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Filmmaker Garners Enthusiastic Response to Documentary on Teachers

November 14, 2014
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From left, documentary filmmaker Pilar Perez Solano; Dr. Nereida Segura-Rico, Associate Professor of Spanish; and Dr. Anne McKernan, Associate Professor of History and director of the International Studies Program.

The director of an award-winning documentary that tells the forgotten story of ground-breaking teachers in 1930s Spain has received an enthusiastic response at The College of New Rochelle and elsewhere in the United States.

Pilar Perez Solano showed her film, Las Maestras de la Republica (The Female Teachers of the Republic), to an engaged audience at Romita Auditorium on Monday, November 10.

The film was named Best Documentary at the 2014 Goya Awards, the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars, and tells the story of women who took the principles of the Second Spanish Republic to heart. That government, which ruled from 1931 to 1939 after overthrowing a military dictatorship and rejecting the monarchy, sought to bring culture and education to all citizens in an effort to achieve a fairer society. Their efforts would be destroyed by the Spanish Civil War, which started in 1936, but their legacy is still felt today.

The College of New Rochelle was Perez Solano's third campus stop, after screenings at James Madison University and the University of Virginia. She also showed her film at the Virginia Film Festival to a capacity crowd that featured plenty of good discussion, Perez Solano said.

Perez Solano began working on Las Maestras after a union of Spanish teachers asked her to take on the project. "1931 to 1936 is a very unknown period for us," Perez Solano said. The teachers of that time developed interesting systems and methods of learning that the union wanted to bring back.

What was supposed to be a short film grew, because "the story was so incredible and exciting," Perez Solano. The documentary runs about an hour now, but still could've been much longer, she said.

"These women were modern women," Perez Solano said, "independent professionals who wanted to educate independent women for the future." The Second Spanish Republic gave these women a chance to move away from traditional roles if they so desired, vote, go to college, and work in government," she said.

While these women were mostly in urban areas, they did travel to rural districts in their efforts to transform society.

After the Spanish Civil War, many of these women were exiled, jailed, or killed. "They were the opposite of what Francisco Franco wanted for women," Perez Solano said, and their new ways of thinking disappeared. Perez Solano interviewed the descendants and relatives of these teachers, as well as some historian, to bring back some of this forgotten past.

"Reaction to the film has been incredible," the director said. "People were very excited and grateful to me for restoring a part of this history, recovering the memory of these women and giving them dignity."

Some of their techniques may also be relevant today, where the principle of equal education for all in Spain is being challenged by the serious financial crisis.

Perez Sodano's next stop is Washington, D.C., where she'll hold a screening at the Spanish Embassy.

Her visit to CNR was co-sponsored by the Department of Modern and Classical Languages of The College of New Rochelle and the Westchester Consortium for International Studies, with support from CNR's Women's Studies, International Studies, Education, and Communication Arts departments.