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Álvaro Gago: “The Future World that I Envision Is a Bit Towards Dissolution of Genders”

In life, as in the movies, they like happy endings. This is the case of Álvaro Gago.

But the ending reference is not about the career of this Galician filmmaker (born in Vigo, Spain 1986) who, as they say, has just begun with the premiere in Spain of his first feature film, Matria. Nor is the reference to the end of his film, the story of one of many women in the world whose daily struggle is invisible.

The happy ending refers to the achievement of a goal, the achievement of a feature film that has taken Gago nearly six years to bring to the screen since he became known with the short film of the same title in 2017.

Gago’s work on Matria, the short film, earned him, among other honors, a citation by Variety that he is a Spanish talent to watch in 2019 and Screen International’s Star of Tomorrow in 2021.

And the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) selected him to take part in the residency program that is organized annually alongside the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals.

We had the opportunity to talk with Gago first in Los Angeles, and again, in Spain. Gago’s phone did not stop ringing because people were congratulating him for Matria, which debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival and went on to win Best First Film and Best Actress (María Vázquez) at the Malaga Spanish Film Festival.


Matria is the best example of the achievements and the need for residency programs like the one supported by the HFPA.

They help a lot if you do the previous work of identifying which program is best for you at a certain point in your life and the project you are working on. These programs allow you a very intense experience of interaction and exchange with others, as it happens with festivals.

As Rosalía de Castro, the great Galician poetess, said, you have to walk towards knowledge, and that knowledge will make you more liberated. In these spaces for exchange, there is a lot of knowledge that will be there, that is placed in front of me so that I can grasp it.

I can only be grateful that programs like the one from the HFPA took me to Los Angeles to share a few weeks with filmmakers from all over the world. In fact, I still maintain a relationship with each and every one of them.

As someone who defends the short film as an independent format from the world of feature films, you made your short film into a feature, and thus, the new Matria was born.

I want to make a point because I continue to defend the short film as a work in itself. That the shorts are “a jump to,” thinking about the length of a feature, is an expression that I do not share. In fact, I have fallen in love again with two ideas and one is a feature film and the other is a short. I will develop them distinctly without thinking that since I have now made my first feature film, I have to adapt to this format.

With Matria, at no time did I anchor myself to the short. I did not have it very present. They were independent creative processes. I remember very clearly shooting (in the short film) that last image of Ramona immersed in a very emasculating, oppressive routine circle.

I remember filming that image and thinking, even if it’s in fiction, I have to do poetic justice to this woman. Give her the opportunity, become a channel so that she can find the cracks in this patriarchal system that has her so tied.

It was the first seed that informed me that I had to continue diving into that universe. And also, because I didn’t want to make a portrait of a victim because she isn’t one. It is the portrait of a person whom I wanted to dignify with my view that she is infused with the views of my companions.

Matria was born almost with a documentary spirit, inspired by the life of Francisca Iglesias Bouzón whom you met while she was taking care of your grandfather. That is where the short film was born, in which she stars, and now in the feature film, she has a smaller role but you dedicate the film to her. What was her participation this time?

There was never a documentary but there was an initial piece when Francisca was working at my grandfather’s house. So, I made small pieces to preserve a bit of the memory of my grandfather, who was about to leave this world, and she naturally helped to do so. I edited that but never showed it, (showed it) only to the family but now, it could form an interesting triptych with the short film and the feature film.

Now, in Matria, although Francisca’s role in front of the cameras is much smaller (she is the woman who works in the bar), she was very present in everything, especially in the rehearsal process with María.

It was essential for me that the two of them build a bond, a deep relationship, that Francisca accepts Maria. She was in the work sessions, she gave us indications regarding the tone, the melody of the phrases. Francisca is a promising filmmaker and the problem is that she has never been given the opportunity.

I dedicated the film to her because Matria is still a tribute. To tell her that I love her in the only way I know how to say it.

And Maria Vazquez? How did you find the new Ramona?

Maria is a trained actress. (The casting) was easy because she always tries to make the people who participate in a project become part of it naturally. I remember that at the time I edited a project in which the protagonist was María, Trote (2018) by Xacio Baño, and I was very impressed by the flexibility she showed.

You can go on set and meet her and I empathize with her. I saw that she had a fire inside that is very necessary when making a movie. Later, we did some work sessions and there, I completely surrendered to an extremely generous actress, capable of putting egos aside and submitting to a very strong scrutiny process by Francisca.

In a project like Matria, where the imprint of women is so strong, does it ever make you feel like an outsider?

Never because I speak first of all as a human being, as a person who feels and as a channel that is moving toward a process of dissolution and collectivization of a job.

And that happens in the first place by working with a team with which I have been collaborating for a long time, made up mostly of women – Lucia C. Pan in photography, Patricia Cadaveira in music, Sonia García in make-up and Mireia Graell Vivancos as producer, among others.

There are many more women who are an integral part, not only of the films I make but of my life and who are also very good at their jobs. I cannot ignore that as a creator and I try to remain very permeable, a kind of sponge absorbing their proposals.

Maria Vazquez herself – her imprint in the film is very visible and very strong. So, I’ve never felt like an outsider. And I think and I hope that the future world that I envision walks a little bit towards the dissolution of the genders.


What is the kind of cinema that has left a profound mark on you? It’s easy to think of Golden Globe winners like Nomadland and Frances McDormand when looking at Matria and the work of María Vázquez.

I have always been interested in independent cinema made by women. Chloé Zhao from Rider (2017) and Nomadland (2020) to Eliza Hittman and Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) and Kelly Reichardt are great inspirations. And countless other women.

Women like the Galician fisherwoman whose images working during a storm on the coast of Cambados (Spain) have gone viral.

It’s true. I saw that image. It’s a strong image! Matria is a mirror that has had to be dimmed in the film because reality is always stranger than fiction.

If I really put a mirror on the lives of the Galician Ramonas of the world, that mirror would break in the eyes of the audience and it would be too hard to believe. They would surely call it an exaggeration. Matria continues to be a fictional construction that lowers the tone of reality.

What’s next? Two new loves, a long and a short…

The short I’m working on is in a very preliminary process with a couple who have a son with a certain degree of autism. It is a seed that is there and that burns me inside. In the same way that the feature film project called Puerto Alegre burns in me because I’m going to shoot it in my mother’s hometown, in A Mariña Lucense in San Cibrao.

I am going to travel to the suspended time of my childhood, to a mourning process at various speeds, which, among other things, will allow me to advance in my healing process. I’m a bit like Ramona at the end of the movie, excited by the challenge and at the same time a little scared of the unknown. But that fire that I carry inside can do more in me.

Translated by Mario Amaya