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A New Film Shines a Light on Women Conductors

June 3, 2023 | The New York Times

Cheers to Zoe Zeniodi who appears in the documentary film, La Maestra, which premieres at the Tribeca Festival this month!

Here, the film is featured in this The New York Times article and interview with the film's director!

The director of “Maestra,” Maggie Contreras, discusses making the documentary and the challenges faced by women in classical music.

“Girls can’t do that.”

That’s what 9-year-old Marin Alsop was told by her violin teacher when she expressed interest in a conducting career. Today, she’s one of the world’s best-known conductors, and she remembers that exchange in a scene from “Maestra,” a documentary directed by Maggie Contreras that’s premiering at the Tribeca Festival, which runs Wednesday to June 18 in New York City.

The documentary spotlights a profession — conducting — which historically has all but excluded women. It tracks five candidates vying for the top prize in La Maestra, a female conducting competition co-founded in 2019 by the French conductor Claire Gibault, and held in Paris every two years.

In the film, Ms. Contreras, 39, a documentary producer making her directorial debut, delivers an up-close-and-personal portrayal of the contestants as they rev up for a competition whose judges include Ms. Alsop and Ms. Gibault. The five contestants profiled in the film were from France, Germany, the United States, Greece and Poland.

In a recent video interview, Ms. Contreras recalled the making of the movie and the challenges faced by women on the concert podium. The following interview has been edited and condensed. . .

How important was it that you were a woman making this movie?

I don’t think I’m ever going to be the filmmaker who chases social issues. The feminist themes that are critical to this story and critical to our societal conversations are a byproduct of audiences being sucked in by the story, of being superentertained.

Could a man have directed this, persuaded the five women to open up and express themselves as quickly as I was able to? I would question that, and would like to think not. This is why representation is so important when it comes to nonfiction storytelling. There was a sense of safety. I was sitting there with a camera in people’s bedrooms while they slept. In one of my favorite scenes, you see the conductor Zoe Zeniodi in the tiny little kitchen of a crummy Airbnb in Albuquerque eating a boiled egg. There are these preconceived notions about what a conductor’s life looks like, and the reality is the exact opposite. Conductors are eating boiled eggs in a very inexpensive Airbnb. . . "


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