Les États généraux du film documentaire 2015 Doc Route: Spain

Doc Route: Spain

Between Two Worlds
From the intimate to History, from personal narrative to the portrait of the world surrounding them, films by Spanish cineastes explore the complexity of the land and the diversity of those who inhabit it, while keeping an eye open beyond their borders, searching for reflections and similarities between the local and the foreign, between the self and other, between past and present, the living and the dead – everything that creates a gap into which cinema can slide.
Andrés Duque, a Venezuelan living in Spain, lives in the vaporous territory of the refugee and offers us an intimate diary as if suspended in air (Ensayo final para utopía), the order of whose pages seem only to respond to the sensitivity of souvenirs, where grace and gravity harmonise in moments of visual and audio apnoea. Belonging to another generation, Eloy Domínguez Serén, also reflects day by day in his filmed diary on this duality: the abandoning of his native Galicia to find work in Sweden, one might as well say at the antipodes (Ingen Ko På Isen). A soul forced into wandering, oscillating between being condemned to repeat the migrant’s ancestral past and the vigour of someone facing new challenges. A journey similar to the one undertaken by those Spanish actors of the thirties who left their country in response to the enticing siren calls coming from the Mecca of cinema, as we are reminded by Óscar Pérez (Hollywood Talkies).
Between two shores also drifts Emak Bakia Baita, the dialogue between Man Ray’s “journey” to the Basque country at the beginning of the last century and this sinuous investigation of Oskar Alegria: between the anarchy and chance of the former and the game-like poetic evocation of the latter who tries to capture what may already be no more than dust in the wind.

These films also retrace a path to find lost answers and propose an exercise of introspection which leads to the original knots in order to lift blockages from the past and free a few passages to the present. This is the rugged but sometimes redemptory trail that documentary must take in the same way as Spanish society as a whole whose profound fractures of the past still gape open.
Two women directors explore the family fractures of their filial relationships as daughters. Pilar Monsell (África 815) assumes all the ambiguity of the complex and painful story of her father’s love life against the backdrop of a cumbersome colonial heritage. In the closed circle of their interaction, she captures this troubled narrative in a reflective mode of listening, as if the film were a gesture of mutual recognition and peacemaking in regard to their fruitless relationship. Francina Verdés (La casa del meu pare) crisscrosses the region of Navarre to question those who, like her, support the burden of a tradition which excludes them from their inheritance in favour of the eldest son.
When witnesses and images do not exist, between myth and History, it becomes more difficult to find a path back to the past. Carolina Astudillo Muñoz (El gran vuelo) takes hold of this absence of evidence to reconstruct the trajectory of the life of an unknown heroine, a clandestine militant during the first years of Franco’s dictatorship. Through a meticulous montage of amateur archives, the director manages to give flesh to the most occult and intimate aspects of this woman’s political commitment.
Jorge Tur Moltó (Dime quién era Sanchicorrota) also takes on the job of reviving the story of a legendary “Robin of the Desert” of Navarre, a pretext for his encounters with the local inhabitants, each one spinning their own version of the tale. Through the stories gathered during his exploration of the region, its traditions and its landscape, periods clash and he exhumes other strata of a still living History. And once again, Francina Verdés (Cosas raras que pasaban antes) in a short film foreshadowing La casa del meu pare, takes to the road to accompany a Civil War veteran. Retracing such a long path means that you sometimes get lost. The forgotten passages and disappearances against which the old man stumbles reminds us of the amnesia of Spain's recent History. How it is sometimes so difficult, indeed impossible, to pick up memory of a history which has already become so distant.

Dense past, slow present
This past which in Spain is so dense is being transformed slowly and with inertia. Trying to reveal or to reverse this heavy inheritance by an artistic and cinematic gesture... this is one of the suggestive challenges of contemporary creation.
Overthrowing the state, that is literally the proposal of two artists Jorge Galindo and Santiago Sierra (Los encargados), where we see the faces of the nation’s government, “those responsible”, marching in the capital upside down, to the sound of anarchist songs. Another inversion is carried out by the collective Los Hijos (enero, 2012 (o la apoteosis de Isabel la Católica)) who play with the confrontation of sound and image to expose the paradox between the monumental past of Madrid, its archaic sight-seeing commentary, and the present of its citizens who seem petrified by the uncertainty of their condition. In a completely different manner but with the same dialectic desire, Andreas Fontana (Pedro M, 1981) revisits the past by rewriting over the historic images of the aborted 1981 military coup familiar to all Spaniards. Through a fictional investigation, the director proposes interviews that blur interpretation and digs beneath the facts to imagine more intimate and sometimes unsuspected motives.
It is with a more classical documentary approach that Alessandro Pugno (All’ombra della croce) manages to enter a taboo site, the sadly reputed Valle de los Caídos (“Valley of the Fallen”) to try to discover the subterranean faultlines of the past. His distant observation of the functioning of the religious institution rooted in Francoism lifts to the surface other erased faces from the past hiding just behind the present façade, and brings us closer to what is taught and transmitted here.
In a radical change of universe, but with a similar formal approach and a space also hidden from outside eyes, young filmmakers Carmen Esplandiu and Emilia Valentin (La senyora que feia senyors) take us into the daily existence of a bordello. The activity of the house only filters through the family-like management of the premises’ mistress, present in each shot of the film. From off screen we pick up fragments of a world of sadness and the social violence of forced labour, concentrated in a place that seems from another time and yet unchangeable.
The same ambiguous feeling permeates A Conserveira by David Batlle: the work in this Galician cannery takes us back to a time that seems distant. The entirely manual procedures that we follow from gesture to gesture, repetitive and uninterrupted, conjure up labour on an assembly line and its violence. Time also seems to have stopped in Muebles Aldeguer. Under the attentive gaze of Irene M. Borrego the present suddenly becomes almost peaceful, made up of minimalist gestures in this little shopping mall where clients are rare and where two men, whose silhouettes create a solitary choreography of abandon, are occupied with killing time.
Víctor Moreno (La piedra) sets his gaze in turn on an outsider of society, as local as he is foreign, a true Sisyphus – the association is inescapable – who moves ahead step by step, little by little, stubbornly, like the filmmaker constructing his film. Two men, the filmed and the filmmaker, absorbed in solving the obstacles that crop up, veering sometimes to the burlesque, to imagine – perhaps? – a final result to their labour.

Some of these filmmakers believe that cinema can be an experience of transformation, capable of altering the situations and thoughts of those who watch, mutate the spaces and people it films and to think its own mutation.
Jet Lag by Eloy Domínguez Serén incidentally poses a slew of questions on the act of filming a documentary today. Starting from an initial proposal which resembles an exercise, an event shakes the film’s strategy, protagonist and crew from their nocturnal torpor. A minimal space is constructed then in which a cinematographic tale gets carried away by the Real.
The impressive metaphor and free interpretation by the artist Greta Alfaro (In ictu oculi) offers us in the blink of an eye and one sequence several possible readings of our current world: an economic, environmental or military vision... or, like in ancient fables, animals mirroring the behaviour of human beings, predator, destroyer.
The essay by Elías León Siminani (Límites primera persona), based on a supposed home movie of holidays in the desert strings along and ties together its amorous relationship, revisits its images like in an archive film to create with a perspicacious sense of self-derision a filmed letter always apt to transform feelings.
The direction by Eloy Enciso Cachafeiro (Arraianos) pays great attention to the beauty of bodies and places, faces and gestures. The choice of blending daily life with the fable and the director’s desire to recount transfigure a village. The invitation to the village inhabitants to act, the seriousness and pleasure they express in doing so, make apparent their relation to this land, to their language, the gravity and joy of being there.

Miquel Martí Freixas and Christophe Postic

Discussions moderated by Miquel Martí Freixas and Christophe Postic.
With the participation of Oskar Alegría, Irene M. Borrego, Eloy Enciso Cachafeiro, Andreas Fontana, Pilar Monsell, Eloy Domínguez Serén.
With the support of Acción Cultural Española (AC/E), the Office Culturel de l’Ambassade d’Espagne à Paris, and the Institut Français d’Espagne.