Source: Berlin International Film Festival


The first feature written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Alvaro Gago, Matria premieres in Berlin’s Panorama section having won the Screen International Buyers’ Choice Award at the 2022 International Audiovisual Market (MIA) in Rome.

Matria is the story of a middle-aged woman trapped in a harsh and poorly paid job at a shellfish canning factory in Galicia who is also dealing with the strains of family life. The first glimpse of this powerful female character and her everyday landscape came in Gago’s 2017 short of the same name, which won the short film grand jury prize at Sundance Film Festival.

Alvaro Gago

Alvaro Gago

Matria has now evolved into a feature with professional actors, such as lead performer Maria Vazquez, working alongside a non-professional cast — part of the naturalistic approach to cinema favoured by director Gago, who was one of Screen International’s Spain Stars of Tomorrow in 2021.

Sold by New Europe Film Sales, Matria is produced by Matriuska Producciones, with Ringo Media and Alcarràs producers Elastica Films and Avalon PC.

How does it feel to share Matria with the Berlinale audience?

Berlin film festival holds a special place in my heart because it was the first big international festival I attended back in 2013, when I was still studying at the London Film School. I remember very vividly the screening of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act Of Killing. To come back with my first feature 10 years later feels great.

Does the word ‘Matria’ of the title refer to motherhood, to matriarchy?

I wanted it to refer to and trigger thoughts on both. The key idea is that of finding a place of one’s own, the chance of finding your own path in life. This is what the main character, Ramona, is working on throughout the film.

When did you realise the short you made back in 2017 could evolve into a feature-length film?

When we were shooting the last scene of the short. I remember seeing the character [then played by Francisca Iglesias] and thinking, “I have to let her explore her freedom.” A feature gave me the chance to develop this as well as her relationship with her daughter, which has now become key; and to explore the burden of all the rules she must deal with in her everyday life. Rules that are not quite written anywhere but are dictated by our social environment and that affect us all. Ramona does not even have the time to stop and think about what she would like to do with her life. Sometimes you need a shift of circumstances to trigger changes. In this case, it’s her need to give her daughter a better chance.

Matria is also the result of my personal need to portray life in Galicia [Gago’s homeland], avoiding stereotypes, a Galicia that is diverse and where people do use a sense of humour as a tool for coping with life, something I have not much seen in cinema.

The short film had a documentary feel, but the feature stars a professional and non-professional cast. How did you work with them?

The film is scripted but I like being attentive and open to changes that can come up in the process. We rehearsed a lot, with improvising sessions too. Actors Maria Vazquez and Susana Sampedro, for example, spent time working in a mussel-processing factory so they could feel at home with the kind of work they had to portray, the physicality of their characters.

From a production point of view, I am very happy we managed to prioritise the needs of the story but also the landscape and people with whom we interacted. We thought the actual filmmaking had to bring something positive not just for us from a creative point of view, but for everybody concerned in making Matria. Beyond the actual production process, I think cinema can make us appreciate our own world.

Are you working on a new project?

Yes, I am writing my next feature Porto Alegre, inspired by a personal story — the death of my mother when I was a child. The film, produced by Sétima in Galicia and Ringo Media, will deal with loss and grief. I will try to explore the subject beyond the naturalism that has prevailed so far in my work, which is influenced by filmmakers such as the Dardenne brothers and Italian neo-realism.