Nominated for Best Documentary Feature

It has not been a good year for Spanish cinema in general and for documentaries in particular.. The pandemic has only shown the weaknesses of our industry and it is commendable that despite the difficulties, documentary productions have been able to maintain themselves. A contradiction that contrasts with the magnificent moment that, however, the documentary is experiencing thanks to audiovisual platforms.

Barely 500 spectators have seen in theater Heroes: silence and rock & roll or The Return: Life after ISIS and just a little better who prevents it Y A blues for Tehran that do not exceed 3,000 spectators. A not very encouraging scenario, which puts at risk the future of the most authorial documentary. The Goya, in this edition perhaps with a desire to improve, introduced a clause by which the 15 finalists are chosen by a commission. A difficult and open question, which continues to arise in the institutions: what to do with Spanish documentary cinema so that it is not just a genre for festivals?

This year’s four nominees for best documentary film, Although very different from each other, they weave generational portraits where music (and its absence) acquire a special role.

Heroes: Silence and Rock & Roll

Everyone likes to be liked, even the legendary group from Zaragoza Heroes of Silence. Throughout his career, with a charismatic Enrique Bunbury Up front, they defied the narrow mental margins of the Spanish music industry and despite becoming a successful group, music critics always disliked them.

They were handsome and they did rock, punk, pop… they didn’t want dancers, they just embraced darkness and rock. But many critics only saw them as a girl band. And that they came to sell more than six million records in more than thirty-seven countries, and in which they offered more than a thousand concerts. Unheard of figures for any Spanish group of the time.

The documentary Heroes: Silence and Rock & Roll by Alexis Morente try to shed some light and explain some whys: drugs, genius and wear and tear on life. He patiently reaps the fruits of previous work with Enrique where he signs many of his video clips.

The best thing about the documentary is precisely the portrait of the Spanish music industry and its contradictions. See, as an example, the portrait of his unclassifiable manager cubillas. A period that covers twelve years, from 1984 to 1996, the date on which the group dissolves as a result of exhaustion. Although Bunbury’s figure is hypnotic, the group cannot be explained without Juan Valdivia (lead guitar) and his genius for the search for chords, in a certain way Enrique’s counterpoint. Joaquín Cardiel (bass) and Pedro Andreu (drums) they complete the group and bring to the documentary the most humanistic vision, that of old friends who do not judge irreconcilable differences.

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The documentary, despite its merits, remains a bit in no man’s land, as if the director had been afraid to enter a deeper portrait and not come out well, because in the end, this is also going to be liked. The best thing is to review or rediscover the discography of a brilliant group whose lyrics have not lost an iota of modernity.

A blues for Tehran

And from a lysergic journey through the entropy of Spanish music, to the complex musical awakening of Iran. Film journalist Javier Tolentino and driver until recently of the seventh vice at RNE he made his directorial debut with A blues for Tehran. A documentary that delves into Persian poetry and tries to discover the richness of a country where music and artistic expressions came to be persecuted after the 1979 Revolution.

Today, Iran is a country that is torn between tradition and modernity, but artists are still questioned and creative freedom is still far from being achieved. Taking the young artist Erfran Shafel, a strange future film director, as his guide, Tolentino shows us the East-West cultural clash.

How debut stands out for one direction, which pays homage to Iranian cinema itself (by Abbas Kiarostami), with still shots of great beauty, while brushing the meaning of Iranian music itself with testimonials from some musicians. Perhaps here it shows his greatest weakness, because in some way the minimal stories he presents are linked as an excuse to link the next song.

Very good intentions for a documentary that falls short in its reflection of the Iranian musical reality. The best, discover the sonority of Persian poetry and the beauty of Iran

who prevents it

Jonas Trueba, director of this documentary, tells us at the beginning, almost five years of work and about three and a half hours for what the creator himself qualifies as an immersive experience halfway between fiction and documentaryalthough he denies both labels.

Maybe that’s why it is not easy to explain what this documentary is about. Structured in three parts with two five-minute breaks deals with the life of a group of teenagers over several years. And as adolescents that they are, everything happens to them and at the same time nothing, in a costumbrista portrait, where the director himself discovers himself as one of the group.

But nothing is what it seems, because a work of fiction is appreciated that is built on improvisations and real performances, to the point of confusing the artist himself. jury of san sebastian and award to a supposedly documentary film, the award for the best performance of distribution. Something that the most purists did not like.

For some critics, Jonas Trueba has tried to reflect the feelings of today’s Spanish youth trapped in a technological world and which, the Covid, has cut off its purest expression of freedom. There remain her first loves, her reflections on the meaning of life or her daily struggle against social conventions. To other critics, she has turned her own adolescent dream into an exploration between what we thought we would be and what we are as adults. And all this mixed with the universe of her previous works as The reconquest or The Virgin of August.

Be that as it may, who prevents itthat except surprise (anti-purist) will win the Goya for the best “documentary” reminds you that “if you are fifteen years old and you intend to escape with that, it is enough and more than enough to do it” (about the lyrics of the song by Rafael Berrio that gives the documentary its title and to which Jonas dedicates the documentary) but if you are not either, “ nobody prevents it”.

The Return: Life after ISIS

In 2015, Shamina Begum was 15 years old when she left her native United Kingdom and, in the company of two other schoolgirls, joined the ISISthe jihadist group responsible for countless attacks in the world.

Today Shamira is 22 years old and wants to return to her native home. Like her, a group of women, most of them with small children, are in a legal limbo because their countries of origin do not accept repatriating them suspected of terrorism and recruiting other women for ISIS.

Director Alba Sotorra has filmed for almost two years in the Roj Detention Center in northeastern Syriawhere they remain confined. The documentary takes a pragmatic approach to life in the camp and the therapeutic support it offers Sevinaz Evdike. The work of this Kurdish activist in helping her to dismantle and deconstruct those beliefs of which they were victims and which a large part of the documentary addresses is surprising.

With a classic structure, with interviews in the first person, the filmmaker tries to shed some light on lives that are read with fear by the states of origin of the now repentant. It’s not an easy documentary because it talks about second chances and human rights, and that in a world where ISIS has done so much damage is not easy. Sotorra does not judge them and therein lies the greatest virtue of the film, in addition to the extraordinary effort to shoot in a unique way in those circumstances. So what to do with these women whose governments (Belgian, French, Dutch, German, British…) are washing their hands? The best, the reflection that as spectators before if it is possible forgive people manipulated by ISIS.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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