In the midst of awards season, there is a film campaign that is gaining some traction that provides a shocking premise: shun films made by men and pledge to watch 52 films by women this year.
Shocking, at first, because of all those great-looking films coming out over the next few months by men (how can I miss “The Revenant” or “Carol”?), but the shock goes deeper as you realize, “I can’t think of 10 female directors, let alone 52.”
All of the “Best Picture” nominiees in the U.S. and British academy awards are made by men. All of the “Best Directors” are men. At the Golden Globe awards recently, not one of the 10 movies nominated in the “Best Motion Picture” categories for either drama or comedy was made by a woman.
If this blatant imbalance shocks you too, you could do much worse than kickstarting change with Arami Ullon’s “Cloudy Times” (El Tiempo Nublado), a feature-documentary that was chosen for the longlist for a “Best Foreign Film” Oscar (if you need the sheen of an award to persuade you it’s any good).
It’s about universal issues, it’s half in English — so you’d have to really really hate subtitles to use foreign language as an excuse — and it’s even progressive for the film world: not only was it directed by a woman, but it passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. And you can say you’ve seen a film from Paraguay — how many people in can say that? If you’re googling Paraguay right now, you wouldn’t be alone. Check out some facts about the quirky landlocked South American country here.
“Cloudy Times” is Arami Ullon’s real story documenting having to go back to Paraguay from her current home in Switzerland to arrange care for her mother, whose Parkinson’s disease means she needs more support than can be given by her home help. It shows Ullon struggling with questions many who do not have large family networks used to caring for elders will need to ask. Questions about the responsibility of the individual versus society, the responsibility of children and parents, questions about migration and what home really means.
teleSUR spoke with Ullon, who was born in Asuncion, Paraguay, during the long dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner. “Cloudy Times” was her first feature-documentary, after having directed short films and theatre and written a book of short stories.
Interview with Arami Ullon
Was everything in the film real?
Nothing in the film was scripted. Nothing was re-shot. Nothing was repeated, only the running sequences were prepared and shot more than once (where you see me running in the streets of Basel or on the streets of Asuncion).
How has the film been received in Paraguay? Was it important to you how it was received there, or did you mainly have international audiences in mind?
Of course it was very important for me how people would receive it in Paraguay, especially because it focuses on real situations many Paraguayans go through, currently. One goal was to start a debate, to start talking about the subject, as it is still a taboo. Having said that, it is important to stress that it is not only a Paraguayan problem, the world’s population is aging and we haven’t found solutions.
Do prizes and awards matter to you?
They give recognition to the immense and complex work one must go through while making a film. However, there are so many factors that can influence a jury's decision that are completely outside of the piece of work it self: current political situations, social situations, festival policies, their personal taste, their personal circumstances at the time of viewing, etc, that I find it healthier to think about them as a nice present you sometimes get, and I certainly feel very grateful.
What did the Oscar consideration mean to you / the film?The Oscar consideration was an achievement for Paraguay, for the whole audiovisual sector.
How do you think the social makeup of Paraguay has influenced you as a filmmaker? What have you noticed about your "Paraguayan-ness" living in Europe? What do you think Paraguay has to offer to the world?
I will always be a Paraguayan, wherever I live. I am strongly connected to it and I started talking about it as well with my filmmaking. The distance gave me the possibility to look at it. I have the feeling that when I was still living there I was somehow too close and my inner lenses wouldn't get in focus. Do you know what I mean? Sometimes you need to get distance in order to see clearly again, or even maybe for the first time.
When I went to Paraguay I was fascinated by the mix of languages and cultures in a hard-to-reach landlocked country...
Yes, Paraguay is a country with great diversity, but we Paraguayans still need to acknowledge it in a better, broader way.
What are you working on next?
The film I am working on now has to do with displaced people.
Click to read more about Latin American films you should know about