BFI Future Film Festival 2023
Concrete Angels is about three skater girls in Dublin and it covers their relationship with themselves, their femininity and skateboarding.
Hi Rafael & Maria, it’s great to talk with you both, how has everything been going?
Everything has been really good, it’s such a thrill to be selected and nominated to the FFF.
Congratulations on having Concrete Angels part of the Future Film Festival 2023, how does it feel to be part of such an incredible line-up of short films?
Rafael Arturo Contreras Zapata: It’s an honour and it’s been a little surreal. It’s very exciting to be sharing the same space as other talented upcoming filmmakers.
Maria Strozynska: To be part of such an incredible line-up of short films is truly inspiring. It is a privilege to be in the company of so many talented and creative filmmakers who push the boundaries of storytelling. I am eager to see what the future holds for all of us in this field.
Concrete Angels is also nominated for Best Documentary, what does it mean to get this type of recognition for your film?
Rafael: It’s very flattering and motivating to know other people and jurors like our film. We worked really hard on our short film and we didn’t have a budget whatsoever, so we had to improvise a lot and have creative solutions. It’s very rewarding to see it all pay off.
Maria: As a young filmmaker, being nominated for an award is a tremendous honour and a validation of the hard work and dedication that has gone into our film. This recognition motivates me to continue growing and improving my craft.
How important are festivals like Future Film Festival in creating a platform for short films?
Rafael: Personally I believe they’re super important as they give a young filmmaker a chance to have recognition. Especially when you’re starting out without a budget and sometimes even without equipment, it all relies on your creative problem solving and that’s usually reflected in the outcome of your film. Thanks to festivals like the FFF, upcoming filmmakers are able to demonstrate their talent and earn bigger and better opportunities.
Maria: Future Film Festival and other festivals that provide an opportunity for filmmakers to showcase their work are incredibly special and important. Not only do they create a platform that can help propel careers forward, but they promote the significance of short films in the industry as a whole. They play a crucial role in providing a space where new creative avenues can be explored, and push the boundaries of short films further.
Can you tell me how Concrete Angels came about, when did you realise you wanted to turn your Masters Thesis into a short documentary?
Rafael: I think we knew from the start we wanted it to be a short documentary, we thought the concept had potential if we told the story right. Our thesis was of course more academic and thorough but working on it as a bigger scale project allowed us to see the big picture and understand the story the girls were telling. We were then able to downsize the project to be much more direct and honest with the story.
Maria: Pretty much right off the bat. Rafael came to me with the idea that stemmed from his photography project for the same Masters, and even though our priority was creating a great Thesis, it was always in the back of our minds that this project will go even further than our lecturers’ hands. Every decision and choice that was made was with the intention that it’s going to be turned into a documentary.
What was it about the skater community in Dublin that intrigued you both so much?
Rafael: To me what was interesting was the strong loyalty, solidarity and sense of community the skater girls had amongst themselves which I hadn’t seen in any other skateboarding films or tv.
Maria: I’ve always been a shy girl with big ambitions, and the ability to daydream my life away. I wanted to skateboard, I wanted to box, and take dance classes, but my social anxiety always stopped me from doing anything. I remember driving past skate parks on the bus and I’d be in total awe. It’s quite hard to put into words the feeling that even the idea of skateboarding evokes. It’s freedom, it’s style, it’s talent, it’s music; You just want to be a part of it all. The culture is just so cool.
But also, from a girl perspective, there’s something about the community that is super attractive. Seeing girls be totally confident and brave in their space was so inspiring to me. I craved that feeling, and I think that’s why the community really stuck out to me. It's a combination of freedom and the beauty of the tight-knit community.
Was it easy to get the skater girls involved in the film?
Rafael: Yes and no. The girls that participated (Amy, Lisa and Dallanie) were very cooperative and helpful throughout the whole project and were on board with it from the start. However, before eventually securing their participation we had reached out to a few other girls and there was mild or no interest at all and it made it feel like this project was never going to take off.
Maria: Getting the girls involved in the film was quite an intimidating task at first. We had everything we needed to get them on board, but approaching them was the hard part. Once we did it a few times though, we were met with kindness and excitement for the project, which boosted our own confidence and made it easier to approach others.
As co-directors how important was the creative collaboration between you on this project?
Rafael: It was really important as without one another the project would be totally different. We both have different perspectives but we knew what we wanted the project to look like and we were able to take it from there and contribute equally to achieve what we had in mind.
Maria: Creative collaboration is crucial in any filmmaking project. We were both challenged and tested in many ways, and we both had to be patient and learn when to compromise. We had opposing ideas at times, but as co-directors we provided each other with constructive criticism and always worked towards the same final vision. We pushed each other creatively to ensure that the film would fully reach its potential. In short, a strong creative collaboration can make or break a project, and thankfully, we came out of this in a positive way.
When working on a documentary like Concrete Angels how flexible were you able to be with the story you wanted to tell?
Rafael: We were quite flexible as we wanted the girls to be honest with us and about their experiences. We had an idea of what the story would be but wanted to have the flexibility to adapt to their story. After talking to the 3 girls we realized they were each unique in their own way but had similar experiences which allowed us to connect the interviews and provide an overall story.
Maria: Going to the skate parks a few times a week, and getting a lot of really good footage, it was sometimes hard to stay focused on our main theme, which was identity. We allowed ourselves to stray at times, like with the music segment, because we just found everything so interesting and wanted to capture it all. But overall, we tried to keep things quite pointed.
What were the challenges you faced making Concrete Angels?
Rafael: Organizing our time and transportation. Neither of us has a car so we had to put the camera and lenses in a suitcase and take the bus to the skateparks. We also had to prepare a lot in advance, we had to make sure schedules were aligned, and we had an idea of how busy the parks would be on certain days and times which also had to be accounted for.
Maria: I think time and time management was a big challenge. It was one of the hottest summers Ireland ever had, so we wanted to be in the skate parks all day every day if we could. But I was a full-time waitress at the time, so that wasn’t possible. It was frustrating planning our shoots in-between my shifts, and we couldn’t plan too far in advance either. It was exhausting work trying to maintain that balance and it definitely created some tension.
Looking back, what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you have each taken from making this short?
Rafael: I think we got the full experience of producing, directing and editing a short film. We didn’t really have much guidance so we had to figure out a lot of things on our own which to me is invaluable.
Maria: Making a short about the female skate scene was a really valuable learning experience. From a technical standpoint, I learned so many skills that are needed for filmmaking, from cameras to sound. But it also taught me the importance of collaboration and respect for others. There are so many moving parts when it comes to a film; In our case, we were working with a whole community of skateboarders, but also everyone in Dublin city in a way. We had to learn how to navigate everything, while being respectful to men, women, and children, and how to properly represent that in our film. But, also, as co-directors, producers, and editors, we learned the importance of mutual respect from one artist to another.
"I think creativity is born out of having to overcome limits, you’re forced to think outside the box."
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
Rafael: I grew up watching a lot of movies and TV and I grew to love storytelling. I love the power it has on the viewer and how moving it can be.
Maria: As a kid, my sister and I would make videos of us, our family, and our friends, just being silly, and we’d edit them on Windows Movie Maker. We did it for years, like until I was 16 or something. It was embarrassing for a bit. But, the creative process and being able to tell a story through music and editing really ignited something in me from a very young age. I never want to stop
Will you continue to collaborate on future film projects?
Rafael: I think we learned how to work with each other and if we were to work together again we’d have a good creative chemistry. Right now we don’t have anything planned but I’d be open to collaborate again.
Maria: We have gone through a lot together working on our Thesis and Concrete Angels, so if I was to collaborate again, it would be easy with Raf, as we now know each other's creative process and what we do well together.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
Rafael: Absolutely. I think creativity is born out of having to overcome limits, you’re forced to think outside the box. Breaking the rules of film can definitely work in your favour if it is all to enhance the story being told. If we all did the same thing we’d be bored.
Maria: Yes, definitely. Filmmaking should constantly be evolving and pushing the boundaries of what is possible. It plays an important part in the evolution of the film industry, and can lead to new ways to connect with an audience and make an impact. Filmmaking is an art form, and ultimately, there are no rules. So, it’s always nice to see something completely out of the box and new.
What top 3 tips would you offer a fellow filmmakers?
Rafael: Be resourceful, read film-related books and keep making projects no matter what they look like. If you don’t like the outcome you’ll always have the experience.
Maria: Stay true to your vision, embrace the failures, and be open-minded to change and criticism.
And finally, what message do you hope your audiences will take away from Concrete Angels?
Rafael: I would like for them to understand the girls’ perspective, especially on their community and the solidarity with each other which to me was the most captivating part of the whole project.
Maria: I hope the audience has a good time with the three girls and the stories that they have to tell. I hope they connect with them, and come away from the documentary with a brand new insight into a community that maybe they haven’t thought about much before.