PODCAST — Episode 6, recorded
Luis López Carrasco in conversation with BFMAF programmer Ana David about the film ‘The Year of the Discovery’.→
Luis López Carrasco (1981, Murcia, Spain) is a filmmaker and writer. His first feature film Los materiales (2010) was awarded the Jean Vigo Prize for Best Direction at the Punto de Vista International Film Festival 2010 and the International Jury’s Special Mention at FiD Marseille in 2010. In 2008, he co-founded Los Hijos, an experimental cinema and documentary collective. His work has been shown in numerous international film festivals, such as Locarno, Rotterdam, Viennale, Toronto, New York Film Festival – Film at Lincoln Center and Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, as well as a number of contemporary art centres, including Museo Nacional Reina Sofía (Madrid), Museo Guggenheim (Bilbao), Centre Pompidou (Paris) and ICA London.
Ana David is a film programmer based in Berlin working between Germany, Portugal and the UK. She is a member of the shorts selection committee and industry manager at IndieLisboa, a member of the advisory board of the Berlinale Panorama, and associate programmer at Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival. In 2018 she programmed at the BFI London Film Festival with a special focus on documentaries. In the past she has held positions at Portugal Film – Portuguese Film Agency, Lisbon Docs – International Financing and Co-production Forum, Festival Scope, and Queer Lisboa (2010-2015), the latter as co-director and programmer.
Hi, I’m Ana David, associate programmer at Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival, 2020. You’ll be listening to an interview with Luis López Carrasco, director of The Year of the Discovery, his second feature, which premiered at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in January, as part of the Tiger competition. The Year of the Discovery is one of the five features part of the reshaped and reduced New Cinema Competition at Berwick. Given the nature of the worker’s politics depicted and discussed in the film, it’s our hope that it will find special resonance with audiences in the UK. Luis joins us from Madrid.
Hi, Luis. Thank you for joining us, and congratulations on the very UK premiere of your film, The Year of the Discovery. We’ll be super, super happy to have it as one over five features in competition at the festival. At the festival, we were so interested in the film for many reasons. One of them being the specific trade union politics that it delves into, because of the UK being a country with a very relevant contemporary history of protests led by workers. And so this capacity that artworks have to jump from the particular to the universal is quite fascinating, in the sense that certain generations in the UK might strongly relate to what is being discussed in the film. And can you tell us a bit what got you interested in focusing on this very specific piece of contemporary history of Spain?
Well, thank you everybody. I’m very happy to be here and to speak to you. And I’m very happy to have this film being screened in Berwick because of course, me and my screenwriter thought a lot of England or the UK and all this. It’s a story of unionism and social struggle, of course. I think it’s a reference in Europe or maybe the world. This film is really connected to my previous film. The one which I made on my own, because I used to work in a collective, a more experimental documentary collective called Los Hijos. I started to make films on my own just after the economic crisis that arrived to Spain in 2010. I was living in Berlin in 2010. And when I went back to Spain in summer, I had the feeling that the country had changed completely. The political parties, the social structure, the economy. Every institution of the country was about to collapse or was different. I had the feeling that the country I was living in for 30 years… I was born in 1981… the place I was raised, the place I grow, all the things that I have done to try to live and study and work, weren’t useful anymore. I needed to learn how to live in this new country, which looks like my previous country, but it has new rules.
So I started to do films about Spanish with some history. The first film was about 1982, the moment where the labour party of Spain won the elections. I tried to look to that moment when you have all this joy and celebration, because Spain was going to be a real democracy. And that was el Futuro, my first film. And then I made this film about telling 1992 from a different way, because we have also 1992, this idea of being a glorious year with the Olympic Games, with the Expo de Sevilla, and at the same time we have this strong conflict. So I made these films to understand a bit better the recent history of my country. To have tools to understand a current time I wasn’t able to understand. I was so confused that I needed new tools to understand why this economic model of Spain, the Spanish society, was having this big disaster.
So tell me a bit about the process of researching and writing. As you said, you were quite young, and so too young to remember the specificities of it. So I imagine that it was a very specific and laborious work of researching and writing the film, the way it is now.
I was very interested in making a portrait of the ’80s or the early ’90s, different to the usual mainstream storytelling. There is this idea that the Spanish society in the ’80s was very cheerful and joyful and happy, and we have the Movida Madrileña, and everybody was becoming middle class. And all the cinema of this year, comedies. I felt that there were a lot of social groups that disappeared from cinema and from literature and from television, because in the ’70s, cinema attended to many different social groups, to portray the complexity of Spanish reality.
So I have this feeling that, at the same time that we have these social advances in education and LGTB movements and the social riots that were happening, at the same time, all the industries were being dismantled. And there were about 800,000 jobs lost in the whole country in that decade. So it was a very conflictive decade but almost nobody has been portrayed in the ’80s in that way. And when I was searching for… And this was going to be the B-side of the first film, that was about the ’80s as a party. And now I wanted to do the ’80s as a conflict. And then I remember, when I was 11… I’m from Murcia, which is the capital of Murcia region. And Cartagena, where the film is located, is the second city of this region, the industrial harbor, where the parliament is. And my grandparents lived there in the ’80s, and I used to go a lot. And then I remembered that when I was 11, I watched the parliament burning on TV and I didn’t understand anything and I didn’t pay much attention, because in 1992, everybody was so proud and so hopeful of doing the Olympic Games that no sad news could be allowed. The main objective of the whole population was: we have to show to the world that we are a modern country and we could be a world economic power.
Which is also a specific way of thinking of countries which see themselves as smaller, with smaller capacity or weaker capacity compared to the big economical powers of Europe, for instance, which is something that happens to Spain and Portugal equally.
Absolutely. World Cup, universal exhibition and Olympic Games. It’s a kind of model that it’s applied to emerging countries. You can see it in Brazil. You can see it in China. You can see it in Portugal with the exhibition of Lisbon. It’s the way financial investment capitals go to different countries to do real estate speculation. It’s part of the new liberal system. The consumer society, the capitalism, has to be disguised as democracy and as modern progress. Whatever. So when I asked my parents, which are living in Murcia, and the friends of my parents, the people that were growing up in 1992, “Hey, what happened in Cartagena with the parliament?” Nobody remembers absolutely anything. Of course the people in Cartagena know about it, but Murcia, which is the capital of, its 45 kilometers… It’s really, really close. Nobody in Murcia remembers that.
When I found out that… And then I decided to make this film because it was a very huge motivation to make a film because nobody remember it. And it allows us to think of the contradictions of what was going on in 1992. And at the same time that week, February of 1992, the Maastricht Treaty was signed, which is the beginning of the European Union, the European Central Bank, the Euro, and many, many things. So for me, what’s very important to focus on that era.
You have people speaking in the film, saying things that they possibly didn’t live themselves, but everything is very much based on testimonies, and maybe other archival tools you’ve used, based on things that were lived by someone else, by those who are alive and enough of adults to remember those facts at the time. So it seems like the writing and the casting went kind of hand in hand. And if you want to speak a bit about the process…
Of course, of course, I think what’s the most complicated process… The audition was really, really hard, but every time I made a film, I develop new strategies. So I’m very frightened, because I really don’t what to do, how to get the things I want to get. I started to work with a friend of my brother who is from Cartagena, Raul Liarte, who is the screenwriter, because he’s from Cartagena. He’s a son of a worker from the shipyard, from them Bazan Navantia shipyard. And he was really connected to the working class neighborhoods and who also is very politically committed to different squat movements. And he also appears in the film. The film starts with him telling this dream of going back to school and finding that there is a strange mist.
So when we started to do their research, we have a very big problem. There were no books. There were only one book. And we needed to understand at the beginning, what happened. We have to look in newspapers. And then one worker of the shipyard, which is also a union leader, and which is also a historian, was writing a book about what happened. And he allowed us to go with him to the interviews, so we could find these original union leaders from the ’90s, with the idea of speaking to them, and then using these interviews to make dialogues to do kind of reenactments, like a Peter Watkins movie. But when we started to speak to them, there were very strong situations, because these people, their voices, their stories, their faces, were telling us a very, very important story that nobody knew. So we decided that they have to be in the film. So that was part of the film. And it’s the third chapter of the film, when you find and speak to these people to understand what happened in 1992.
So at the same time, we wanted to invite unemployed neighbors and workers from the current Cartagena to make them discuss the situation from the present. About unemployment, about the strikes, about their projects of life, about their salary, about their dreams, about their families. To do that, we have to make open castings in neighborhood associations, and be able to persuade all these anonymous people that we needed them to be part of this film, to tell us about their lives. So we create the casting with these aspects. The point is that, at the beginning of the film, you are not sure if the film is happening in the ’90s or in current times. Raul and me had to develop these questions and way of directing, to create this very big collective portrait about the working class. The point of that is that, when we were doing the casting, Raul was sometimes looking… He found that people in concerts, or in the street, or in a demonstration. So it’s like we were not going to end, never. The film grew a lot, and I have the feeling that we were doing a collective portrait of the working class in Spain, from the end of the civil war to the current times. It was not only about 1992. It was understanding what all these grandparents, parents, and uncles and aunts of the nowadays people have a lot of experiences that could enlighten this strange situation that they have nowadays about their own social group.
It could seem like it’s a simple… It’s just people talking in the bar. And that’s also something that is quite interesting about it, and that quite fascinated me, is that it mimics and very organically so, the way that politics get mostly discussed in society. It happens when people meet and speak their hearts out after work, with friends and in a more or less informed way. And when you see the film, in the beginning, maybe the first hour, you could have imagined that this is all very organically shot, and you just enter the bar and you’ve found people speaking about these facts of their lives. When in fact, when we speak with you… And also there’s obviously some hints in the film… We understand that it’s a much more robust and complex process of extracting that organicity of these conversations and making them feel very true to life.
In the end was trusting people and spending time with them. And at the same time, we didn’t know exactly… We have here, Peter Watkins reenactment films. And here we have Fred Wiseman. Very direct and very living films. And I wasn’t sure where the film was closer to the reenactment or closer to giving them freedom to speak. And as we were continuing the research, we understand that… We had some fictional dialogues written, and they were getting fewer, fewer, fewer, because everything that people told me in the casting was much more interesting or relevant than anything that I could write. And at the same time, I was very interested in Eduardo Coutinho’s films, the Brazilian director. I was able, thanks to a programmer whose name is Maria Campaña… She put me in contact with his casting assistant from his last film. So they were telling me ways of just going to the street and speaking to the people and make them being part of a movie. The first time we made the first camera tests in the bar, the screenwriter, Raul, told me, “I don’t know if this film is going to be good, but nobody has put a camera here in 100 years. And nobody’s going to put it in the next 100 years.” And that was really strong.
And it’s interesting that, in a way, there could be the temptation or the need to show the surroundings of where everything happens and where people live. And how the neighborhoods of the previously working class, now maybe middle class people, lived. And yet, you’ve chosen to do a sort of week-long, everything happens in a bar and inside those four walls, which is also something that you’ve done previously with your previous feature, El Futuro. Do you want to tell us why this was very important for you to…
Well, I think there are many aspects. Because in a way, the film… Having testimonies and very straight documentary in a way… At the same time, there was an art direction and costume direction. And in the film, the characters, most of them are disguised. Rebecca Durán, the costume director, had to conceive a costume that could belong to 1992, but also could belong to nowadays. It was very, very subtle and difficult. In the end, it’s a period documentary. It’s a pelicula de epoca. And of course, because of the budget, it’s easier to do it in a closed space. But at the same time in El Futuro and in El año de descubrimiento (The Year of the Discovery), we were doing these temporary games of not knowing exactly if you are in the present time or in the past. And this idea of time capsule, in this film, had a lot of coherence. Because in the end, this film is about a social group that hasn’t been… It’s in a locked space. The stories of the previous generation, of the hours they work, how was their lives, it’s very, very similar to the new generations. I mean, I wanted to connect 1992 crisis and 2010 crisis with the social group that suffered most. And this idea of a collective group that has no possibilities of going out to the place it was put from their beginning, from where they were born, was also important. Because in a way, they are stuck in a kind of limbo. My editor Sergio and me knew that the film needed to show the streets. But the moment we show the streets is the moment that the original footage of the riots appear. And after the riots, you are able to watch the streets of these working class neighborhoods, shot by us, that’s shot with cameras. So the nineties, that you are not sure if it was shot in 1992 or nowadays. So you always have this complex situation of not knowing exactly where those images belong.
And then the choice of split screen, was it something that was also obvious from you from the beginning, or there was so much you wanted to show, or also there was a bit of a decision of establishing the dialogue between the two screens?
I was confident of doing a film only with close ups. And the face of the people was going to the main protagonist of the image. I didn’t want to make no general shot. In fact, the last shot of the shooting is the only general shot with the empty bar that appears after the riots. I remember it was the last shot we made. But at the same time, we were shooting with two cameras, because we have these groups and we wanted to have the reactions of the people. And then in the audition, these two cameras, we watch this footage synchronised in two screens. And in the first day we watched it like that, we decided to make the film in split screen. Was a decision made in the post-production process, for many reasons. Because for me, it represent better the experience of being in this cafeteria.
I thought a lot about this film going to have breakfast in my neighborhood, a working class neighborhood in Madrid, and this idea of looking to somebody but listening to another group, which is speaking at the table… All these intimacies happening together. I had the feeling that this inner space was going to be expanded with the split screen. So for me, that was the main idea. And sometimes you see a 50 year old woman in one screen, and then you see a 25 year old woman in the other screen, and they could be the same person. In the end, this film is about singular individuals. They speak about their lives, but they belong to our collective. And this idea of being alone, but at the same time, being part of a collectiveness. It’s very visible in the film.
The feeling that one gets watching it, it’s very close, not only because of the split screen and the close up. I very much felt the sensation of indeed being immersed in that bar and listening to these conversations. And I think that the temporality that the film has also helps. The duration also helps that feeling. You’re not pressed with time, and you sit down in the cafeteria, alone or with your friends and you let time go and you just observe or listen to what people are saying. And I can also imagine there were parts of the story, of the history, that got edited out even though it’s 200 minutes?
Yeah, of course. I mean, I knew the film was going to be long because I knew we had 50 characters and it was like, “If every guy speaks 10 minutes, we’ll have 500 minutes.” But we needed to be deep and we needed to give the characters time, because I wanted to portrait a world, the world of the work. And in the end, the film is structured very classically. The very first chapter, we have the description of this territory, of this land. They are speaking about the sea, about the neighborhoods, about the problems, about the things. Then we started to have a lot of information about how is their work, how many hours per day they work. We have a lot of information about their illness, their ideas, their families. And it’s also like an introduction of characters. Second chapter, we put all these people to discuss between all of them, about different aspects. About Spain as a nation, about emotional aspects. In the third chapter, we understand what happened in 1992, and then we understand why these people are feeling so abandoned, and why are probably going to vote ultra-right or far-right parties. That it’s the major fear that we have actually in Europe or in the world. So it was about connecting all of them, having this conversation about their concerns.
Thank you. Thank you Luis. That was super interesting to listen to.