Interview – Gaia Furrer

LA RIOT-editor Rowan Stol was invited to join the 2020 ’27 Times Cinema’ jury, consisting of 27 representatives of 27 European countries. As a jury, they attended the Giornate Degli Autori program at Venice Film Festival, and picked the grand winner for the Giornate Degli Autori award. Besides their jury duties, the representatives participated in panels and workshops, and created content for the 27 Times Cinema blog. For this interview, Rowan sat down with Giornate Degli Autori’s artistic director.

The following interview was initially published on the blog of the initiative ’27 Times Cinema’, which can be found at:

By Rowan Stol (pics © Daniel Morawitz)

I feel grateful everyday for the things we get to do as the 27 Times Cinema jurors here in Venice. One of those things is that I got to interview Giornate Degli Autori’s brand new artistic director, Gaia Furrer. In between meetings and duties, she warmly invited me to sit down on the balcony of the Villa Degli Autori, where we discussed the position of women in the film industry, the universal themes that can be recognized in the program she so carefully curated and the collaboration between us jurors and the Giornate team.

I am very honoured to be here as a representative of our jury and congratulations on becoming Giornate Degli Autori’s artistic director as of this year. What differences have you noticed within this new position, compared to having been head of programming in the previous years

Responsibility is the biggest difference. I’ve been working for Giornate Degli Autori since the very first year. I met Giorgi Gosetti (General Delegate of GDA) when I was an intern for another Italian film festival twenty years ago. He then decided to create Giornate Degli Autori and asked me to work with him. It’s been a long way before I got here. I started working in a cinema. Then I became a programmer and later head of programming. Now as the artistic director, I have the responsibility and the last word over many choices. I’m selecting and coordinating a team of programmers and have to do interviews and introduce films on stage. Before, I had a more low profile, and now I have all this visibility, so it has changed a lot. But the passion is the same, and the core of the work is really the same, which is watching film, managing relations with producers, directors and artists, which is the best part of the job. 

Within this new position with its visibility and responsibility, is there a new path you want to go down with the program of Giornate Degli Autori or changes you are looking forward to making?

This year is a very strange edition, so we have had to make many changes already to adapt to the specific situation we are in, with Covid-19. For example, we have new theatres with enough sections to place everyone with enough space between them, which is a big change, especially for Giornate. But yes, there will be more changes in the future but it was a bit hard to start with big changes this year cause it is such a crazy edition. 

As I was reading about you becoming artistic director, I noticed the headlines mentioning that you are the first female director at Venice International Film Festival. Following those headlines, I would like to hear your opinion on the film world in general, and film festivals in particular, and these emancipatory moves that are being made. Could you reflect on what is happening now and what you think needs to happen in the future

Just talking about the artistic side, we received almost 1000 submissions for Giornate, of which only 200 films were directed by women. We have a lot of work to do, not on the creativity of women but on the fact that producers must give voices to female filmmakers. The festivals are the last step in the chain, the work is to be done at the very beginning. Of course, I’m very happy to select women for the Giornate Degli Autori program, I can’t deny or hide the fact that I am particularly happy about those. But I also have to face reality and that’s why I think the work needs to be done at the very beginning. 

So on the production level of cinema.

Yes, the very first step in the chain. As for the industry, there are examples of women directing film festivals. Locarno is directed by a woman, the new artistic director of International Film Festival Rotterdam is a woman, Viennale is directed by an Italian woman. However, these are just a few examples compared to a male world. When someone asks me if I’m happy to be the first female director at Venice International Film Festival, my answer is no. Of course, I am happy that someone started it and I’m happy that that someone is me, but I would have loved to be the 70th woman.  

Do you think there are parts of the program of Giornate Degli Autori that are particularly interesting for us as the jury, considering the younger generation we represent?

I think we have a line-up of very young films, not in terms of the age of but in its young, relatable but universal themes. For example, The Whaler Boy (dir. Philipp Yuryev) is about a teenager facing all kinds of difficulties around desire, love, solitude and friendships, but it’s set in a very small fish village in Siberia where they hunt whales. The film Honey Cigar (dir. Kamir Aïnouz) is about a young woman who has to face her reality while growing up. Residue (dir. Merawi Gerima) is about gentrification, coming back home after years and facing the new reality that is in place there. All these films in a way talk about the world we all live in. The common theme of the program for me is that they are all films that focus on strength and courage. Courage in finding your own identity.

A recurring theme I’ve noticed in the presentation of the 27 Times program, as well as around the festival, is the focus on the diversity of European film. I’m curious about your interpretation of what diversity means in that context.

As Europe, we are united, but I’m very happy that globalisation only extends to a certain level, as there are many cultural and social differences between countries. I think it is beautiful that cinema is still the place where you can find that. We find that difference not only in terms of culture but also in terms of aesthetics. A Dutch film is very different from a Polish film. These films have a light, and that’s their specific light, you know. Diversity is just that united Europe. It is an assembly of countries, a mosaic of faces and hearts and souls. I think they refer to that kind of diversity that we have to show in cinema.

Relating to our program and our responsibilities as a jury, what do you hope that the different juries over time can achieve for Giornate Degli Autori? Is there a vision you have for us and the ones that will follow us? 

I do really like the program and I’m very thankful to Giorgio Gosetti for creating it. I hope that we can continue our collaboration with Europa Cinemas and with the European Parliament. The jury composed by young people, it being their first time as an official jury member, is incredible, because you are much more serious than established filmmakers. Not because they are not serious, but because you experience the jury duty differently. As for the program, of course there is space and room for improvement, but I would love to hear what you want from us before I state that I want the program to be a certain kind of way. I’m open to any contributions that you can make. Isabella Weber, she works with me, came here in your role and now she is in the programming team. And many jury members were volunteers this year. The 27 Times program starts a collaboration between the jury and Giornate Degli Autori, and if you want, there are ways in which you can continue being involved with the program.


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