Yesterday, the director of Petite maman received the very first D’A Award and gave a masterclass for film students

Yesterday, D’A – Barcelona Film Festival presented the first D’A Award, an award that aims to serve as a tribute and a loudspeaker for filmmakers who shine for their radically contemporary and exploratory gaze on the living language of this art form.

The Festival director, Carlos R. Ríos, welcomed a CCCB Theatre packed to the rafters with film students and accredited press, emphasizing the value of “sharing” cinema, also with other institutions in the city, as in the case of yesterday’s event, with the Fundació Miró and the Catalan Film Academy. The director gave way to the star of the day, but not before encouraging people to fill the D’A cinemas, because “the next Céline Sciamma and Carla Simón are at the festivals right now”.

With shouts of admiration and expectation, the audience welcomed the two filmmakers on stage, where Carla Simón read a long and emotional speech in which she also thanked D’A for bringing the best contemporary cinema to Barcelona. “I dare say that we would not be able to think of this cinema without your voice. Your films are crucial to understanding where we are cinematically and socially. I’m sure people from all over the world would love to be here today to thank you personally: Thank you for teaching us that we can approach stories in a luminous way, that gestures can be huge and meaningful.” The Alcarràs’ director acknowledgments went over all the virtues of Sciamma’s overwhelming sensitivity, highlighting her respectful gaze on youth and childhood. In fact, Simon, who became a mother during the festival odyssey after the Berlinale Golden Bear and who portrayed her pregnancy in Carta a mi madre para mi hijo, made it clear that “I would only let you direct my son, no one else”.

Céline Sciamma (Pontoise, 1978), the first recipient of the D’A Prize (made of wood, handy and austere —”How nice! It will fit in my pocket!”), returned to Simón’s kindness by publicly declaring herself an admirer of the Catalan filmmaker and dedicated the prize to the workers and activists who, at this moment in France, “are fighting for all of us”. “For the students, for the homeless, for pensions, for water… people are beaten up by the police and I admire them. I can’t wait to go back to be by their side. This is a global struggle”. 

The eagerly awaited masterclass followed, with film critic Philipp Engel taking the stage. During the talk, the French director confessed that she is on strike with traditional industry cinema and that Petite maman (2021) may represent an important turning point. “I can assure and prove with my journey that it is possible, to arrive, as a woman, but it is very difficult. And now I consider it my responsibility to think about alternatives, other ways of producing, cooperative structures, a less hierarchical cinema”. Not that she believes that these positions are unique to the current moment: her first films, centered on “breaking with the patriarchal language of cinema”, were inspired by countercultural references such as the late Chantal Akerman, who Sight & Sound named as the director of the best film in history last year (Jeanne Dielman, 1975). And it is committed to accessing and re-encountering this feminist cinema that has existed since its beginnings and that defends itself, as the filmmaker Germaine Dulac (1882-1942) did in her own lectures.

Despite her particular strike, Sciamma is optimistic and wants to be, she believes that cinema is very young and that it can mutate towards unexplored places: “I think that the specificity of cinema is the disjunction of sound and image. TikTok is an editing tool that participates in the reflection of this disjunction, and in a very fun and light way”. Not that he claimed that Tiktok is cinema, but he defended the fact that we are in a moment given more than ever to the exploration of language. In fact, in front of an audience full of film students, he encouraged trainees to explore and experiment with the simplification of the means of production: “There is freedom in these tools!”

One of the languages that most stimulates the director of Portrait of a Lady on Fire is animation. Sciamma praised it when talking to Engel about childhood and the dangers of a certain kind of cinema that makes a fetish out of contemplating the physical changes of children. “I decided to collaborate with children, to give them a role, to let them ask questions. Children are provocative, intelligent. With each question, they shape a world”. And beyond quoting Shrek, Sciamma brings up the memory of the not-so-retired Hiyao Miyazaki (Tokyo, 1941), whom he admires and is committed to offering children poetic spaces that are less based on the adrenaline of editing. “Maybe I have to make films only for children,” she confesses. And we think of other artists who, intelligently, made the same decision: Anne Sylvestre, Guillermina Motta….

The hour and a bit was short for an audience that was absolutely riveted with screams and applause. We will see Céline Sciamma again soon, for sure.

-Marc Barceló