British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

An interview with Limpiadores director, Fernando Mitjáns

What is your background as a filmmaker? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?

I think my passion for documentary films started around 2010 when I discovered how powerful documentary could be to explain and question the world around us. But my relationship with filmmaking is fairly recent – I started studying film on 2014 when I undertook a MA in Ethnographic and Documentary Film by practice at UCL’s Anthropology department. I completed the course in 2015, Limpiadores being my graduation film. Since then I have continued to work in the industry and definitely look forward to keep making documentary films.

Tell me a little bit about your film? What was the inspiration behind it?

Limpiadores follows migrant workers – specifically from Latin America – as they go around their working routines at some of London’s most prestigious universities. Through these workers’ personal accounts, the film sets to tell the story of how migrant workers united and campaigned against the discrimination, abuses, and exploitation inherent to the practice of outsourcing.

The film was born out of a contradiction. On one hand, it was clear to me that in the UK there was a specific group of people – mainly students, scholars and politically engaged individuals – to which Latin America was a very important topic. The progressive governments in the region, as well as its diverse cultures and traditions were broadly discussed and much praised among these people. On the other hand, I noted that many of these students and scholars seemed to be unaware of the fact that many of the cleaning and security staff working on those same educational environments were actually Latin American migrants. I seemed to me it was a painful paradox; and I knew then that I wanted to do something to address that issue.

How did you find out about the awards?

Once the film was completed, I started thinking about how it could reach the broadest possible audience. The film started to be picked-up at academic and anthropological film festivals, and I was getting positive feedback on the film’s critical look at education institutions. I started researching distributors of films for educational purposes and eventually came across Learning on Screen and the Learning on Screen Awards. The Learning on Screen Awards seemed like the perfect opportunity to submit my film.

How did it feel to win?

It felt absolutely great to win both awards. I felt it was a huge acknowledgment to the educational potential of my film. The film takes a critical stance on a specific educational model – one that prioritises profit-making prospects over principles, staff, students and education itself. To me, winning these awards meant that this critical stance was understood and shared by the Awards’ judges. Not only did my film was successful in conveying this critical message, but the message found resonance and deserved the acknowledgment of senior film and educational professionals. That was very important to me as I felt the film meant important things to other people.

Why is it important for you to get recognised on a national platform?

As an emerging filmmaker, such a recognition is very important to me as it demonstrates that more experienced professionals have valued and acknowledged my work. It will also give visibility to the film and the workers’ campaigns against outsourcing, hopefully helping to bring it to new audiences and organisations that might use it for campaigning and educational purposes.

Have you entered your film into any other festivals or awards? Are you planning to?

I have been submitting Limpiadores to different festivals and contests since I completed the film in late 2015. In fact, receiving the Learning in Screen Awards has been the perfect end to the festival life of the film, which was very productive and rewarding overall. The film has screened in many important festivals worldwide such as the Jean Rouche International Film Festival in Paris and Glasgow’s Document Human Rights Film Festival. Before the Learning on Screen Awards, it received the One World Media award for best student film, and the best student documentary award at the Small Axe Radical Short Films Awards.

What’s next for you? Anything you are working on at the moment you can tell us about?

Since September 2016, I have been working with a great team of producers and directors at Dartmouth Films. It has been an intense, challenging production experience that has sharpened many of my skills and provided me with many others. I have also been researching and developing personal ideas mainly related to Cuba and South America that I look forward to pitching to producers and commissioners soon.