An interview with film producer and ASW alumna Klaudia Gainza. Her recent project, the feature documentary “Too Beautiful: Our Right to Fight”, presented at the Warsaw International Film Festival, tells the story of maverick female boxer from Cuba, were women are still prohibited to compete in this sport, despite Cuba having a long and successful tradition in boxing.
ASW: Where did the idea of the film come from?
K.G.: Klaudia Gainza: In films, especially in documentaries, a lot of things happen randomly. Rarely is something totally pre-planned or researched till the very end. Most of the time you just meet someone and from that meeting the story develops. In this case, Maceo Frost, a Swedish-American director, who was only making short films at that moment, based in Stockholm, happened to have a friend, a Swedish guy living in Cuba for many years, called Victor. Victor invited him over and told him to bring his camera because he knew this girl, who was really cool. Victor said, “I think you should make a film about her.”
Maceo agreed, “Yes, sure, I will take the camera.” Lo and behold Cuba is extremely photogenic. You can say a lot of things about Cuba, but in terms of the dilapidated buildings, yet beautiful architecture, it's extremely photogenic. So, it's very nice and easy, in some ways, to make already a beautiful picture without knowing much about photography. Maceo got inspired, he brought back a lot of material, but when he stated to edit it with a lovely editor, Andreas Arvidson, they decided they don't have enough b-roll, to make it even 20 minutes film.
They contacted a company that I worked for at the time and said, “Look, we need more money to go back to Cuba, to shoot a little more b-roll to make this film happen. Can you help us finance it?”
The owner of the company had a brilliant idea to call a sponsor to do that. I promised that I will make sure that everything is going to be alright, that the film is going to be my baby, that I'm going to take care of it. The owner trusted that I will do so. But for me to come on board, I said that this should not be a 20-minute film, but a feature and that we should try and aim for that, and that’s what we’ve done. It kind of developed much further and we’ve premiered at the third largest Documentary Festival in the world, in Sheffield, England, which was a fantastic experience. Now, we're here in Warsaw. Next week we're in Arkansas, Hot Springs, which is the oldest documentary film festival in the world!
ASW: What was the budget of „Too Beautiful: Our Right to Fight”?
K.G.: It was done with a budget under a quarter of a million dollars, and with massive favours from everyone. I have done the project completely for free, for example.
ASW: What was it like to film in Cuba?
K.G.: There is a huge difference between the 5-stars hotels and the way the locals live. Due to the fact that we could not afford to eat at the the 5-stars hotels, we needed to eat with the locals. A lot of our crew got sick with e-coli bacteria. The locals were quite used to it, while we can’t really eat raw vegetables, or whatnot. The other thing was that everyone wanted to be on camera. We had to filter-out who is actually important as a character, and who just wants to be in front of the camera and speak. It was quite difficult to find the right people.
ASW: What filming permission did you have?
K.G.: None. We couldn’t afford it. I don’t remember the exact amount we needed to pay for that, but it was already too expensive for our budget. It had to be underground. Of course, everyone knew about it and you could see that the people who are watching us are reporting. We knew that we might get caught. Everyone had hard drives with backups. Everything filmed was copied 5 times. We were all flying with different planes. If someone catches us, at least one of us will have a hard drive that will survive. There was almost no internet. Heavy files could not be uploaded. The only way to do it was to work on hard-drives. There were scratch cards to get internet for per-hour basis, depending on the deal, the price was between 8-14 dollars, outrageously expensive.
ASW: To what degree is „Too Beautiful: Our Right to Fight” art and to what extent is it an act of service?
K.G.: I think it is a little bit of both. The director did not want to make a political film, but he did want to inspire people to act and especially to kind of shake, maybe a little, the Olympics Committee. If the Committee, for example, would ban the Cuban male boxers, and say, since you don't allow women to participate in competitions we would not allow man to compete neither. Perhaps that kind of pressure would change something in Cuba quicker. However, because of the way the system works, it’s really hard to just bad-mouth Cuba. It is much more than that. We tried to talk about the issue from a variety of perspectives. We brought it up and asked them to do something about it. How can you turn a blind-eye to that? This is what we did instead of making just a political film. Today people are tired of politics. You don’t want to bombard them yet with another political topic. The government won’t listen if you just say again, “Bad Cuba!”
ASW: Do you think documentaries can inspire change in society?
K.G.: I worked in news for a long time. There you have from 30 seconds to two minutes to talk about a topic. However, when one talks about the conflict in Palestine, or what is happening with Brexit, these issues are too complex to be explained in such a short amount of time. There are hundreds of topics like that and they all need longer explanations. Documentary, where it stands, if it is well done, should be like a longer news piece that not necessarily sways one way or the other, but shows both aspects of a story, and lets you reflect on the topic for a little longer than 2 minutes.
ASW: You are a member of the ASW alumni. We would like to ask you how was your experience here at ASW?
K.G.: I joined ASW when I was twelve and I got here from a Polish school. I had a great time here and ASW kind of opened my wings. I finally felt at home and it made me who I am today, in terms of an international outlook on life, it gave me the friends that I still have, it made me want more from life. It made me less scared of leaving the country and studying somewhere abroad. For me London was just an extension of ASW - lots of cultures, lots of people. This is the biggest gem you can walk away with from here. What you learn in class is what you learn, you can use this knowledge or not, but the way you build bonds, the way you get to think about and approach other people is the most important gift I got from ASW.
ASW: What is your best memory of ASW?
K.G.: One of the most dear to my heart was something that happened by the end of the school year, during the High School awards ceremony. I got dressed and I was ready to leave and my mum, she wasn’t feeling too well on that day, but nevertheless she asked me if I wanted her to join me. I told her that she could stay at home, because if she comes, she is going to clap for other people. I decided to go by myself. And lo and behold, I won three awards! That completely took me aback, and suddenly I wanted my mum to be there with me, but it was too late for that.
ASW: Thank you for signing up on our ASW alumni platform, it’s great that you are willing to help mentor current students. What would you share from your today’s perspective of film producer with those who would like to follow a similar career?
K.G.: If you want to become a movie producer, you have to have three very important skills. You have to understand and listen to people. You need to have an incredible amount of tenacity. And just push through no matter how much it takes. These kind of projects, these films, take years to complete. You can not get discouraged when you hear the hundredth NO. You just need to keep pushing. These two are the most important qualities. The third one is belief. You must believe in the project that you chose to work on. You are going to get stuck with it not for a month, but for years to come. If you think that at some point you might lose your interest in it, don’t even attempt it.
Watch the trailer for „Too Beautiful - Our Right to Fight” here.