate in the festival. We also have an open call (July 1st – August 31st 2020) where everyone can submit their film. Both directors and the programmer watch it and then decide which one is selected.
There has been a lot of talk about the situation of women in the film industry these past two years. What is your opinion on the matter? How is it in Ecuador?
E.A.: I believe it is very important for women’s voices to start to be heard. Women in our sector are very invisible. Films are portraits of societies and most of the films that are made portray very basic stereotypical women. Very far from what women do or expect from life. Women in films are usually put in a very simplistic character; this is not a reflection or the complexities of being a woman. In Ecuador, as in the rest of the world, the filmmaking sector is very dominated by men. In Ecuador, only 40% of directors are women, and 60% of the public funds are received by men. These numbers are not catastrophic, but we still have not achieved equality.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker? And your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
E.A.: I have many favorite female filmmakers, but a special one is Sofia Coppola. My favorite films are XXY by Lucia Puenzo and We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lynne Ramsay.
What does the future hold for Trópico Cine and EQUIS?
E.A.: Hopefully, we will continue to work. I envision many interesting films being distributed by Trópico Cine, films that are shown in cinemas around the country, but also starting to work with VOD Platforms. For EQUIS, I envision a festival that consolidates through the years, a festival that the audience looks forward to. We dream of receiving more feminist films made by Ecuadorian filmmakers every year and contributing to a change of mind set in our society.