Isabel Lamberti studied Film Theory and Directing at the University of Amsterdam, the Tisch School of the Arts in New York and the Netherlands Film Academy. While initially concentrating on documentary filmmaking, during her studies she increasingly developed her personal style in a hybrid cinema somewhere between reality and fiction. Her short films “Volando voy” (2015), which received the Torino Award at Nest Film Students in San Sebastián, and “Amor” (2017) screened at numerous film festivals around the world, were critically acclaimed, awarded and finally acquired by ARTE France. In 2018, she co-directed the Dutch remake of the successful youth series “Skam” for public television. Her latest short, “Father” (2019), premiered at the Locarno Film Festival.
Tara Karajica talks to Isabel Lamberti about her debut feature, “The Last Days of Spring,” a poignant story of a family facing eviction from a Madrid shantytown in which documentary and fiction overlap, that is screening now in the Europe! Voices of Women in Film program at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, as well as her stance on women in film and what she is up to next.
How did you get into filmmaking?
Isabel Lamberti: I first studied Media & Culture at the University of Amsterdam. In the second year, we had to specialize and choose between television, new media or film. I chose film because out of the three, I liked it the most. In the second year, I fell in love with the medium, but the classes sometimes felt a bit too theoretical for me. After studying and analyzing film as an art form and watching a lot of films, I decided I now wanted to make them. So after University, I applied to film school.
How did The Last Days of Spring come about?
I.L.: My graduation film, Volando voy, was about two brothers walking home from school. An almost three-hour-walk because the boys lived in a slum where there were no school buses. The walk was long and harsh, through a desert, but also a place were the brothers were the kings of their own kingdom. After finishing the film and getting really close with the whole family, I stayed in contact with them. The slum where they lived was a specific world inside another world. A micro-cosmos. I was intrigued by the place and saw how much it meant to them, even though it was not a romantic place. I won an award with Volando voy at the San Sebastián Film Festival that gave me the opportunity to develop a feature at the Torino Film Lab. I knew I wanted to make another film and this time with the whole family. When they told me that they were being evicted, I knew I had to make the film around this theme.
The Last Days of Spring is a fiction full of non-fiction action filmed to look like a documentary. Can you talk about this choice? What was the shooting process like?
I.L.: Our documentary shooting style was, on the one hand, a very practical choice; we had to make ourselves as small as possible, otherwise we would attract too much attention. But it was also an almost ethical one. If we wanted to capture the truth about this place, we had to tell it from the inside and not from the outside. The place is rough and energetic or dynamic. We needed a style that would capture that essence. Filming with a lot of equipment would have taken away a lot of freedom and spontaneity.
The film deals with emotional dislocation brought on by eviction, which in turn is brought on by poverty and the recession, and resilient familial affection as an act of resistance. It also tackles the fact that the characters have to say goodbye to a part of themselves and learn who they are in a very harsh way. Can you comment on that?
I.L.: As I mentioned before, the slum where the film takes place, is a micro-cosmos of its own. It has its own ways and rules so different from regular society. The children of the family were all born and raised in this world. I’ve always been very interested in the influence of the surroundings on the individual. Who you are depends so much on where you are. So, for them, having to leave their self-built home in a neighborhood that formed them so much is not so much losing a home as it is losing a life. I wanted to make this difference very clear in the film.
Can you talk about the characters? How do you see them?
I.L.: I love them very much, almost as family. I’ve known them for almost seven years now and what I loved the most about them is that they have no – or very little – shame. To me, they never tried to look better than they were. I was raised to show the best side of myself when, for example, visitors came over. But not in this family. I’ve been, for example, in the middle of fights between them from the very beginning. If I came over, they were most of the times in PJs or sometimes even sleeping in the living room. Interestingly enough, their “real” behavior made me feel so comfortable and welcome. It made me feel like I was part of them because they didn’t treat me as a visitor, but as one of their own. Their shamelessness makes them, in my eyes, also very good actors. They are not afraid to show themselves. They are proud and have nothing to hide, even the “less perfect” sides. That’s inspiring to me.
Can you talk about the title?
I.L.: We struggled so much to find a good title. It was our own fault because we used for a very long time a working title that didn’t make any sense after rewrites, but were we were so attached to it. Finding a new title didn’t feel like a priority until the very last moment. But then, in a hurry, everything you try feels weird and random. As if you had to give your close friend another name. After a while, we chose this title because the film captures the last months in spring of them living in their house. I guess it was the least “awkward” option. Now, I’m used to it and I’m very happy with it although obviously it sounds better in Spanish – La última primavera.
What kind of impact do you think your film will have?
I.L.: I’m not sure the film will have any impact in a political way. Its existence will probably not change anything. But, for everyone that lived in this slum, it’s very important to have a testimony of the place, especially because in a few months, it won’t exist anymore. The film is made with almost entirely people from there, so it will be a great memory for everyone who has lived there. I guess that is the biggest impact; it brings people home. For me, it’s good enough. I never tried to make an activist film, I never wanted to argue sides in this film. I mean that, of course, it’s very painful for a lot of people that the place is being torn down, but for others, there are good reasons for it – for example, they say the ground is toxic because of a big dumping ground next to it. With the film, I wanted to show through the eyes of one family what it means to lose your home; nothing less, nothing more.
Are you a feminist? If so, how does this inform your filmmaking?
I.L.: Of course, everyone that is for equal rights, pay, possibilities, etc. between humans is also a feminist. I notice that I feel the urge to tell more stories with female perspectives in them. For example, my second film will be about the female experience of undocumented immigrants in Madrid. A theme that we know mostly through the perspective of men or entire families. But just women? I haven’t seen a lot of that. Also, it’s very important to me to show these females as strong humans instead of poor victims. It’s not enough to make films about women, we also need to think about an honest way to portray them. Active, instead of passive. Fighters, instead of victims. All-round (imperfect) individuals like we are.
What subjects interest you and that you would like to tackle in your work? What would you like audiences to come away with after watching your films?
I.L.: I guess I have a special place in my heart for the marginalized. I feel the need to give them a stage where they can be seen and celebrated as they deserve instead of being hidden away. I guess I just want us to love one another. I think film has that power. In ninety minutes, we can be confronted with our own judgements and by the end of the film, they can be erased. If the audience could empathize with and feel for my characters, I’ve done my job.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker and what is your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
I.L.: I don’t “do” favorites. I don’t like to think in comparisons. Also, there are too many great ones that touched me with their work. The first one that comes to mind is Jane Campion. She is terrific. And, the first great film by a female filmmaker that comes to mind is Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Céline Sciamma. That film blew me away.
There has been a lot of talk about the situation of women in the film industry these past two and a half years. What is your take on the matter? How is it in Spain?
I.L.: I don’t live in Spain but in Amsterdam. I’m half Dutch and half Spanish, but I have lived almost my whole life in the Netherlands, so I can’t tell you much about that in Spain. In the Netherlands, it’s good. A lot of female filmmakers are getting support and there is a good percentage of women filmmakers, although there should be more women of color making films. I think the Dutch Film Fund and other film related organizations have seen and acknowledge this lack of diversity and are really doing their best to find ways to change this.
What are you working on next?
I.L.: As mentioned before, I’m writing my second feature film which investigates the theme of female migration from Latin American countries to Madrid. In the last few years, because of the construction crisis, for the first time, more women than men come, undocumented, to Spain to find work. These women come alone and live together in rented apartments. My film is about a group of women that live together and form their own nuclear, but temporary, family.
Photo credits: Robin Alysha Clemens.
This interview was conducted in partnership with: