‘The Human Tower’, a story of passion and tradition

How can you reach out and touch the sky with your fingers? Is it better alone or together with others? Ram Devinevi and Cano Rojas give a clear answer to this question in their documentary which shows how three different cultures -the Catalan, the Indian and the Chilean- all with a common aim: to build the highest human constructions. A formidable challenge which can only be achieved thanks to the huge effort of three hundred bodies climbing and the technical guidelines of an experienced coach.

Javier Domínguez

June 9, 2012 01:12 AM

Barcelona (CNA).- “Three countries. One passion. Three hundred bodies climbing, reaching the sky to build a human tower - all for a touch of glory”. So begins the synopsis of ‘The Human Tower’: an exciting documentary about this historical and phenomenal tradition deep-rooted in Catalonia, where they are known as ‘castellers’, in India, and recently in Chile. The film is being shown at the moment all around the world in cinemas and film festivals.

The documentary shows how different cultures, different societies and different organisations, work towards a common aim –to join forces for collective success– the construction of human towers. The higher they reach, the more satisfaction they feel. Of course, facing this daunting challenge is not easy, but with the coach’s masterly guidelines and the group’s hard work and commitment, the adventure has no limits.

The documentary, which sends out a message of hope and passion through human endeavour, was directed and produced by Ram Devinevi and Cano Rojas. Devinevi is the experienced Indian founder of Rattapallax Films and the ‘Academia Internacional de Cinema’ of Brazil, and Rojas, a well-known Chilean filmmaker who doesn’t focus so much on “the Catalan tradition, but rather on its humanity, communion, spiritual strength and passion”.

The filming

In September 2010, Devineni and Rojas were in Mumbai starting their movie about Indian human towers, known as ‘govindas’. This tradition, which goes back 5,000 years, has a pyramidal base and, therefore, balance is more important than force. The directors focussed on Sandeep, a coach with big dreams and a debilitating case of malaria who led his team of men to break the record and build India’s biggest human tower at the Dahi Handi Festival.

Just by chance, one of Catalonia’s best human towers teams, the ‘Castellers de Vilafranca’, were also in Mumbai as special guests of the festival to perform their art. Both filmmakers immediately understood the opportunity to add value to the documentary and thus began a fruitful relationship. They were invited to Vilafranca, in the Penedès wine region, at the end of September and spent a few weeks recording and discovering the Catalan tradition, which goes back 400 years.

11-year-old Nerea Moreno also travelled to India as the 'anxaneta', the child who climbs to the top of the tower, and she caught the directors’ attention. “I felt proud and happy to be able to explain my own experience with the 'castells'. Here in Vilafranca I was more confident, they filmed me at school and at home, and they met my family,” explains Nerea. They also interviewed Raul Tudela, the children’s trainer. “It was a really gratifying experience; it's wonderful to explain our culture and traditions to foreign people,” says Tudela.

Curiously, Vilafranca’s ‘colla’ or team had travelled to Chile two years earlier in order to share their passion with the world. As a consequence, a local group was founded there and the Catalan group was due to return in December. The two directors were invited once again to join the ‘Castellers’ –this time on their expedition to Santiago de Chile, and the Universal Forum of Cultures of Valparaiso.

Luis Carrasco, one of the founders of Santiago’s human tower team, saw the introduction of the tradition as a dream, a way of integrating the country after Pinochet’s dictatorship and the ensuing division created by the regime. “This dream does now exist, ‘castells’ are like medicine for the soul, the emotion that unites us is communion, the best of the human being.” David Miret, former coach of the group and winner of “The Catalan of the Year” award in 2010, highlights the enthusiasm and strength of Chileans, who consider it as a “pedagogic project leading to the cohesion of their society”.

The final result

This chain of coincidences led to a magnificent final result in the shape of a rounded documentary which covers every aspect of human towers -companionship, effort and passion. Devinevi and Rojas succeed in showing the common point where the three different traditions come together: the tense and magical moment when the human tower reaches the sky and everybody shouts and jumps with glory, a climax that will take your breath away and keep you on the edge of your seats.

About the stay with Catalan ‘castellers’, Ram Devinevi says: “They were very generous and kind, and opened their culture and hearts to both of us. Miquel Ferret, the former president of the group, worked as a producer and helped the directors as much as he could. “I think the filming was exciting for them because they found it a complete experience as a lot of emotions, training and work were involved, and there was a great atmosphere among us all,” comments Ferret.

Raul Tudela, as a member of the cast, has nothing but good words about the documentary, “I was really impressed by the final result. I realized that very different people use the same techniques and have the same spirit as us, it’s amazing.” He and Nerea could stay with Devinevi and Rojas during the filming in Chile. “We ended up having a close relationship, we are friends,” highlights Tudela. Ferret adds, “We have met several times in the last two years and any time they come to Barcelona I go and see them. Actually, we are travelling to New York on June in order to perform our art there and Ram is helping us to find places”.

The distribution of the documentary

 ‘The Human Tower’ was presented at the closing of the 15th edition of DocsBarcelona - International Documentary Film Festival in Petit Palau de la Música de Barcelona and was awarded with a price. The Castellers of Vilafranca, who were invited as special guests, performed a pillar of five. The documentary has been screened all around Catalonia by the company which is in charge of its distribution, Parallel 40. “It was a promising agreement because Parallel 40 has a strong network and contacts there and they know how to make it reach theatres and TV in these markets,” says Devinevi. At the moment, the film can also be watched online.

Moreover, the directors have reached a sales agreement with the distributor Goldcrest Film International, based in London, which now owns the distribution rights to the movie all over the world and has openings and resources for an introduction to all the major markets. ‘We are planning to show it in India and Chile this autumn, but negotiations are still underway. Of course, we also plan to sell the movie to television channels throughout the world including the USA and Europe,” adds the Indian director.