There is power in media. A good review, a great interview, getting the right onscreen exposure makes a difference in the trajectory of a film. Hilda Somarriba understands that as a publicist with almost fifteen years of experience. She is passionate about elevating independent films in the film festival market and media. I’m blown away by her impact in the film industry, and am inspired by her energy which she takes to film festivals all over the world. She’s worked with so many films and filmmakers I admire, some of whom have been featured in Cinema Femme. Also, Hilda has been a huge part of the success of such films as “The Rider” and “The Reformed”.
I met Hilda a year ago, and realized right away that she was a good person for me to know. She is so kind, smart and a powerhouse. Hilda has connected me with groups like CherryPicks, CherryPicks founder Miranda Bailey, and filmmaker Jennifer Reeder. Without Hilda, and people like Hilda, the stories of filmmakers and their films could not be read, seen or heard. Enjoy our conversation as Hilda shares with me about what brought her into publicity and the impact she is making for independent film and young talent.
REBECCA MARTIN: Where’d you grow up? What things did you do that led you to your current role as a publicist?
HILDA SOMARRIBA: Interestingly enough, publicity was not on my radar, at all. I went to school in Massachusetts, Williams College, and I swore that I was going to be a doctor. I wanted to be a doctor, but after taking biology and calculus, I said, you know what, ‘I really don’t like this’. And so, I came out with a double major in sociology and political science. I was ready to go to law school.
My parents brought me to the United States. Were were immigrants from Nicaragua, and I did not have a green card, so I couldn’t apply for financial help. Williams College, which had private funding, gave me grants and work/study. I got some scholarships that were not dependent on citizenship, that’s how I made my way through school. But law school was a little different and I wasn’t able to go. There were some internships at MTV, and they didn’t care that I didn’t have citizenship. I did have a working social security, because my parents were in the process of getting asylum, which they had begun ten years prior. Back then, when you started the paperwork, they’d give you a legal social security card so that you could work as you wait for your asylum papers. I was able to work and I stayed with MTV for two or three years. I started working with the international division, which sent me to Miami for Nickelodeon international.
Once I got my green card, three years later, I decided not to go to law school. I was having too much fun, and I loved to travel. I really got into flying and traveling, discovering new countries. So I stayed with MTV for three years, and I took a job with HBO international marketing and sales. Then I went on to Telemundo.
MARTIN: Did you continue in marketing and sales?
SOMARRIBA: Yes. Telemundo brought me to LA, but with a restructuring of the company it would have brought me back to Miami. So I stayed in LA and started a temp job in publicity at PMK (PR firm). I loved it. I was so happy that all I had to worry about was what dress the talent wanted to wear for an opening, or what shoes to get them. It was very different than my marketing and sales positions, so I was just very happy. I also liked the social aspect of PR at the time. It was so much fun going to parties every night. You’re there with the talent and everyone is paying attention. It was like, ‘Wow, this is a whole different world.’ That’s how I started publicity. Then I stopped looking for a job because they offered me a position at PMK and I’ve been working in publicity ever since 2005.
MARTIN: Wow, that’s amazing. Can you go a little deeper into what you do as a publicist for a “talent”?
SOMARRIBA: My job entails creating or raising awareness of the client’s current project, or of the client themselves, or anything specific that the client is doing at one point in time. Right now I work for films that are premiering at major film festivals.
MARTIN: That’s exciting. I want to hear about how you got into that as well.
SOMARRIBA: Absolutely. Because it entails films where I work very closely with the director and the producers, within the festivals, we do have a lot of input with talent by working closely with them or their reps. We coordinate all the interviews and we coordinate the campaign we need to execute on. So that means bringing in the actors for the interviews. For the most part, my clients are producers and directors, and the films themselves.
It’s really interesting. I came from PMK working with actors Maria Bello, Will Smith, Sally Field, Jamie Lee Curtis and Candice Bergen, and whomever actors needed help. The other publicists would say, “If you’re free tonight, do you mind walking so and so onto the red carpet?” The company is very collaborative. You step in when someone needs the help.
When I came to my third year at PMK, I realized that I was a lot more interested in film because film is more strategic. With film, you can develop things, you can develop different angles. With actors, it’s really a different kind of strategy, and it varies in what you’re going to do, depending on the project. I just thought I was more of a top-level film person than a personal publicist. Personal publicists are very interesting creatures. They have to be nurturing, and very-
SOMARRIBA: Yes. As for me, my clients are film, so I look after every aspect.
MARTIN: I love that. I’d love to hear more about your current projects and also a positive experience you had working with a film that ended up being successful.
SOMARRIBA: Well I can tell you about two films that I can’t believe I worked on.
MARTIN: That would be great.
SOMARRIBA: Two years ago I was hired to do the press for “The Rider” in Cannes, where it premiered with the director Chloé Zhao. I worked on that. And I launched it in Cannes.
MARTIN: That is amazing. I love that film and that director.
SOMARRIBA: I was so surprised and so happy about how great the reviews were about the film and director Zhao. I had no idea how far the film would go. At the time it didn’t hit me, because when you’re at a film festival, you’re basically looking at it from the point of view of, ‘Let’s get this film reviewed, let’s get this film noticed,’ so that it is acquired. That’s our first and foremost goal, to get that film purchased by a distributor so people see it. It’s not necessarily, ‘Let’s launch this film so it can be an award contender.’ Sometimes you do get those films where you know. For the most part, studio films publicists know, but for independent, the films are very interesting. You do not necessarily have to have that automatic thought that this could be an award contender. You just don’t know, there are so many factors that go into it. And the other one was “First Reformed.”
MARTIN: Oh my god, yes, so good!
SOMARRIBA: My PR company reached out to me to handle it. And I said, “oh my god, this is fun, this is a great little film.” It’s another indie, it’s an acquisition title, which means it needed a distributor. And the film had just got into Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. And I’m like, ‘Great! This is great!’ The minute I saw the reviews about how great the film was prior to the premiere in Venice, I thought, ‘Ooh, this has legs, this could go far.’ So at that point I thought, ‘Well, let’s see, who needs to see this?’ It opens it up to a bigger conversation. Once it launched in Venice, it took off and really gathered a lot of momentum. We did a lot of key press that began bringing up the idea of, ‘Does this have what it takes to go through an award season?’ So that was my job.
Once you get that writing, it takes a life of its own. The film was acquired, and then the distributor took a lot of time nurturing the film, and it led to getting an Oscar nomination.
MARTIN: With your work on a film, do you develop a relationship with the director, specifically Chloé Zhao?
SOMARRIBA: When we’re in festival mode, we work very closely with the director. Zhao is so lovely and so smart. Then once the film is picked up, another firm takes over.
MARTIN: I just think it’s so cool the work you do with female filmmakers as they are going on their journey. I know you’re close with director/producer Miranda Bailey, and you’ve worked with director Jennifer Reeder. Could you share more about your experiences of working with female filmmakers?
SOMARRIBA: Absolutely. When I work with films, the directors don’t necessarily stay with me, because the companies that deal with the theatrical releases could be different. Sometimes they do stay with me. Miranda [Bailey] is my actual client for PR as a director. I’ve been working with her, and I work with her on her projects.
MARTIN: And CherryPicks, right?
SOMARRIBA: Yes, and CherryPicks, which just started last year. It’s doing really well. An amazing job by Miranda and her team with Rebecca [Odes] and Jillian [Stein]. I helped raise the awareness of CherryPicks to the press.
MARTIN: CherryPicks is amazing. I love what they are doing.
SOMARRIBA: And my work with female filmmakers. I’m working with a very young filmmaker named Alice Waddington. She premiered her film “Paradise Hills” at Sundance. She’s incredible. It’s coming out October 25th [Interview with Hilda was prior to this date in early October]. I’m so inspired by her vision. She knows exactly what she wants on the screen. She’s very young, she started working when she was sixteen. She writes and she directs, she’s very good, and she has amazing potential for what’s next for her. I truly believe this young lady could go on to be another Patty Jenkins, another big name. She is that talented. “Paradise Hills” is her first film feature. You could see that potential in her.
MARTIN: That’s really special for you and exciting to work with young talent, and see where they are going to go, and to be a part of that. That’s why I love interviewing all of these women because I’m like, ‘I want to tell your story, it’s so exciting.’
SOMARRIBA: Because emerging female filmmakers are working so hard, sometimes it’s difficult for them to see what they are going to become, to have the opportunity to determine what projects they are going to work on. It’s hard for a new director to say, “This is what I want to do next,” because you are at the mercy of the market. Are you going to get the next round of funding? Are you going to have a good producer to help you? Are you going to get a good agent?
MARTIN: There are a lot of components.
SOMARRIBA: Yes. You’ve got to think of everything. You’ve got to get yourself a good team. Get the next round of funding. The process is never fast, it’s never that easy. For me, helping young talent out, getting them some good interview pieces, could help their manager or agent get a better deal down the line. It does have an impact for them to get the right attention. And it really maximizes opportunities. Right now, Alice is here in the US, she is actually from Spain. The distributor is not paying for her, she is paying out of her own pocket to be here.
MARTIN: I’d love to speak with her at some point, she sounds amazing! What I love is that there is power in the stories of filmmakers and films being shared on platforms that people see. It does make a difference, and that’s my goal with Cinema Femme to be one of those platforms.
SOMARRIBA: That’s the way it works, putting that information out there.
And sometimes you just see it, you see the value on that screen, and you want to work with them.
MARTIN: What projects, along with Alice Waddington’s, are you working on now?
SOMARRIBA: “Corpus Christi”, the polish foreign film, that shows at Chicago International Film Festival. Also, my colleague Emily and I got hired to do the Oscar contender campaign for “Corpus Christi” as the Polish entry international feature for consideration. The short list will be announced on December 16th. Our goal is to generate enough awareness with the SAG-Aftra members so they can vote for the film.
MARTIN: How does that work?
SOMARRIBA: There are more logistics involved, we have to do screeners and mailers to SAG-Aftra members and screenings. We also need to coordinate key interviews with the writer, director, producers–people from the film who interest SAG-Aftra members, because they can vote.
MARTIN: I’ll have to check this film out.
SOMARRIBA: It’s definitely a wonderful film. It came out with some strong reviews after its screening in Toronto, and we are trying to capitalize on that. Along with the Chicago International Film Festival, it will be screening at AFI.
MARTIN: Any other projects you’re working on now you’d like to share?
SOMARRIBA: I’m working on a film festival that is taking place in Saudi Arabia right now. I’m helping secure panelists, and reaching out to industry professionals that would be interested in attending the festival.
Also, right now, I’m working on potential Sundance films, taking meetings with sales agents and producers to discuss what films might need publicity. It’s a whole process.
For one of my other clients, he’s got a horror film that he’s going to start filming in mid-November. I will be doing some press on that film.
MARTIN: Do you have a favorite film festival?
SOMARRIBA: My favorite film festival is Toronto, followed by Berlin. I’ve been going to Cannes ten years in a row. I do feel like I need to branch out. There are so many great festivals out there. One that I really want to go to is the Sydney film festival.
MARTIN: That one I want to go to because of there strong selection of films by women.
SOMARRIBA: Yes, it’s an amazing film festival that I feel would be incredible to attend. My goal is to work with films that can take me to these other festivals.
MARTIN: Do you like working with mostly indie films?
SOMARRIBA: I do, because you have more input working with strategy. I am able to work closer with the filmmakers, because I’m usually contracted from the PR firms, rather then the studios.
MARTIN: What are your general thoughts about the landscape of women in film?
SOMARRIBA: I feel that since the #MeToo movement started two years ago, we have had some progress. It’s very slow and incremental. It’s not the kind of progress that I think we felt would happen. But at the same time, there is movement, and I feel like women in film and female filmmakers, directors, producers are taken a lot more seriously now. But there is still major room for improvement. There is still the opportunity for studio executives to open more doors and people of the industry being more transparent to the process of allowing gender equality in every direction, even in media, people who report on film–the critics, like CherryPicks. So it’s a work in progress. We have a lot of work to do.
MARTIN: Agreed. I feel we must keep elevating these platforms, like Cinema Femme, and CherryPicks, in order to help elevate these diverse female voices. That’s why I’m so passionate about sharing women’s stories, and thank you for sharing your story.
SOMARRIBA: Thank you so much. I really enjoy talking to you. Yes, we need to support more female-driven media, and more female filmmakers. It’s our responsibility just to put it out there.