Santiago de Compostela is a picturesque medieval town located in Galicia in northern Spain. A place for pilgrimage, it is the Catholic Mecca in Europe, with a cathedral within whose sacred walls gather thousands of visitors annually. Thirteen years ago another church was erected in this ancient city, one which is full of light and stories to be told, one that pays tribute to a universal God every culture can relate to. That is, cinema. Curtocircuito International Film Festival projected its first film in 2004 and held its latest edition this past October with an increasing number of faithful followers that join the ranks of this cinephile temple every year. With a history that expands over a decade now, this festival has been known in Spain for its extensive program of short films of any genre or style. With the arrival of a new team in 2013 led by pastor Pela del Álamo, the festival has redefined its strategy, pointing towards more precisely curated strands that are somewhere between the indie spirit of Sundance and the free experimentation of Rotterdam.
The festival has also made efforts in discovering hidden talents that for some reason are not so popular among filmgoers. This is the case for Jørgen Leth or Mike Hoolboom, pre-eminent figures in Danish and Canadian avant-garde film, respectively. Its workshops have also drawn more audiences in recent editions, due to the presence, for instance, of Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin (in the workshops organised for film critics). But the main attraction of this festival nowadays is arguably the invitation to great filmmakers to design their own programs. In 2015 Aki Kaurismäki visited the city to screen John Huston’s Let There Be Light (1956) and Clyde Bruckman’s The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933), as well as his films with the Leningrad Cowboys, explaining everything about these films to a fully-packed theatre. This year, Abel Ferrara shone and shouted like a rock star with a program combining his early short films and a handful of works that influenced him in some way. The eclectic selection included George Lucas’ Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB (1967) and Michael Snow’s Standard Time (1967). He refused to give any explanation about this aesthetically discordant combination just arguing the films are good and that is all they need to be in order for them to be considered. Fair enough. His discourse was also a bit like the selection. He began by discussing how he had sought inspiration in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s La ricotta (1963) for the biopic he directed about the Italian master, then lost himself in another story about driving with Snow for God knows how long to meet a crepuscular Nicholas Ray, someone he respected deeply. Of course, this is also Ferrara’s approach to making his own film, going from one idea to the next during the writing and filming process without truly knowing what it may produce. A Buddhist – he mentioned it at least twice – Ferrera must have found in faith a way to contend with life (a rather troubled one, one would think watching films like Bad Lieutenant, 1992, or King of New York, 1990). The Ferrara we encountered in Santiago was somewhat different, someone perhaps still a little tormented on the inside, but full of light and grace on the outside. On a sunny morning, recording a show for a radio station in the middle of the city’s market, surrounded by the noise of tourists and the scent of fresh food, Abel Ferrara appeared like a rock star and improvised a rap song. It was his gift to an audience that clearly fell in love with a man that, holding his child in his arms and with a big smile on his face, no longer resembled that angry man of the ‘90s. He appeared a sweet and familiar guy speaking with the filmmakers from the region where the festival takes place in. This is where Ferrara got acquainted with the New Galician Cinema.
A great thing about Curtocircuito is that it imports talent but it also exports it. It has been smart enough to become one of the main meeting points for a new generation of Galician filmmakers that are gaining international interest in film festivals. Many people may have not heard of the New Galician Cinema but they sure have seen Todos vós sodes capitáns (You All Are Captains, 2010) and Mimosas (2016) by Oliver Laxe, Costa da morte (Coast of Death, 2013) by Lois Patiño or Arraianos (2012) by Eloy Enciso. This unprecedented success has put Galicia on the map without international audiences really knowing that they are watching the same landscape. The films lay bare the region’s forests and rural beauty as well as its cultural heritage, emigration or its changing demography and values. Though the filmmakers have diverse approaches, they all share a certain degree of experimentation in their work. In a way Laxe’s first two features marked the first period of this Golden Age of Galician cinema. Judging by Curtocircuito’s 2016 selection, we are entering a new era with even more radical techniques deployed by filmmakers. It also needs to be stated that women are finally becoming protagonists in the movement. Their films can help identify some of the aspects that may be important for the continuity of the New Galician Cinema.
One feature is that some of the newcomers are work more in an international network due to their life experiences. Part of their defining aesthetics is that they look for collaborations in those places they live to better depict those realities. This is the case for Keina Espiñeira, Iván Castiñeiras and Eloy Domínguez Serén. The former directed Tout le monde aime le bord de la mer (We All Love the Seashore) in Morocco, working with Africans from different countries who were wishing to cross the Mediterranean Sea in order to get to Spain. Espiñeira depicts them as metaphoric characters in a never-ending limbo state, adding a strong political meaning to her film, which premiered in Rotterdam earlier in 2016. The result is close to Pedro Costa’s stylisation in his Fontainhas films but in its method it should be considered alongside Jean Rouch’s approach to filming local communities by working with them on the writing process and their whole characterisation. Castiñeiras offers something similar in Où est la jungle? (Where is the Jungle, 2015), a film shot in the Amazonian jungle with local tribes who feel the impact of a violent industrialisation. Both films capture the traces of a Western colonisation that has not ceased. They are films about the living memory of these places, something that is also present in Domínguez Serén’s Rust. In a much more evocative and abstract manner, the young director portrays a Tarkovskian voyage of a man through the depths of an abandoned industrial building in Sweden. Though shot in colour, shadows and light seem to be the only grades of colour that matter. Philippe Grandrieux’s work with the human body come to mind in the spectacular black abyss that swallows the man. Domínguez Serén is not strictly a newcomer. He has directed many films in recent years, shifting from filmed diaries – Pettring (2013) and Ingen ko på isen (No Cow on the Ice, 2015) – to more stylised documentaries such as Jet Lag (2014). With every new step he develops his aesthetic style, and he is working on two new films, one set in a refugee camp in the Sahara and another one has been shot during the Scandinavian winter. Filmgoers in the region are really excited to see what he will do in these two features.
Helena Girón and Samuel M. Delgado presented Sin Dios ni Santa María (Neither God Nor Santa Maria) last year in Toronto and brought to Curtocircuito this year Montañas ardientes que vomitan fuego (Burning Mountains That Spew Flame). In both films they shot shepherds from the Canary Islands with expired film, adding a beautifully strange aura. Given that the subject is wizardry and that they combine the depiction of this community with real ancient recordings miraculously found in an archive about the witches’ activities in the region, the visual result is in total harmony with its purpose. Both films combine the genres of essay- and horror film, pushing the boundaries of both genres in unexpected ways. Though different in style and intent, many films in Curtocircuito’s selection were shot on 16mm celluloid in what seems to be a worldwide tendency among independent and experimental filmmakers. Lucía Vilela, Alberte Branco, Carla Andrade and Miguel Mariño also work this way. The latter has been working on film for some time now. It is not just that he shoots on film, he physically manipulates it in order to create abstract pieces of art. With Fomos ficando sós (2013), he painted the film and used it in multiple projection. O tempo da mazá saw him practising handmade special postproduction effects in an attempt to emulate his idol Peter Tscherkassky. In Ir e vir he continues to use these techniques, attempting to match the visual rhythm to the cadence of a soundtrack that keeps pace.
Alberte Branco is known for his cinematography on Ángel Santo’s Las altas presiones (The High Pressures, 2014), another success of the New Galician Cinema that premiered at Busan. His film Trazos (Traits, 2016) is about territory and identity in a very specific part of Galicia called San Sadurniño. It is a simple but gorgeous depiction of this rural place that is being left to die, featuring interviews with some of the inhabitants who refuse to leave the village. These conversations are not synced on purpose so voice and image inform each order in a poetic way, disregarding reality. This landscape is the same that Lucía Vilela shoots in Toxos e floros (Gorse and Flowers) in a much more abstract way. She endeavours to find shapes in nature with the same patterns and edits them in a visual refrain that pays homage to the space itself. Both films are part of a project run by teacher Manolo González. Every year he gathers a few filmmakers in this place for a couple of days. After discussing cinema and methodology they have to come up with a film. Experiences such as San Sadurniño truly create a network for the filmmakers of the New Galician Cinema, creating opportunity for collaboration. A similar project, Visions (2016), assembled the work of several female directors of the region last year. Among them was Carla Andrade, featured this year at Curtocircuito with Listen to Me (2016), also shot on 16mm. A Galician Maya Deren with a touch of the Sensory Ethnography Lab, Andrade subverts the roles of femininity in this complex and visually exciting work. After having worked as a photographer and visual artist for years – she also collaborated in Lois Patiño’s Coast of Death – she is now trying to find her own voice as a filmmaker. She is currently editing what will be her first feature film, which is expected to be one of the next successes of this movement.
In recent years most of the films of the New Galician Cinema have been documentaries and sometimes fiction works. However, animation too is seeking a part with the arrival of a new talent. Alberto Vázquez has been working in this area for more than a decade now, but with his recent films he has set milestones that are unprecedented in his career. His film Decorado premiered at Cannes and has won prizes at Annecy and Curtas Vila do Conde, among other festivals. As in his previous films, Vázquez uses anthropomorphic animals in dystopian settings to discuss human nature and contemporary society. The visual look of happy animals that could be in a kids’ cartoon contrasts with a wild language that does not bother about correctness. The impression of watching one of Vázquez’s films is that, at any moment, one of these lovely animals could die, beheaded by a sadistic partner. It is like watching something between the candidness of Spongebob and the brutality of South Park. In a more abstract and personal way, Borja Santomé presented Rueda cabeza, which won the Planeta GZ award. Part of a trilogy that was shown in its entirety, the film is some kind of poetic documentary constructed from sound bites of a city that Santomé draws frame by frame using animated paintings that do not fully form. His films are like visual sketches of his experiences in an urban space, as if he was rehearsing for a bigger show.
Where will the New Galician Cinema be in another six or seven years? It is hard to tell but judging by Curtocircuito’s selection it is expected that visual experimentation will be common in the films to come. Traditional narration is also out of the picture. We could say these filmmakers prefer poetry to novels, if that is a good comparison. Something that could deeply change is the transnational context in which these films are made. With an education abroad and personal experiences that lead them to other countries, many filmmakers will not shoot in Galicia and will absorb influences that others before them were not exposed to. Breeding equals evolution so this can only improve the quality of an already vibrant cinema movement. Curtocircuito was a perfect showcase for these films in 2016, allowing filmmakers to follow workshops where they can gain knowledge or meet fellow artists from different parts of the world. If the festival continues to do so, it will play an important role in the consolidation of the New Galician Cinema.
Curtocircuito – Festival Internacional de Cine
3-9 October 2016
Festival website: http://curtocircuito.org/en/