Spanish female film directors

A revolutionary gaze

02/09/2024 · By Roberto C. Rascón
‘20,000 Species of Bees’, by Estibaliz Urresola, has been nominated for 15 awards at the next edition of the Goya Awards
‘20,000 Species of Bees’, by Estibaliz Urresola, has been nominated for 15 awards at the next edition of the Goya Awards. © Gariza Films / BTeam Pictures

Until recently, directing films seemed off-limits to women in Spain, but a new generation of filmmakers —Carla Simón, Pilar Palomero, or Paula Ortiz, among others— have broken through that glass ceiling. In fact, the Goya Award for Best New Director has gone to young female directors for the last six years. A streak Estibaliz Urresola could maintain with ‘20,000 Species of Bees’, which has broken the record of nominations (15) for a directorial debut.

In 2018, Carla Simón (Summer 1993). In 2019, Arantxa Echevarría (Carmen & Lola). In 2020, Belén Funes (A Thief’s Daughter). In 2021, Pilar Palomero (Schoolgirls). In 2022, Clara Roquet (Libertad). In 2023, Alauda Ruiz de Azúa (Lullaby). And in 2024, except for an unexpected surprise, another woman, in this case Estibaliz Urresola (20,000 Species of Bees), will receive the Goya Award for Best New Director. These would be seven consecutive years with victories for female directors destined to leave a mark on the present and future of Spanish film. Previously, between 1989 and 2016, only four women achieved this: Ana Díez (Ander y Yul, 1989), Rosa Vergés (Boom Boom, 1990), Ángeles González Sinde (Sleeping Luck, 2003), and Mar Coll (Three Days with the Family, 2009). Without a doubt, times are changing. These youngsters joined veterans like Isabel Coixet, Icíar Bollaín, Gracia Querejeta, Chus Gutiérrez, Dunia Ayaso, María Ripoll, or the recently deceased Patricia Ferreira, who followed in the footsteps of pioneers like Josefina Molina or Pilar Miró.

“Until now, there have been themes that haven’t been approached from a woman’s perspective and we need to open up discussions surrounding these topics” — Carla Simón

In statements to Talento a bordo, Alauda Ruiz de Azúa defended that the Spanish film industry was finally becoming normal: “Now there’s a new generation of female directors, scriptwriters, cinematographers... More than exceptional, it should be completely normal. What’s odd is that there’s only around 15% of female directors in a society that’s supposed to be equal.” Carla Simón also spoke to Talento a bordo, celebrating that the female gaze is more present in film, but she stressed that there’s still a long way to go: “It should be normal for half the stories to be told by women. And it would be positive in many senses, for example in terms of themes. Until now, there have been themes that haven’t been approached from a woman’s perspective, like motherhood or desire, and we need to open up discussions surrounding these topics.” It is precisely with this Catalan director that we start this list of female directors who are shaking up the Spanish film industry.

Carla Simón

In 2017, Carla Simón became the surprise star of Spanish film with her debut: Summer 1993. Five years later, this Catalan director was back with Alcarràs, which won the Golden Bear for best film at the Berlin International Film Festival, a milestone our film industry hadn’t achieved since 1983 with La colmena. She also became the first Spanish female director to win an award at one of the big festivals (Cannes, Venice, San Sebastián and Berlin). This Catalan filmmaker has become a role model and is already working on her next film: Romería.

Estibaliz Urresola

Estibaliz Urresola’s debut, 20,000 Species of Bees, is the film with the most nominations (15) for the 2024 Goya Awards. This is the most a directorial debut has ever received! The record, since 2007, was held by J.A. Bayona with 14 for The Orphanage. The film’s successful career started last year with Sofía Otero, its young protagonist (8 years old) winning the Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance at the Berlin International Film Festival. Then came its success at the Málaga Film Festival, where the film won the Golden Biznaga for Best Spanish Picture.

Pilar Palomero

In 2021, Pilar Palomero reached a milestone with Schoolgirls: becoming the first woman to win the Goya Award for Best Film with a directorial debut. Four men had achieved this before her: Agustín Díaz Yanes (Nobody Will Speak of Us When We’re Dead), Alejandro Amenábar (Thesis), Achero Mañas (Pellet) and Raúl Arévalo (The Fury of a Patient Man). Her second film was the acclaimed Motherhood and she’s already working on her third, Los destellos, starring Patricia López Arnaiz and Antonio de la Torre.

Alauda Ruiz de Azúa

“The best debut in years,” was what Pedro Almodóvar had to say about Alauda Ruiz de Azúa’s directorial debut: Lullaby. The film saw the light at the 2022 Málaga Film Festival, which it took by storm with four awards —best film, actress (Laia Costa and Susi Sánchez), script, and critics— and, after moving thousands of spectators, ended with resounding success at the Goya Awards: 11 nominations and three awards —best actress (Laia Costa), supporting actress (Susi Sánchez) and new director. Now, this director is working on a series: Querer.

Elena Martín Gimeno

Director, scriptwriter, and protagonist. These are all the roles Elena Martín Gimeno plays in Creatura. At the Goya Awards, this Catalan director, recent winner at the Gaudí, will fight for the award for Best Director against true giants of Spanish film: Víctor Erice, J.A. Bayona, Isabel Coixet, and David Trueba. A nomination that surprises no one given the film’s audacity, which was recognised within the Directors’ Fortnight at the last Cannes Film Festival, an independent section focused on emerging talent.

Clara Roquet

When talking about Clara Roquet, as well as mentioning her work as director —winner of the Goya Award for Best New Director in 2021 for Libertad, we must also talk about her scriptwriting. This Catalan scriptwriter, who cocreated screenplays like Long Distance or Petra, has worked on the scripts of two films taking part in the 2024 Goya Awards: Creatura and Something Is About to Happen. This year, she will carry on writing (Hildegart or Polvo serán) and return to directing with her first series: Las largas sombras.

Paula Ortiz

With her debut, Chrysalis, Paula Ortiz received the Award for Best New Director at the Valladolid International Film Festival in 2011. Four years later, she released The Bride, an adaptation of Lorca’s Blood Wedding, which received 12 Goya nominations. After trying her luck abroad (Across the River and Into the Trees) she came back to Spain to shoot Teresa and, once more, prove her visual brilliance. In 2024, she will release one of the most anticipated films of the year, Hildegart, starring Najwa Nimri.

And the list doesn't end here. We should also add Itsaso Arana, Patricia Font, Jaione Camborda and Arantxa Echevarría, present at the 2024 Goya Awards with The Girls Are Alright, The Teacher Who Promised the Sea, The Rye Horn, and Chinas, a Second Generation Story, respectively. We also mustn’t forget about Belén Funes, Carlota Pereda, Celia Rico, Nely Reguera, Neus Ballús, Elena López Riera, Lucia Alemany, Rocío Mesa, or Laura Ferrés, who in 2023 became the first Spanish female filmmaker to win the Golden Spike at the Valladolid International Film Festival for The Permanent Picture.