It is hard to describe the beauty of the blue color of the sky above a field where the shepherd leads his sheep. It makes one remember that, except for the sky, blue is the rarest color in nature, and for this reason, people started to associate it with heaven. Heavenly blue. There is plenty of it in Inland (Meseta, 2019), the second feature film by Juan Palacios, a filmmaker born in Basque Country, Spain, working with observational documentary, experimental video, and visual-diary.
Under the heavenly blue sky, the other side of the most acute contemporary problems is being narrated. Air pollution, emission from fossil fuel combustion, excessive production of plastic and other waste, toxic additives in processed food of uncontrolled origins, lack of potable water, high crime rates and costs of living, and recently even epidemics that spread much faster in places where lots of people live together. That is, in the cities. Nothing of this exists in Inland. If you will not fall in love with the heavenly blue sky, then you certainly will with the kind and loving way the shepherd talks to the sheep as he carefully leads them on a narrow path. Or with the eyes of the sheep that look into the camera as the heard passes by. And when they enter the tunnel and the screen turns black, which then turns into the surface where the title of the film appears, you will instinctively know that you are about to see a part of the world that is often excluded from our everyday life – the countryside.
Mediated through media
In this smoothly cut film, one shot literally calls the other: an immense field of golden wheat shows to be a scenery for a photo session, the farmers observe themselves on the pictures, the driver is watching a tractor on television, the tractor is moving through the woods, a man is walking among the trees and is repairing a water damp, water is running in the stream, a woman by the creek is washing a table cloth, a man is sitting at the table tying cord to CDs…. While the formal unity of the film is guaranteed by this editing by association, the content that runs through all these scenes is the media, clearly indicating that we should make no mistake in believing we are peeking into an unmediated nature. On the contrary, this nature, too, is our culture, since it has been mediated to us through said media.
At one point, along with the image of a huge satellite dish, we hear a radio host saying, «In Spain, we have marvelous beaches, beaches envied by the world for its water, sand and sunsets…but we also have the villages, our hometowns, where our parents or grandparents were born, that also have their charm». Indeed, a look at the heavenly blue sky says it all. So our memory returns to the guided tour earlier in the film when driving on a road covered with weeds, we hear that people who own this land sometimes don’t even know where their land is, so instead of potato and rye, there is « the jungle» where only rockrose, broom, heather, and brush grow. So, here is the question that we, together with the film crew, would like to ask. How come that all this beauty, these charming villages far from the chaos of the cities, with clear air and «zero kilometer» food, risk becoming abandoned?
Ever since digital technology arrived, the realism of the image compromised, more and more documentary filmmakers use sound as the main means of expression, thus leaving more space for imagination. Inland is such a film. Not only the colourful parts, such as the past and faraway places where the man’s online friends come but also essentials such as the difficulties associated with farm life are mostly dealt with in the interviews. And so it is also the question about why, regardless of all its advantages, this land is turning into such a phantom territory? During a radio show, with the heavenly blue sky in the background, several listeners, city people of course, nostalgically remembered visits to the village of grandparents and explained their feelings as freedom. But one of them, Jorge, had a different experience. He actually wanted «to go away from the routine, people, bustle. We left everything behind, jobs and all, I bought a van and we moved to the village. The first few months were fantastic, but people are distrusting, and they don’t give you any options. If you are not from that village, there’s little chance of them accepting you properly.» Jorge might be hoping to find freedom, but was forced to leave by the local population’s hatred – or was it fear?
How come that all this beauty, these charming villages far from the chaos of the cities, with clear air and «zero kilometer» food, risk becoming abandoned?
There are two little girls under the heavenly blue sky too, searching for Pokemon. The oldest narrates the story about the Bogeyman and, amused by the fear of the little one, suggest to go see his lair. The little one refuses at first but is convinced by a promise that they might find some Pokemon on the way. No need to specify that Pokemon, as alternate-reality game monsters, are as virtual as the Bogeyman. Both, alternate reality games and fairytales are devices to domesticate fears. Pokemon surely are more suitable for dealing with contemporary fears, but the land under the heavenly blue sky is the land of the Bogeyman. People initially moved to the cities, and some still do, in their search for freedom. As life in the cities gets more and more unbearable, knowing that there is no way back is the precondition for a solution. But the real key to finding a solution is imagination, and this is why this film is so important: it creates free space for imagination.
It won the Lino Micciché Prize at Nuovo Cinema Main Competition at the Pesaro Film Festival, Pesaro, Italy, 2019, the National Competition award at L’Alternativa festival in Barcelona, Spain, 2019 and the Special Mention of the Next:Wave Award at CPH:DOX in Copenhagen, Denmark, 2019, among others. It also screened at 22nd Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.