The official screening programme screened its panorama films and offered a platform for young filmmakers called DOC! DOC! DOC!, in addition to sections highlighting social documentaries, historical films, films for young people and a good cross-section of Catalan-produced films. DocsBarcelona opened with a screening of Chilean filmmaker Fernando Valenzuela’s Las Ultimas Horas de Salvadore Allende. The film recreates the final solitary hours in the life of Chilean President Allende just before he was killed during the military coup d’état in 1973.

Salvador Allende
Salvador Allende

The film was chosen for the opening night, says festival director Joan Gonzalez, because of the original way in which the filmmaker tackles a major challenge in documentary filmmaking:

“One of the most difficult things is what you do when the camera was not there,” explains Gonzalez. “When I saw this film, I said ‘Wow, look at what the filmmaker has done to describe the spirit of the reality of that moment.’ I never thought it could be done that way.”

Valenzuela’s way of depicting those unfilmed moments is an impressionistic montage that combines a monologue performed by actor Ramiro Sandoval in an empty theatre in New York (where a play about Allende is regularly performed) with archival footage of tanks and troops outside the presidential palace, readings from Dante’s Divine Comedy and a haunting musical soundtrack.

Like most of the 28 films shown at the festival, the opening-night film was followed by a lively audience discussion where the director was present. Gonzalez tells us what he observed: “When I saw the loneliness of the president of Chile in the palace, surrounded by the army that was against him, it made me think of what it must have been like for my president (president Companys of the then autonomous region of Catalonia – ed.) in 1936 when Franco came to power.”

DocsBarcelona is a relatively new film festival, founded just three years ago to accompany a pitching forum that dates back twelve years. The forum, organised in association with the European Documentary Network (EDN), continues to be a major event on the global pitching circuit.

This year’s forum attracted 180 applications from 35 different countries, with 24 projects selected for presentation over a two-day period. About half of the projects were either pitched by Spanish filmmakers or related to Spanish subject matter.

One of them, 30 Years of Darkness, directed by Manuel Hildalgo Martin, touches on the political oppression of the Franco era, a subject that continues to haunt Spanish society. The film tells the story of Manuel Cortes, a fervent socialist who fought on the losing Republican side during the Spanish Civil War. Cortes, returning from the war front to his home town of Malaga, feared reprisals and went into hiding in a hole dug behind a wall in his own home. He stayed there, his whereabouts known only by his family, until 1969 when the government granted amnesty to him and others like him who were known as ‘moles’.

In his pitch, Hildalgo Martin likened the story to that of Anne Frank and presented a compelling trailer that showed a scene based on animation. In its striking graphic style and psychological tone, the scene was reminiscent of Waltz with Bashir, the award-winning animated documentary that also attempts to recreate memories. The young filmmaker in his twenties, and thus two generations removed from the period, says, “People like Cortes struggled during their years of hiding to keep from losing their own identity. I’m interested in getting the viewers to experience the feelings that Cortes and others must have experienced.”

Many of the other projects pitched also had a clear character-defined focus. Paco, Abdullah and I, directed by Spain’s Albert Sole, is about Paco, a colourful Barcelona street hustler whom Sole befriended. Years after losing contact with him, Sole discovered that Paco had converted to Islam and moved to Pakistan where he was arrested for heroin trafficking and now faced the death penalty. Sole describes the story as both a study of an unusual character and about “his own fascination with the darker side of life.”

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