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How Catalan cinema balances documentary and fiction

The territory also leads the way with regards to female directors


01 May 2022 09:47 AM


Angus Clelland and Cillian Shields|Barcelona

The Catalan film industry is notorious for its unique blend of cinematographic styles, as many movies strike a balance between documentary and fiction.

However, within this unique style, there is still a spectrum, along which Catalan films occupy many points.

On the documentary side of this spectrum, Isaki Lacuesta’s ‘La Leyenda del Tiempo’, which is an account of two children who are both left finding their way following the death of their father.

Oddly, even the sequel to this, ‘Entre Dos Aguas’, moves along the spectrum between fact and fiction, as it adds more elements of fiction to the story, despite starring the same two protagonists in a documentary setting.

Jumping to the other end, 2010’s hugely successful ‘Pa Negre’ (Black Bread), which tells of Andreu, a boy who goes to live at his grandmother's farm in the years following the Spanish Civil War.

While this plotline is entirely fiction, the filming of the movie is still grounded in realism, as the two main actors, Francesc Colomer and Marina Comas, had no previous acting experience.

Despite their young ages and relative inexperience, they both put on performances worthy of major awards, both winning the best newcomer for their respective genders at Spain’s version of the Oscars, the Goyas, in 2011.

Chief among this subgenre is Carla Simón’s ‘Alcarràs’, which came out in cinemas last Friday.

This year’s winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival, ‘Alcarràs’ is like ‘Pa Negre’ in its use of amateur actors.

However, this comes from the setting of the film, as being in the rural parts of the Lleida region in the very west of Catalonia, Simón wanted to have a cast who were all native to the area, and so the casting process started with 9,000 people who auditioned, which was eventually brought down to the cast in the final edit.

Another aspect that often ties Catalan cinema to reality is the tales are often based on the director’s personal experience. ‘Alcarràs’ is no different, as it is set on a peach farm in the town of the same name, and Simon's own family grew peaches in Alcarràs

While the critically acclaimed ‘Alcarràs’ certainly has ties to Simón’s life, it’s not as close to her as her directorial debut from 2017, ‘Summer 1993’, which is practically semi-autobiographical in its storyline.

Women in film

When speaking with the Catalan News Agency, the president of the Catalan Film Academy, Judith Colell outlined the reasons why this particular style is so prevalent amongst Catalan films, pointing out that Catalonia has “big documentary schools, beginning with DocsBarcelona, it’s a big institution in the documentary world, but also Pompeu Fabra [University], and also the Autònoma [University], they have very big masters in documentaries.”

Indeed, two of Catalonia’s most esteemed directors, Neus Ballús and Isaki Lacuesta both studied documentaries in some form or the other at the Pompeu Fabra University.

Judith also pointed out that Catalan cinema is leading the way when it comes to female directors, given Catalonia boasts a wealth of women making successful films such as the aforementioned Carla Simón and Neus Ballús, but also the likes of Clara Roquet and Belén Funes.

“[There are] a lot of women [directors] who come from Catalonia. I think we have a big school for female directors here, and this is very important because we need to increase the number of women directing, producing, or leading projects,” Colell told Catalan News in an interview.

Spearheading a genre and leading the way in female directors, Catalan cinema then, although may not have the budget or reach of Spanish or English productions, is still a source of creative works about real human lives.

For more information on ‘Alcarràs’, Carla Simón, and Catalan cinema, and the challenges it faces, check out our podcast, Filling the Sink.

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