Stories of strong women doing great things shouldn’t be reserved just for International Women’s Week. We spoke to Xan Aranda, director of Andrew Bird: Fever Year and all-round super woman about life behind the camera.
How did you enter the world of filmmaking?
I was a voracious reader as a child and very much into photography as a pre-teen. That, plus road trips across America every summer (to open the imagination) had me making little movies by the time I was in early high school. I’m a participator. I love collaboration. I love putting together events and doing things as a group.
What have been the biggest challenges?
The occasional perfect storm between risk, circumstance, funding, and creative differences. But I adjust quickly. The worst is usually more private – self-limitation or self-doubt. Lately I’ve come to realize that my increasing age (can’t outrun time!) is actually freeing me. I’m becoming more and more emboldened.
What are you currently working on?
I have a hand in many projects, both in the fiction and non-fiction worlds. At the moment I’m directing MORMONS MAKE MOVIES, which is inspired by religious educational films my mother starred in while she was a student at Utah’s Brigham Young University during the 1960s. I’m also co-writing a fiction script which I will co-direct next year. It’s a cosmic and crushing romance in the Cassavetes style, plus I’m co-producing a documentary called RISE OF THE PHOENIX which is about gender inequality in China – where I used to live.
What are your thoughts on gender equality in the film industry?
I don’t think of gender equality (or inequality) often in my field, unless someone’s behavior brings me to a brief pause. I have low-tolerance for that kind of crap, so it’s not often I will work with someone more than once if I get a whiff of their limitations in that realm. There are too many awesome people out there to work with. But in general, I would rather command respect, funding, and the prospect of future collaborators based on the quality of my craft rather than demand it based on my gender.
Who are your biggest female inspirations and why?
I’m inspired by ass-kickers like Elizabeth Warren and Tilda Swinton. My mom has inspired me both negatively and positively over the years, which I think is really valuable. Her overall life’s odyssey really reaches me. That woman has seen some days and she has marinated in some joys. She raised seven children and did a natural birth for each of us. I’m still in awe of my abuelita (paternal grandmother), who had a mixed and joyful life full of personal limitations and bold moves for someone of her generation. When she was diagnosed with cancer in her later years, she booked a ticket to Japan because it was one of the few countries she’d been to. When everyone expressed their concern about the possibility she might pass away while traveling, she told us to just ship her body home. She was a badass who was full of curiosity and always ready for adventure. I miss her terribly.
If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would you be doing?
Probably living some kind of combination between the Peace Corps, exploring history, being a kayak-guide, trying to save the world’s water supply, being an entrepreneur, and rocking out some mama-time.
Do you have advice for young creative women following in your footsteps?
Work on cultivating a relationship with yourself that builds creative trust. Set goals and thrill yourself by exceeding them. Try things, have a start, take risks, don’t be an idiot about stuff. Plan well, know when to throw those plans away and respond to what’s happening in front of you. You’re not doing anyone a favor by doing what you’re told or pretending you’re not feeling what you feel, so don’t make it other people’s problem if that doesn’t go well. Take moments alone so you know what you want and what you think. Go from there. Being a jerk isn’t the same as being powerful. Say please and thank you, be gracious and be firm. Enjoy freedom built upon stability. Work hard, be a good community member, take care of your body, sob over a good dinner, sleep well, and try again tomorrow.
Xan’s directorial debut, Andrew Bird: Fever Year