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Directed by Pilar Palomero “Schoolgirls”, the premiere starring “La Maternal” in San Sebastian

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Pilar Palomero’s second film “La Maternal” had its world premiere in main competition at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain on Tuesday. The Spanish director, who won Goyas for Best Film, Best New Director and Best Original Screenplay with her debut film “Las Niñas,” which she produced as Valérie Delpierre’s “La Maternal” at Inicia Films, is back at the Basque Country Festival with another invigorating work that explores the challenges and joys of childhood.

“I never made a decision to focus explicitly on childhood,” Palomero says. “I guess it’s a coincidence that they are both about young women, but I guess there’s something inside of me that I’m not aware of that leads me to this topic.”

In La Maternal sold by Eli Driver, Palomero turns her attention to Barcelona’s teenage mothers and the social situations that condemn them. 14-year-old Carla leaves home when she discovers she is pregnant and arrives at a specialized shelter for young girls and their babies. It’s a story grounded in the real life of several actors, non-professionals who the director says were “really willing to be in the movie because they really wanted to explain their stories. They felt this should say ‘Hey, I lived this but it’s not what you think’”. While the script is not based on their exact experiences, Palomero says she used a combination of her own research and things told by her staff to build the narrative.Improvisation was also a major aspect of the filmmaking process.

“I realized I didn’t know anything about this reality and was a little ashamed of myself,” says the director. “I was aware that a lot of what I knew was based on prejudice, and the truth is that when I met these women I fell in love with them and their life experiences. I could have made a movie about each and every one of them.”

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Carla Quills, the dancer who plays young Carla in her first film role, was invited to the cast after the director spotted her on Instagram. “I was amazed when I saw her,” Palomero says. “She is very young but the more she dances she becomes a woman. I felt like she had all the energy I was looking for in the role of Carla, which is based on a real girl who is not in the movie.” It was important for Carla to really look like a young teen, and not a “16-year-old girl who can get past the age of 20”, so that the audience could better understand the extent of her childhood, and how difficult her situation was as a result.

As a director, Palomero is excited about the opportunity to travel with the film around the festival circuit, something COVID-19 has prevented her from doing with “school girls.” However, the pandemic has given her time to work on the “La Maternal” scenario instead. Finding funding for the project proved to be a smooth process following the success of the First Film Awards and its growing stature in the Spanish film industry. The director stands side by side with emerging filmmakers such as Carla Simon (“Alcarras”) and Carlotta Pereda (“Piggy”) as the new pioneering light of cinema in the country.

While the film was not filmed with activists’ intentions, Palomero hopes the film “sparks thinking in Spain about sex education and abortion laws.” “For me, all the girls I meet are heroines. They are brave, and what they do is amazing, but it is very difficult for teenagers to live like this. It is a real problem for our society that this is a fact.”

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