As a member of the 2010 Silverdocs Screening Committee, I wondered if the films that made such an impact on me early in the screening process would be as memorable months (and many films!) later. One that has definitely remained in both my heart and memory since the very first week is Anne Milne’s charming 16-minute short, MARIA’S WAY. The film that recently won Milne Best Student Film honors at this year’s BAFTA SCOTLAND New Talent Awards, MARIA’S WAY allows an intimate glimpse into what at first appears to be the mundane daily work of feisty Maria Teodora Mediavilla. As the film opens (with some beautiful shots by cinematographer Julian Krubasik), we see Maria purposefully setting up a table on the dusty, isolated road outside her home. Lemonade stand? Yard sale? Nothing of the kind: elderly Maria spends each day sitting along the historic Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain, counting passersby and issuing passbook stamps to anyone who may be interested. Sadly, many seem indifferent to her mission.
We soon realize that the focus of the film is not so much her work, but Maria herself. Maria’s often-humorous, no-holds-barred commentary on the passing strangers (particularly those who rebuff her greetings) draws us into her world and her unique way of looking at it. Maria is unquestionably in charge of her tiny corner of the world; we would do well to remember that and, at the very least, acknowledge the task she has undertaken! A highlight of the film (and the point at which everyone, regardless of their opinions thus far, is won over to Maria’s side) is the moment where a condescending tourist finds Maria so laughably provincial that he begins to videotape her (as well as cinematographer Krubasik and crew) for his own amusement. Maria’s obvious disdain for him is palpable, yet she herself simply turns to Krubasik’s camera (at this point, we’ve lost track of how many fourth walls have been broken through), looking at us in disbelief as if to ask what we’re all thinking: ‘What’s with this guy? I’ve got a job to do here!’
Perhaps that traveler wonders, as we do, why Maria does this day in and day out. In the final minutes of the film, we come to understand exactly why. Milne shows an impressive amount of heart and maturity, elevating her work beyond what we might customarily consider a ‘student film’. This simple, endearing story ultimately becomes an observation on the importance of purpose, commitment, and tradition.
Screened as part of Shorts Program 5: GHOSTS OF THE PAST:
— Chuck Willett