Alumna Q&A: Writer and director Clara Aranovich ’07

by Diego Moreno | 4/4/16 5:15pm

Based in Los Angeles, Clara Aranovich ’07 has worked in the film industry primarily as a writer and director but has credits as an actress, video editor, producer, cinematographer, camera assistant and sound editor as well. Her latest projects include producing “Yosemite” (2015) starring James Franco as well as writing, directing and acting in “Primrose” (2015), a short film that was nominated for the SXSW Grand Jury Award.

What spawned your interest in filmmaking?

CA: I was born in Northern California to immigrants from South America. My mother is from Chile, my father is from Argentina and they were fleeing the military coup in the late ’70s at the hands of Pinochet. Their means of exiting the country was actually procuring advanced degrees at Stanford. They settled in Palo Alto, they had my brother and then they had me. It was at [my brother’s] encouragement that I learned how to in-camera edit when I was still in elementary school and how I learned to edit on a computer when I was in middle school.

Tell me about your time at Dartmouth.

CA: When I think about Dartmouth there’s kind of a dearth of positive feelings, I don’t look at that time as favorably as I would hope I would have. I know a lot of people look back on their times at college with a lot of affection and nostalgia but for me it was a very fraught time. Dartmouth has since come out in the public attention as a very complicated place for women, and there’s really good reason for that as far as my experiences can say. I remember when I read, late last year I think, some stat that Dartmouth was found to be kind of number one in the country for sexual assaults, I posted the article on Facebook with the phrase “I want my money back.” So that might clue you in to where my feelings are about Dartmouth. Dartmouth gave me a lot of fodder to ultimately pull from in the work that I do, and certainly as a microcosm of society, it kind of distilled a lot of the most toxic aspects of gender relations and political relations between people and entities. I think that while that was damaging and intimidating and really pushed me off balance, I eventually came back from it all much stronger and prepared frankly for what has shown to be one of the most sexist industries on the planet.

I actually want to talk about that, the industry as it exits today. What problems are there? What do you like about it? How do you operate within it?

CA: So right now there’s some sense of relief when we’re speaking, but the intimidation won’t subside until we’re really at a 50/50 balance of major budgets and major films being directed by men and women. Where we are now is something like 4 percent of major films are directed by women, and I’ve heard it all. I’ve been working for six years and from when I’ve started until now this is so palpable. It’s encouraging, but that’s the thing, before what was not even in the light, it’s in the light, and so on the one hand I’m really relieved we’re talking about this issue but now with the exposure it’s gained I can see every facet, every problem, every challenge associated with the issue at hand.

Where do you come up with new ideas for your stories?

CA: For the most part it’s just a simple conceit that gets me going. My most successful short film “Primrose” that premiered at South By [Southwest] and had a great festival circuit was just the simple conceit of wanting to tell a full three-act structured story in a very limited amount of time, five minutes. I wanted to show that I could shoot a beginning, middle and end type of thing with the more “boring sensibility” that I have in a short amount of time.

Any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

CA: Remember that you’re your own brand not only as a creator, but also as a collaborator. What you do have control over is your brand as a human being, and I am very passionate about this because there are a lot of people, especially when we talk about directors, who have this persona of a megalomaniacal narcissist. In the end filmmaking is very challenging. At times it’s quite dangerous, it’s exhausting both mentally and physically and you just want to be a good person while you’re doing it. Call people back, be a positive member on set, be collaborative, accept criticism in a healthy manner, set firm boundaries for yourself and keep your wits about yourself, you know? Be a good person.

Correction appended (April 5, 2016):

The original version of this article incorrectly identifiedClara Aranovich ’07 as an '05 in the headline and the first paragraph. These errors have been corrected.

Correction appended (April 10, 2016):

The original version of this article incorrectly identifiedClara Aranovich ’07 mainly as an actress in the headline and the first paragraph. She in fact mainly works as a producer and director. It also did not say that her main role in "Yosemite" was as a lead producer not as an actress.