Paola García-Sanjuán Machado: “This story​ is an example of the virtue of forgiveness”

It is hard not to be impressed with “El Perdón (Forgiveness)”, the debut short film of Spanish Paola García-Sanjuán Machado. Awarded Platinum Best First Time Director and Gold Best Drama Short and Best Acting Duo (Victor Sevilla and Lola Marcelli) in July season of ISA.

Jorge Ramos Carballo and Paola García-Sanjuán Machado
Jorge Ramos Carballo and Paola García-Sanjuán Machado

Paola García-Sanjuán Machado has more than 10 years of experience in the audiovisual sector of Cinema and TV. “El Perdón (Forgiveness)” is a personal project without external funding which Paola wrote, produced and directed. Based on true events lived by Jorge Ramos Carballo, a close friend of the director. After suffering a terrible episode, which not only truncated his love story but also changed his person even his destiny, Jorge realized, after 9 hard years of resentment and frustration, that there was only one way to recover peace back the reins of his life.

El perdón (Forgiveness)
El perdón (Forgiveness)

ISA: What made you decide to make this film? 

Paola García-Sanjuán Machado: Ten years ago a very good friend of mine suffered a horrible event that changed his life forever. At that time he told me his story so that I could write it at some point. In January of 2017 I was thinking about an original story to make a short film and one night I dreamed about my friend’s story. He was evolving well. I called him and he said, “Pao, you are calling me at the best moment because I have decided to forgive my attacker.” So clearly the planets lined up. It was time to bring that story to light.

ISA: A budget of 2,300 EUR. Scary or enough for this project?

PGSM: The budget is certainly low to make a short film. But it was a bet on everyone’s part. To carry out any project for me, it is important to have three factors: financing, a good and professional team and, above all, enthusiasm. We have only lacked funding. The illusion is what has moved us all to do this project. It is also a way to show that everything is possible if you want.

Lead actor Victor Sevilla and Paola García-Sanjuán Machado on the set
Lead actor Victor Sevilla and Paola García-Sanjuán Machado on the set

ISA: How long was the shooting and which were the main challenges on the set?

PGSM: We spent two days (48 hours) of intense shooting. The filming plan was very tight and we did not have room to maneuver if we had any unforeseen events. I had to give up shots because one of the days we had a setback. The time and the immediate decision making was undoubtedly our handicap.

ISA: This is a work mainly of acting. Which were the main challenges for you as a director telling a story based on the acting performance?

PGSM: “El Perdón” tells a true story that happened to a very good friend of mine, who is also a producer of the short film. Trying to be as faithful as possible to his story and his personality without going into sensationalism or victimization or punishment was what cost me the most. There is a thin line between reality and false humility that I did not want to surpass. His story is an example of personal improvement and for me, that was the main message I wanted to tell, but without eccentricity. In a natural and realistic way, as he is. Fighting for that was my biggest challenge.

Lola Marcelli in "El perdón (Forgiveness)"
Lola Marcelli in “El perdón (Forgiveness)”

ISA: Besides the explicit story you tell, what did you want to tell to the audience with “El Perdón”?

PGSM: With “El Perdón” I wanted to tell a heroic story of personal improvement. My goals are two: I wanted to pay homage to my friend on the one hand, and on the other, I think it can inspire many people who can feel identified in one way or another.

ISA: How difficult is to to make the audience believe in the characters and feel emotionally linked with a short film?

PGSM: It is really difficult. Just as not everyone has the same tastes, not everyone has the same feelings or are moved by the same stories. I try to be true to myself, believe in what I do and put a lot of heart in everything I do.

Victor Sevilla in "El perdón (Forgiveness)"
Victor Sevilla in “El perdón (Forgiveness)”

ISA: What influences do you think “El Perdón” has?

PGSM: I really believe that it is suitable for all audiences. I think the message is very positive and instructive even at the educational level. As soon as my children have an age of conscience I will make them watch “El Perdón” to make them value life, the importance of sacrifice and personal improvement, but above all the virtue of forgiveness.

ISA: Are you happy with the final result or would you change something?

PGSM: I am a perfectionist. I always see the way to improve some shots, some part of the edition or even directing moments… But my editor taught me that there are times that you have to let projects die because if not, you will never finish them.

ISA: Have you ever felt any constraint by being a female director and what would be your advice to women who are trying to break in the world of directing?

PGSM: It is true that we are not many women directors. I was actually 7 months pregnant when I shot “El Perdón”. It was kind of difficult for me because I was starting to feel really tired. But I have never felt discriminated against because of being a woman. My team trusted me without any doubt.

ISA: Also, do you have any advice for other independent filmmakers, particularly for the newcomers?

PGSM: Always put the heart and enthusiasm in everything you do. For me is the most important thing that makes the difference.

ISA: What are your overall career goals and what’s next?

PGSM: No doubt write and direct movies. I really like dramatic comedies with an optimistic message always and that lets us think. I have things in my hands. Or maybe start a production company… What is life without illusions?

ISA: What meant for you, as a Spanish filmmaker, to be awarded in Independent Shorts Awards? 

PGSM: For me, it is an honor and I feel very lucky. Every year there are many short films with a high level of production and direction. I am impressed and enormously grateful to have been one of the winners, three times: Best Acting, Best First Time Filmmaker and Best Drama Short. I thank the entire jury for taking that decision and giving me this great opportunity.

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