Interview with María Carolina Quintana, director of Las Perras

Interview by Shewonda Leger
Copy Edited and Posted by Jennifer Bell

Las Perras is a short film about a group of activist women who decide to confront and fight against catcalling and harassment within their community. Do you believe this is a critical topic to discuss in film today, and if so, why?

Yes. It is about those things and also against rape culture and sexual assault. It is important to address it because it is happening now and our system has failed to protect us women. I understand it is a global problem, but in Latinoamérica and in my country Chile, it is critical because many of these cases end in femicide. Perpetrators act with total impunity. The police do not react to the gravity of the circumstances. In fact, they are associated with terrible cases even against their own policewomen. So, the idea of self-defense and the notion that “the only ones who will protect me, are my female friends” are now constantly floating all around in our imaginations. So yes, we are going to make films, and record songs, and paint murals, and express these ideas in any form we can.   

Headshot of María Carolina Quintana. She has pink hair and is wearing a black shirt.
María Carolina Quintana, Director of Las Perras

The lyrics in the opening song state, “Hey you! Walking down the street and you see a woman passing by, you start to say things to her. Hey! We got something to tell you …,” and transitions into the protagonist, Nico, sitting on the metro bus, witnessing a woman being attacked, and being parlyzed by fear because she is unable to help. In that way you set up the film itself as the message to catcallers. Can you tell us about what you hope viewers feel and think when they are done watching the film?  

I hope they end up reflecting on how their actions can allow this problem to stop or feed it. If you are in a position of “there is nothing wrong with catcalling, it’s flattering” etc., this film will hopefully make you think about how comments from strangers in public spaces can lead to them approaching you, grabbing you, and a whole chain of undesired interactions that put girls and women of all ages in great danger. Some people may think that this is not true because they have not experienced it. Well, lucky you, because the majority of women, particularly in places like Latin America where catcalling is so common, have experienced the worst aspects of it. The less damaging aspects are also problematic, though. They make women feel constantly observed, self-aware, anxious, and awkward. If men want to make someone feel good about their looks, they should do it with women they know in a consensual manner, not with random strangers on the street. So here is a story for audiences to reflect upon the darkest side of catcalling. These experiences are real in societies like mine. My main focus are the women who have to deal with this kind of treatment whenever they walk down the street and the whole idea of the film is to empower us.    

As I watch Las Perras, I see both a feminist revolution and a superhero film. The women’s heroic acts are similar to what would be considered vigilantism in a superhero film, which some might interpret as rebellious because they are part of a self-appointed group who take justice in their community without authorities’ approval. Why is it important for the women in the film to seek change within their community by becoming their community’s superheroes? 

Oh, this question touches my heart <3. That was exactly what I had in mind. I love superhero movies and growing up I was disturbed by the lack of female representation in them. I wanted to create a realistic superheroine who could be your sister, neighbor or friend. The women in the film are in a support group to deal with the emotions and psychological consequences of their traumas and many of them still have contact with their abusers. Nico says to one of her fellow support group members, “Ceci, that man was your dad, and you have two little sisters, aren’t you scared for them?” That implies that the justice system has not provided this girl and her sisters with any solution. Something radical needs to be done to save and protect them. Vigilantism gives this group of women the chance to defend themselves, to defend others and to feel that justice has finally been served. I think what moves them is so strong that they are not aware that they have become superheroines. They just feel they are doing the right thing by taking action on a subject that affects them and other women and people they deeply care about. For us as spectators they become superheroines, as we see that they are willing to risk their lives in order to save others from experiencing what they experienced, to save them from physical and emotional harm, from trauma and the risk of losing their lives at the hands of perpetrators.  

Looking at Nico, the character who leads the revolution, how do you capture her heroic resistance? And, if you could give her a superhero name, what would it be and why?

I think her journey from a shy tormented woman to the organizer of this badass group is very heroic, especially because what is driving her is remorse over not reacting on time to save a girl and her hope of preventing others from being similarly hurt ever again. She wasn’t personally attacked, so she is moved by empathy. This generosity of putting herself out there and risking her life to help other women without wanting anything in return is very heroic. I think her superheroine name would be “La Perra KILLtra”. Kiltra (Quiltra) is a word in the Indigenous language Mapudungun for a half-breed dogs.he majority of the street dogs we have in Chile are Quiltras. Their mixed breeding also kind of represents us as well, as mestizo people who were colonized by so many different groups. In the end, we Chileans are also Quiltros. Phonetically sounds like ‘kill’-tra, so KILLtra is how others would spell her name on the walls to imply that she is tough and to give her the ultimate street cred, ha ha.

Four women sit together in Las Perras.
Nico joins a support group for victims of assault. Actresses: Waleska Vilches, Teresa Oyárce, Celia Rodriguez, Ivonne del Carmen.

On your website, you express that your interests are “feminism, society, queer, nature, and emotional connections.” In what ways have directing Las Perras elaborated on these concepts nourishing your interests? 

I like to think that these concepts are woven into everything I do in some form or another, sometimes they are explicit and other times they are in one of the layers or out of frame but still shining somewhere. I think Las Perras has all these elements, some more obvious than others, but they’re there for the viewers to find them. I feel I could dive into my interests a lot with this film, especially with “emotional connections” because the bond between a woman and her dog pal is so unique and it is represented beautifully in the film. Waleska Vilches, who plays Nico, is Lahsa’s owner in real life, so the connection you see is real. Lahsa is also my “canine granddaughter.” I really love her and was glad to immortalize her in film.  

What films have been the most inspiring or influential to your choices as a director, and how did you incorporate those choices into Las Perras? 

Wow, this is a hard question. I really love films and series and have many favorites that inspire me in my everyday life, but I don’t think they relate to my work as a director so far. Maybe in the future they will. I think a huge inspiration from now on will be Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite.  When I saw it, I felt like, “wow, this movie is perfection. I want to do something like this when I grow up.” It has everything I like in a film. It mixes social critique, drama, gore, suspense, and comedy. The photography is so elevated that we can see how well he knows the world of his story and the reality he is portraying. That is what I would love to achieve on a feature film. But the truth is that this film premiered after Las Perras, so there is no relation whatsoever. It’s more of an inspiration for my career going forward. 

For Las Perras my biggest inspiration came from real life. Waleska Vilches, is a very dear friend of mine and she was fundamental in building Nico. I also based the story on other friends, on their stories and my own story, on my relationship with the city and its landscapes, and on the textures and colours and framings that emerge from it. For some of the cinematography, I recognize the influence that my love for Japanese Anime has had on me. It has influenced how I frame a scene, as well as how I portray details like stares and hair movements, as well as how we follow Lahsa, the dog, with the camera. I want to think that I am channeling some of the aesthetics created by Satoshi Kon, Hayao Miyazaki and Naoko Takeuchi that I have craved and enjoyed for decades. 

Agnès Varda’s Vagabond for which she cast a number untrained actors playing versions of themselves, and used spontaneous locations and natural lighting is also a strong reference. Lastly, the Netflix version of Jessica Jones. What influenced me the most was the creation of the character. Jessica is a very urban vigilante dealing with PTSD just like our heroine, but unfortunately she has yet to discover the power of sisterhood like Nico did. 

How did your vision for film evolve as you went through pre-production, production, and post-production?

Well, it grew a lot. When I first had the inspiration, I talked to my gorgeous sisters at Trenza Teatro, who eventually helped me produce it through Reina Fungi Films. I knew the film was very ambitious and we had no money, so I thought the final look would be a bit quirky, funny, z-movie, and such. I pitched the project to them like that and they became involved in it. Our idea was “let’s make it as professional and beautiful as humanly possible given our budget, but let’s not feel disappointed if the look of the film does not represent all of our hard work.”  

ACtress Waleska Vilches in a pink dress hugging the dog, Lahsa.
Nico’s happiest memories are with her dog. Actress Waleska Vilches and Lahsa – Still frame – Valparaíso, Chile. 

Once we entered the production phase, many of the things we needed started to magically appear. I am not kidding you. Something magical happens when you do what you are meant to do, and we were meant to bring this film to life. The universe was providing us with everything we needed to a point where we said, “OK, universe, now we need a suitcase full of money” and guess what?…that one didn’t appear, but everything else did. From technical, to wardrobe, to props, to extras, to transportation, everything appeared. We learned that the universe provides you with what is really fundamental for you to fulfill your goal. 

During post-production I was struggling a lot. I was doing it all by myself and it was too much. But then I received the gore special effects gorgeously done by my friend Harold Quijón from HAKA Studios. The intro and outro sequences were made by the queen of my heart, Karina Arriaza, also from HAKA. When I saw their work, it was like, “OK, this is amazing. This looks so elevated and real. Now I really have to finish the film and give it my all.” And so I did. It was a lot of hard work. When we pre-premiered the film on the neighborhood of Cerro Las Cañas, where we shot it, with the inhabitants who had helped us, the reaction was amazing. People crying, laughing, approaching us to give us their feedback. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. It was a great journey and now to see that so many festivals, movie showcases, and even TV channels want the film is heartwarming and out of this world.      

If you were to direct Las Perras again, what would you do differently?

This movie is my daughter and I love her the way she is, but…(haha omg I am a terrible metaphorical parent) I think I would make it a feature film. Well, I still can do that. Actually I…could. And by doing, so I would give more time to explore Nico’s introverted mind. I wrote her backstory and it is really cool. It also explains her strong bond with her dog. I would additionally make it more explicit on the superheroine side. I would like to have more fighting scenes, for the physical moves to be more visually spectacular, more gore, more comedy, and more time to feature some great characters that I had to cut because I needed the film not to exceed 20 minutes. 

I would also definitely request more funding and inject those funds into the art department and into renting some equipment that were really needed. Just imagine what this film could have been if we had money. We made it with nothing. Our whole budget was 70 Euros, which we used for food and transportation. The rest was all collaboration—the barter economy of exchanging art for art with my colleagues—good will, and the collective need to express an idea and make art. So yes, if there is a person reading this who is willing to invest in a group of very committed young talents from South America, please feel free to contact us.    

As a Latinx director, what was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive influence on your filmmaking? How did that lesson happen?

As a Latina director, owning my roots and embracing my reality is what has made the biggest impact on my work. Being a person raised by TV because I had working parents, I grew up with a substantial influence of foreign subjects and aesthetics, which were always gorgeous because—except for a few exceptions—no one was working with “ugly” back then. 

Crew during shooting, pictures by Sonia Alarcón. Valparaíso.   

I used to go outside and see my small house, my ugly street, my neighborhood without parks but brimming with garbage and street dogs, and my country that struggles with poverty, exploitation, and unfairness, and I wondered where my equivalent was of beautiful Japanese temples, green front lawns, kids happily riding their bikes in safe suburban streets full of  Home Alone -looking houses. It was confusing at first, but then I started to find equivalents of beauty in my surroundings, in urban textures, in the way the sun illuminates some objects, in our exceptional natural landscapes, in the good shining through people’s eyes, in our happiness of being alive and celebrating everything we can, and in finding excuses to dance, laugh, and hug. That is beauty at its finest. 

I let go of foreign ideals of beauty, but I appreciate how all that foreign influence makes me know for sure that a better way of living is possible. There is a way to have a better distribution of wealth, safer streets and I fight for that. I fight for equality. I fight for the protection of arts and culture and for freedom of speech. I fight for us women to be able to walk down the streets safely with no need for dogs or superheroines to look after us. Can we have a Japanese temple? No. Can we have fundamental rights? Of course, we can, and we should. 

How do you envision your projects and collaborations inspiring upcoming women directors?

It’s really nice to imagine that my work can inspire other women directors and I hope that when that happens, that person will let me know so I can cry about it because of how amazing that would be. I really have a high appreciation for the films and shows that have marked my life to the point where I know that their influence helped form me as a person. So, yes, inspiring another filmmaker would be really shocking and amazing, and I don’t envision it much further than knowing that when it happens (and if it happens) I would feel on cloud nine and it would be like coming full circle.  

You can watch Las Perras on YouTube and connect with María on her website, Instagram, or on her profile. Learn more about Shewonda on her profile.