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Interviewing Evolution! Mallorca International Film Festival Founder Sandra Seeling Lipski

A paradise in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Mallorca has been hosting its very own international film festival for seven years now. This year’s programme and main awardees – Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Paredes and Melissa Leo – seem to promise that the 2018 edition will be the biggest and most exciting one so far, running from October 25th to the 31st. Boasting feature titles like Michael Gallagher’s Funny Story, Joe Penna’s directorial debut Arctic, and Phillip Eichholtz’s Away You Go, the festival devotes itself to “bridging cultures” as an international cinematic platform.

The woman behind the organisation and foundation of the festival is Mallorca-raised Sandra Seeling Lipski: an actor, director, producer, and screenwriter with credits that include CSI New York, Borat and Jane the Virgin. Living between Mallorca and Los Angeles, Sandra dedicates her energies and creativity to the festival throughout the year as a full-time effort, developing it into one of the biggest cultural events of the Mediterranean.

You are not just the director of Evolution Mallorca, you are the founder. How and when did the idea of a festival on the island come to life?

I was born in Berlin, but I grew up on the island since I was nine years old. It’s my home, my family still lives here. I started acting when I was 15, [that’s when] I moved to New York, then Los Angeles. When I started doing my own little shorts and they went to festivals, and I travelled to those festivals, I got a first sense of what festivals are, what they can do and how they bring people together. So, I thought, “oh my god, let’s send a movie to the Mallorca Festival” – and that’s when I was dumbstruck: “we don’t have a festival?!” I decided that needed to change.

What is it like to see the place where you grew up filled with movie stars and Oscar winners? Is it a big event for Mallorcans, too?

It is definitely getting there. It’s been a process for the last couple of years, but two years ago, in 2016, we brought Danny Devito – that was our big break for international press, and for the locals as well. People who hadn’t heard about us, now they knew. It definitely helped to have him here. I think [the festival] is becoming a staple in the [autumn] culture calendar, which is really nice because Mallorca is so well-known for its beaches during the summer, or hiking, but not really for cultural tourism. [Mallorca] is really understanding now what the potential of a film festival is for the city.

Festival guests this year include big names like Melissa Leo, Marisa Paredes and Mads Mikkelsen. Is there one person you are particularly excited to host in your hometown?

I’m very excited about all of them, I couldn’t pick or choose because they all have their specific reasons why they’re getting the award they’re getting. Mads Mikkelsen is getting the Vision Award this year and he has a connection to Mallorca, he has visited many times and when we sent him an invite he wasn’t aware of the festival yet. He was so thankful to know about it and, once we talked to him, he was so ready to support us [saying that what we’re doing is great]. Then there’s Marisa Paredes, who is like a Grand Damme of Spanish cinema; it was the same with her! It’s always positive feedback when you send an invitation for someone to come to Mallorca. They hardly ever say no, and if they do, it’s maybe because they have a scheduling issue, but usually they want to make it happen and come, so we definitely have a plus point on the location.

Would you say that Palma brings different elements to a film festival, compared to other Southern European film festivals?

There’s two things I can think of right away. One would be our amazing infrastructure. And shooting-wise, there’s so much potential here for a filmmaker; we have interior and exterior locations that pretty much can [become] any time in history, our nature is incredible, the light is great, and we have so many production companies and crews that speak Spanish and English. There’s really good potential here and I think that’s something that the festival can bring more strength to and show people that this exists here. I think people don’t know that yet.

In the Evolution Mallorca programme, you write that “no matter where we are from, we are not that different from each other.” How is this year’s festival dealing with inclusivity?

It’s funny because I get asked this question a lot, you know, being a woman and “how do I feel being a woman in the industry and founding a festival”, and “do I look for female filmmakers?”

I have never felt like I am [part of] some kind of marginalised group because I am a woman, nor that I have less of a potential of any sort. And it’s funny because I’ve never [privileged women’s films] in a [festival] programme; the programme has always been nearly 50% female crew or female directors, or female screenwriters, just because. Now, as I get this question a lot I have become more conscious about it, but I am happy that it was already like that without me really changing anything. I mean, I screen the movies that I think my audience will like and I think that because I am a woman and because I am a filmmaker, naturally, nearly half of [the filmmakers] are women. It’s not even a question in my head, they have a right to that spot. All eleven films in the feature film category could be [directed by female filmmakers] and I wouldn’t call it a women’s category.

You also write about “bridging cultures.” This is a very current topic, especially as the area of the Mediterranean Sea is currently on the spotlight because of the ongoing refugee crisis. Film is often a political medium: do you think film festivals should take clearer positions regarding social and political matters such as migrations?

I don’t think film festivals should be political like films are, but I think they should be the best platform they can be for those films. I don’t take a political standpoint for the festival, I don’t give a specific voice in a political sense, but I think us creatives and filmmakers have a very similar political point of view of inclusiveness, so I think that’s what the festival stands for. Our mission is bridging cultures and bridging people. I’m all for supporting any nationality, any language… it’s all about the storytelling.

You are not just a festival director, you are also an actor. How do you balance big projects like Evolution Mallorca with your acting jobs?

I don’t balance it! It is really hard, you have to prioritise certain things at some point. I think that with the filmmaking side, I’m taking a little bit of a step back. There are some scripts in the drawer that I’d like to be developing, but the festival has become so big, which I’m happy about, but it’s also a full-time job. The [preparation for the] 2019 edition will start on 1st November, the day after [the end of] this one. I think that right now, making my own films and acting are like the cherries on top that I get to really enjoy when I do, but I did have to make some sacrifices in that sense. The festival was ready to grow, and I had to decide whether to go with it or not and I told myself, “yes, I will.”

Is there an event on this year’s Mallorca Film Festival calendar that you’re particularly looking forward to?

Yes, there’s so many! We have a special screening with Mads Mikkelsen for his new film Arctic by Joe Penna. They premiered it at Cannes, and then they went to Venice, and they’re showing it at Sitges too, but Mads didn’t go to Sitges, Mads is coming to Mallorca, so that’s kind of nice! He had to choose one and he is coming here so that’s really exciting. And then we have my secret jewel of the festival that I just love so much, it’s this movie called M, just the letter “M”, it’s a French film by Sara Forestier, she is a well-known French actor and this is her debut as a writer and director. I found her movie at the Tribeca Festival earlier this year and it just blew me away. This woman, the power she exudes on screen… and then also knowing that she wrote and directed it, I was like “oh man!” no actually, “oh woman!”

If you had to choose, what would be your favourite “festival moment” that you personally experienced at Evolution Mallorca?

Every year, it’s always the same moment. It’s always the moment when the audience comes out of the screenings of movies that I think are maybe the most challenging ones, like three years ago, when we screened The Tribe. When [the audience] come out I usually stand outside, and I can see on their faces that something has touched them so deeply and affected them on an emotional level – for me that’s like an orgasm! It’s amazing, and that’s when I know I made the right choice and I changed their lives a little bit.

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