Isabel Medarde, the community role model
Imagine the excitement built up as forty some-odd actors, musicians, technicians, and extras buzzed around the small city of León, Spain earlier this month shooting sequences for the anxiously-awaited-for film, "la espiral maravillosa," by local audiovisual producer and superstar Isabel Medarde. For Isabel, who studied film at TAI (Madrid), dramatic art at ESAD (University of Kent at Canterbury / Torrelodones, Madrid), and photography at Efti (Madrid), sharing stories with the community through film projects like "la espiral maravillosa" is not only a talent of hers, but also a great honor.
The specific story behind "la espiral maravillosa" is one that Isabel holds dearly and hopes will remind women that they too can have a place in the field of cinematography. The film's protagonist, Leocadia Cantalapiedra (Salamanca 1890 - México 1952), though largely absent from any archive of the time, was a pioneer in Spanish cinema during an adverse cultural era. Determined to find success as a female filmmaker in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Leocadia reinvented herself three times (as Leo, Nico, and Zoe), each time adopting a different persona, as a way of confronting unspoken gender rules in the field. Though history erased much of Leocadia's story and impact, Isabel is bringing the spirit and life of Leocadia back to the community from which she was born.
I met with Isabel earlier this month regarding a research project of Spain's independent cultural spaces like her Laboratorio Bambara. Our conversations about topics ranging from fundraising to personal passions were exciting, and even more, invigorating. But what impressed me most about Isabel was her superstar role in the community.
Young girls look up to Isabel. They ask for her help starting film projects. They become more confident around art and about themselves. They learn that pursuing a career in the arts in possible. And heck, take it from me, they scream excitedly across plazas in the small city of León just to say hi!
In a city, region, and country where women have been largely absent from the arts, cinema, and literature, Isabel is not only placing herself, as a woman, in the field of cinematography, but she is also rescuing the identities of pioneering female filmmakers before her and thereby inspiring a future ripe with opportunities for female creatives.
In the spirit of celebrating her superstar role in the community, I asked Isabel to share a bit about her story with film and her thoughts on field. Here is a condensed (and translated!) version of what she has to say:
Through cinema and theatre, what do you think we can learn about ourselves?
I believe that you can learn practically everything. For example, I saw a movie, whose title I prefer not to mention, which shocked me so much that when I left the cinema I "became" a vegetarian, something I had never had in mind before. It would be difficult to explain how this happened, but I was six months without eating meat or fish. To such an extent you can change the fact of watching a movie. But this is not always a good thing. The media, including shows, television, songs, literature, are very influential, and we must have critical judgment. We cannot believe everything they tell us and we have to draw our own conclusions. Even more today now that so much information circulates online. Cinema and theatre, and the arts in general, can condemn injustices, or they can manipulate the masses. It all depends on us.
Through cinema and theatre, what have you learned about yourself?
Having to transmit an idea in cinema as a director or in theater as an actress, takes you to a deeper part of yourself and of human relationships, as a study. For me personally, what cinema and theatre have taught me most are my shortcomings, everything I can not do, the difficulty of finding my own language to express myself. The audiovisual language we have learned since we were born practically. What I have learned most is to realize how that language is manipulated, and how to get to use a language of mine that expresses without trying to manipulate others... Working in cinema also helps you to learn to listen to others, because we work as a team. Movies are not made alone and the opinions and ideas that people give you on the team are often very valuable and you learn a lot from them. It is also a great satisfaction to see the camaraderie that exists in a collaborative environment. You also learn the more human side of others, when they give their best so that they create an idea that is only in your head, like a blurred image and that ends up projected on a screen.
In your opinion, why is it important to appreciate cinema and theatre?
I was always asking this same question and I'm going to answer you in the words of another person. I have a friend who is a journalist and nurse and has worked as an aid worker with an NGO, as a nurse in war hospitals, in very remote places of the planet, trying to save the lives of children and many other people. Whenever he returns to León from one of his campaign jobs and tells me the horrible things he has to do while living in a country at war, I feel bad and I always ask him the same question: "While people are suffering so much, what am I doing? I'm making movies, I feel bad, shouldn't I be like you trying to save lives?" And he always replies the same way: "No Isabel, you do your job. When the nurses finish our work, we need to see movies, listen to music, read a book, go to the theater, disconnect, and see the beautiful and creative part of life, which gives us back the human side, and additionally, people who suffer in countries at war to what they aspire to is the same as us, to lead a normal life in which to enjoy something like art. doing your work and your movies, that the world needs a lot." But cinema has a lot of lies, and reconstruction of what we call reality. We must also think that cinema and art in general is a double-edged sword. I am interested in everything that is hidden, more than what we are trying to sell as totally true and established.
What inspired you to create the cultural space, Laboratorio Bambara, and what impact do you hope it has?
From the beginning we wanted to create a space where our community could create, meet, work, collaborate, investigate, and disseminate knowledge. We decided to call it Laboratorio Bambara, after our collective (Bambara Zinema), because the word laboratorio suggests a type of environment and predisposition to research, learning, and collaboration with other people... I would like Laboratorio Bambara to offer those who need it training and knowledge of the field (audiovisual, film, photography, performing arts, and other overlapping, multidisciplinary areas) so that they do not have to leave León for it... And I would like people to think of Laboratorio Bambara as a place where anyone can come and propose any activity, as long as it is not against our ideals and as long as it can be feasibly carried out in an economically-affordable way.
What is your favorite part of interacting with children in the workshops you offer?
For me the best thing is to feel that they have a space to be able to be themselves and express themselves artistically according to their way of being. A place where they are not judged or censored and a space of freedom where they can experiment. Something that matters almost even more to me though, is that they can acquire a critical judgment, even though they are young people of about 12-13 years old. Normally we are not taught to be critical or to think for ourselves in schools. I was not taught to do it as a child and it is something that I miss a lot. I like when they ask questions and learn for themselves.
(photo credits: Miriam Vega)
Superstar Snapshot: Isabel Medarde
Superstar strength: being role model-tastic
Superstar secret talent: ability to grow as a person, and of course, cooking (everything and anything!)
Superstar noteworthy quote: "hacer cine es tener una discusión mental contigo misma, que termina en una pantalla con las respuestas y los resultados más inesperados"