Claudia Morgado Escanilla
Chile / Vancouver
In 2019, Cecilia Araneda spoke with Claudia Morgado Escanilla as part of a multi-year curatorial research project on Latin Canadian cinema. This is a brief extract of her research. The films on this page, Unbound and No Bikini, are viewable by the public to July 31, 2021.
Chilean-Canadian filmmaker Claudia Morgado Escanilla has directed nine short films, including Unbound (1995), winner of the Berlinale’s Teddy Award for Best Short Film (1996), and No Bikini (2007). Her films have screened at hundreds of film festival around the world, including the Berlin International Film Festival, Sundance, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Chicago International Film Festival, Ann Arbor, and countless others. She holds a BFA from Concordia University in Montreal, an MA from UBC in Vancouver, and is additionally a graduate of the Canadian Film Centre. | More on Wikipedia
CA: One of the things that strikes me the most about your filmography is how ahead of its time it feels in its subject matter, addressing gender and gender fluidity, as well as women’s control over their bodies, including breastfeeding. There is a strong through-line between your films Unbound (1995) – winner of the Berlinale’s Teddy Award for best short film in 1996 – and No Bikini (2007), even though these are also very different works. Can you talk about the trajectory of your film career between these two films, and how you reflect on these two works now?
CM: My passion for filmmaking began by looking at the canons of art history considering the controlled interpretation of the female body, and in particular of “the nude.” The female body has been framed throughout history to provide audiences with pleasure or contempt, but always turning “her” into an aesthetic object. For my films, I wanted the “her” to defy and liberate herself from this expectation.
With Unbound, the motivation was considering what would happen if “the nude” spoke? What would she have to say about her body and about her breasts? I chose to focus on breasts in particular, which is an impetus that continues through to No Bikini, because they are such a societal taboo. We are naked all over art history in work made by men, but we are prohibited from presenting our breasts the way we want to. Unbound is an act of physical defiance against societal expectations, reframing “the nude” and giving women control of their own breasts. Unbound plays into the contradictions of the female body politics, and it does so in a whimsical and humourous way. It is an allegory to ourselves, because I believe that celebrating our bodies empowers us. Now, 24-years-later, societal dialogue on this hasn’t advanced much.
So in that way, my other films Angustia, Sabor a Mi, Martirio, Bitten and No Bikini continue with this conscious reframing of representation, but also move into female journey feelings, sensuality and erotic desires. My intention has been to re-draw the lines that position the female body into the realm of shame and obscenity. Martirio and No Bikini, explore these ideas more robustly and also move into self-representation and the political issues created in owning our own bodies. With No Bikini I was interested in broaden this dialogue.
CA: No Bikini, in particular, you ride on these lines of ambiguity that have been consciously constructed to be able to be interpreted in many different way.
CM: No Bikini was adapted from a story by Ivan Coyote that was the coming out story of a 7-year-old, and I loved that story from the very first time I read it. (Coyote also plays Robin’s voice in the film, by the way.) When I adapted the story into a script, I wanted to make it about empowerment, about harnessing a sense of freedom that enabled the protagonist to do whatever they wanted with their body. This allowed Robin to conquer fears and win the swimming competition.
CA: You were born in Chile and came to Canada as an adult. This would have situated you immediately as “other” in Canada, as a Latin woman immigrant. Do you feel that residing on this boundary of belonging and not belonging is something that you reflect upon in your filmography? Or is this identity not a concern of yours when you are looking at your filmmaking?
CM: My father immigrated to Canada as a skilled worker when I was four years old. My sisters and I came to live with him as teenagers. My sisters soon went back to Chile, but I stayed. Since I have immediate family in Chile, I have always been very comfortable with my bicultural identity. I have embraced being a Latin immigrant woman, more than a Chilean immigrant specifically. This is very much reflected in the environments I create for my films, such as using Latin music and even engaging in playful subtext with Spanish language lyrics that play over the scenes. This is a conscious choice in every one of my films.
CA: Unlike the Chilean exile diaspora that arrived in Canada a few decades ago, who fled the Pinochet dictatorship, you grew up within it. Do you feel an expectation placed upon you about what subject matters Canadians expect you to take on? Does this affect your work in any way? On the flip side, do you feel that growing up in Chile’s misogynistic culture is something you are responding to in your film practice?
CM: I really don’t know if this has affected my work unto itself, but being Chilean is half of my identity, so it is always present in my work in one form or another. The coup happened when I was a child. I grew up in the dictatorship and remember events like book burnings and seeing a body floating down the Mapocho river. However, at the time I did not fully understand the true nature of what was really going on. Of course, everyone was affected. I remember the whispers, the crying, the collective anxiety. I also left long before the demonstration movement pushed the transition to democracy. So while I grew up in Chile, I’ve lived most of my life in Canada. I’ve mostly lived Chile’s progress over the decades here from Canada, as an immigrant.
I love the strength of Chilean society and how politicized it is. I was there for the women’s march on International Women’s Day in 2019, where thousands of women marched down Santiago’s main avenue. Then with the country-wide demonstrations there was the demand for change with Un violador en tu camino (A Rapist in Your Way) by LasTesis. The country-wide demonstrations continued, and ground has now been gained towards creating a new constitution. Chile is a country of huge contradictions. As much as it is a deeply misogynistic society, it is also a deeply feminist and deeply political one. I draw strength and inspiration for my life and my filmmaking from this bicultural identity.
CA: You work now primarily as a script supervisor in Vancouver. Do you have any upcoming plans to make more independent films, or is working in the film industry a better fit for you artistically?
After I finished making No Bikini, I was very interested in making a feature film. I felt pressured again to make an immigrant story, but I’ve just never had that story in me. I worked on a couple feature film scripts over several years, but I was never able to get funding to make the films that I wanted to make. I applied to Telefilm and to the Canada Council for the Arts, but I was never able to get something off the ground. After that, I felt like I needed to walk away from it all. I focused on developing career in the film industry, to make sure I could be financially independent. This was very important to me, as I don’t have the benefit of an extended family or personal networks in Canada. But ever since you first called me two years ago to meet with me about my filmmaking career, it’s been on my mind again. We’ll see what happens.
- No Bikini – director, co-writer, producer – 35mm, 9 mins, 2007
- Bitten – director, co-writer – 35mm, 14 mins, 2002
- Martirio (sufferance) – director – 16mm,16.5 mins, 2000
- Sabor a mí (savour me) – director, writer, co-producer – 35mm 22 mins, 1998
- Angustia (anguish) – director, writer – 16mm, 5 mins, 1996
- Unbound (Sin ataduras) – director, writer, producer – 16mm, 20 mins, 1995