A woman with auburn hair. She is wearing a knitted jumper and standing on a bridge. In the background is a canal and apartment buildings.

Interview: Amaya Bañuelos Marco, DCA

Having said a fond farewell to Mike Tait (Discovery Film Festival Producer at Dundee Contemporary Arts ) at the start of the year, we’re delighted to be joined by his successor, Amaya Bañuelos Marco, for the latest of our Education in Cinema Interviews.

(This article forms part of our ongoing Education in Cinema project, supporting exhibitor-led film education across Scotland. The project is funded by Screen Scotland)

What came first for you, education or film?

Probably film, as I’ve loved film for as long as I can remember. But education has been a very important part of my life too, my dad being a teacher and instilling the love for learning in us. Growing up I knew I wanted to do something related to film work, I just wasn’t sure what exactly. It was when I came to Scotland to work as a language assistant and did a film project with a class that I witnessed the huge impact film can have in learning, and that made it clear to me that I wanted to put my energies into making that happen.

Any particularly strong film memories from when you were growing up?

Growing up I was lucky to access films in different ways, but going to the cinema was my favourite by far. I would go nearly every weekend with my mum and my sister, and I never grew out of it. A film I particularly remember from this time is Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, which deeply moved me. I think it was probably the first time I cried in a cinema!

In addition to working in education, your film work has had a particular focus on environmental issues. Tell us a little more about that.

I had a couple of bold teachers in high school who showed environmental documentaries to my class, and those experiences opened my eyes to the power of films to change our minds and behaviours. Later, in 2014,  I came across Take One Action Film Festival.

I was transformed by seeing what a film festival can do not only to bring awareness to environmental and political issues, but also to create community through film screenings and provide space for meaningful discussions around difficult topics.

I volunteered for several years, including programming family shorts for the Wee Green Cinema, a solar and bike-powered cinema that toured Scotland. More recently I worked on the impact campaign of the Scottish documentary The Oil Machine, which focussed on facilitating community screenings of the film alongside conversations between different groups (oil workers, environmental activists, unions, etc.) to address the crucial question of our times – how to transition away from an oil-based economy. Now more than ever we need compelling storytelling to help us connect emotionally to an issue that often feels way out of our control and leaves us feeling helpless.

Tell us a bit about your experiences on the Edinburgh University MSc in Film, Curation and Exhibition.

It was an invaluable experience. We explored ideas around taste, audiences, and gatekeeping that have been essential in the way I think about and practice film curation. It was a very explorative and collaborative programme, where we were given a space to challenge ourselves and were supported by two brilliant tutors. I was privileged to work with a cohort of international students who all came from different disciplines and backgrounds. This led to fruitful collaborations that have spanned over the years. For example, with Federica Pugliese, one of my classmates, I researched representations of menstruation in film and media which led to the curation of Changing Flows, a short film programme for Lago Film Fest in 2021. I have also been collaborating with fellow graduate Amanda Rogers from Cinetopia since 2020.

A group of children watching a film on a monitor in a classroom. Amaya is sitting to the left of the monitor.
Workshop organised as part of the I Ken Whaur I’m Gaun (I Know Where I’m Going) project produced by Cinetopia. The workshop introduced P7 pupils at Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce in Edinburgh to screen heritage and music for the screen. Photo credit: Lauren MacDougall

You’ve worked in Scotland for a decade now, but also have links to the exhibition sector in Europe. Are there any particular learnings or approaches you think we could borrow from our European counterparts?

I’m not that well versed in what other countries do as most of my work experience has been in the UK. However, one thing I’ve noticed over the years is how curriculum-linked and how outcome-focussed learning and education are in the UK. In my view, this is detrimental:

Film education and arts education in general should also be about the experience. In Alain Bergala’s words, it’s about the “shock” of being confronted with something different and, through that process, learning aspects about yourself.

This kind of experience is not always measurable in our current education frameworks, but it is as important.

How are you settling into life at DCA?

As an arts lover, DCA is a very inspiring place to be in. I’m interested in the connections between different art forms so it’s great to see this is something DCA seeks and makes it happen through their programmes. I’m looking forward to seeing how these connections emerge in the Discovery programme too. The team are very hard-working, friendly, and supportive, so I’ve felt welcomed from the very beginning.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of working in film education in Scotland?

Funding, unsurprisingly. Schools’ budgets are thin, which has an impact on the number of school trips per year, making cinema trips the least appealing for many headteachers. Teachers struggle to bring classes to the cinema or festivals like Discovery Film Festival, even if the programme ties in with the curriculum. But also funding for film education is tricky. In my experience it tends to be project funding, which makes it hard for organisations to build on long-term programmes and have a more meaningful impact over time.

And what gives you cause for optimism?

The number of individuals and organisations that are doing such incredible work against all odds, young people’s contagious enthusiasm in a cinema, the production of richer and more diverse films for younger audiences, the introduction of film in the expressive arts curriculum in Scotland.

A packed cinema. On the screen is a slide with Spanish vocab. Amaya is at a lectern in front of the screen.
Amaya delivering a study day for KS3 students of Spanish at the BFI Imax. Photo credit: Dominika Widlak-Manka

And lastly, you’re stuck on a desert island with a bit of shade, a film projector and a group of young people. What film would you choose to screen?

Difficult question but probably Billy Elliot. It’s a film that I often give as an answer when asked about my favourite film. It’s such an impassioned work about the importance of the arts to overcome barriers in life but also about the power of the arts to challenge stereotypes. It’s also a great film for educational purposes. And it has a happy ending, which is probably needed on a desert island.


Amaya Bañuelos Marco is a film curator and educator based in Edinburgh. Prior to joining Dundee Contemporary Arts as their Cinema Young Audiences Coordinator and Discovery Film Festival Producer, she worked across a variety of roles in film exhibition and education. She’s been part of the programming teams at Sheffield Doc/Fest, BFI London Film Festival, Take One Action Film Festival and, more recently, Lago Film Fest, an international short film festival in the north of Italy. She worked in a transitional education programme for students with additional support needs for three years and has been working with the BFI designing and delivering their Spanish language study days for children aged 7 to 17 since 2022. She has worked in film archival projects, outdoor screenings, and documentary film programmes with Edinburgh-based Cinetopia since 2020. More recently, she worked in the impact campaign of Scottish documentary film The Oil Machine and continues to curate Cinetopia:DOC, a monthly programme of recent creative documentary films.