‘The Chambermaid’s First-Time Director Says Mexico is Overflowing With Powerhouse Women Producers

'La camarista' image courtesy of TIFF

When Lila Avilés set out to make her first movie, the social drama La camarista (The Chambermaid), she was venturing into a male-dominated artistic arena that required new her to develop new logistical and financial skills.

She’d honed her background in the theater, and was now making the jump to film with the story of a hotel housekeeper in Mexico City who pursues greater aspirations while combating everyday perils – a story she had originally written as a play.

“I didn’t study filmmaking, so I’m a self-taught director,” Avilés told Remezcla recently at AFI Fest. For the emerging Mexican auteur, both being a woman and lacking formal training as a moviemaker proved to be added hurdles on her path to creative success. “When you are woman, you are used to working in environments where the director is usually a man,” she said.

Since she hadn’t worked in film prior to this project, it was difficult for her to find a producer who would take a chance on a first-timer making an art-house chamber piece.

It only made sense that when she finally came across someone willing to take on the task, it was a woman. “I made the movie with my savings and with a really brave producer named Tatiana Graullera,” explained Avilés. With limited resources on hand, she presented Graullera with a daunting mission of filming The Chambermaid in 17 days.

Once the film was shot, Avilés realized she didn’t have any funds for post-production, and Graullera again came to the rescue. The producer helped her successfully apply for funds and government incentives to finish the project. Later she found extra support through US-based production company La Panda, known for their affinity toward unique voices.

Although it’s no secret that the percentage of women working as directors in Mexico is alarmingly low compared to men, Avilés noted that on the producing side the numbers are more encouraging. “Curiously, in Mexico there are a lot of women producers and they are great,” she said citing Mónica Lozano, who produced Iñárritu’s Amores Perros, and Bertha Navarro, who works closely with Guillermo del Toro, as standout examples.

“There is a history of women producers in Mexico,” said Avilés, whose own producer took home two prizes at this year’s Morelia International Film Festival, one for a documentary and another for their shared brainchild The Chambermaid.

The Chambermaid will be released theatrically in the US by Kino Lorber in 2019.