Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Plan of Action: Documentaries and Blurred Borders


   It has been my intention in the last couple of months (I've kept getting waylaid by other things, as is my habit) to start imposing some kind of order on to my 2014 project ('El otro cine español'). The filmmakers who are being labelled with that tag are a disparate and unwieldy bunch - while I'm trying to work out who I would classify as belonging to this 'movement' (and how I will define 'it', and my own classifications) it seems sensible to divide them up into more manageable groups, even if I later draw the lines in different places.
    As I've previously said, I have some qualms with Caimán Cuaderno de Cine's criteria for their list. The actual articles they've published on the theme are more inclusive (so, even more filmmakers are mentioned, but that makes more sense to me - i.e. there is a thread that can be followed further back than CdC's arbitrary (to me) one year period). I've been reading my way through the articles and making translated notes (it would appear that the only way information will stick in my mind is in English), or in the case of Carlos Losilla's key article ('Un impulso colectivo', Caimán Cuadernos de Cine, September 2013, pp.6-8) I've written a full translation. As a side note, I'd like to say that the enthusiasm and excitement of the Spanish critics (in CdC but also websites such as Blogs&Docs) who have been writing about - and championing - these films (and particularly in what they've written about the newer group of filmmakers as being a group of people united by the conviction that you have to make images of the world and of ourselves with the aim of changing it and changing us (Losilla 2014: 22)) is compelling and infectious, and manages to even survive my broken up manner of translation (i.e. having to stop to look a word up in a dictionary when I'm not sure I've understood something properly). I've still got articles to work my way through, but I now have a better idea of the key themes or strands to what constitutes this 'other' cinema and also a view on which filmmakers I think need to be added to my considerations.
    I've come to the conclusion that documentaries are where I need to start - because of the number of documentaries being made by these filmmakers (and there are a lot of filmmakers who switch back and forth between making documentaries and making fiction films, which seems unusual to me because I can't think of many examples of this happening extensively elsewhere - Werner Herzog is one of the few names who springs to mind but please feel free to inform me of others), the manner in which documentaries more obviously fit with the apparent impetus and intentions of this 'movement' (I'm not 100% clear on this aspect at the moment, but that's my instinct), and also because it is some (but not all) of the more straightforwardly 'fictional' filmmakers (they make more or less exclusively fiction features - I'm not suggesting that they themselves are fictional, although that would make for an interesting digression) who I have more difficulty seeing quite how they fit into the larger collective. I've said 'straightforwardly' fictional because there are also a group of films that blur the borders between documentary and fiction - for example, in La plaga (Neus Ballús, 2013) the characters are local people playing fictionalised versions of themselves - and I'm going to include those films with the documentaries, at least in this initial period of research. So I need to do some reading on documentaries generally, but also look at documentary traditions within Spain as well.
    That almost inevitably means looking at filmmakers who date back to earlier periods but I don't want to get bogged down in the past too much, so I'm restricting myself to two antecedents for the time being - Joaquim Jordá (because he is frequently referred to in relation to this contemporary 'other' cinema) and Pere Portabella (because his films are clearly 'other', his filmography includes documentaries (some of them - particularly the political documentaries - key works in Spanish cinema), and I've recently watched all of them - rule no.4: always include something on your 'to do' list that you have already done, so that you can cross it off straight away). At this stage I'm not intending to write about either of them - I just want to watch as many of their films as I can get hold of, so that I have a better idea of connections Spanish critics might be seeing. It may be that as I read more, I come across more names or films that I'd like to see - but I don't want to lose sight of the fact that it's the people working now who I'm wanting to investigate and write about.
    Who makes the first cut? Again, I'm sure that more names will occur to me - or cross my radar - once I get going, but I think that Jose Luis Guerin (not on CdC's list) and Isaki Lacuesta (on CdC's list) both have to be on my list without question. The two of them move back and forth between documentary and fiction (or blur the borders in an individual film) and they've also got established careers, so there is a trail to be followed and they possibly act as a bridge between cinematic past and present (again, that's just my instinct at the moment). The other filmmakers I'm intending to look at initially are mainly people who are on CdC's list (with a few additional ones who have already crossed my path), most of whom have fairly short filmographies, but inclusion (or not) will partly depend on whether I can get hold of / view their films. It is about the films, after all. Documentaries actually seem to be easier to track down than some of the fiction films (another reason to start with them), so I do have access in some form or other to the majority of films in my initial selection (see the notes in the image above).
    That's where I'm starting - I don't know how frequently I will write about the films on here, but I will continue to at least give an indication of what I've been watching. I'm doing general reading at the moment and then I'm intending to spend some time just watching the films, before doing some more specific research. I'm taking notes when I view things already, so I may write them up in brief batches or something - but I'm not setting a schedule for including stuff on here, and in terms of my overall schedule for the project, I need a better idea of what I'm dealing with before I start setting myself deadlines. To be continued...

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