Documentaries made out of Spain, Latin America show global concerns
Wim Wenders and Julio Ribeiro Salgado’s “The Salt of the Earth,” “Who Is Dayani Cristal?” with Gael Garcia Bernal, and Spanish Academy Goya winner “Paco Lucia: The Search” face off with “Born in Gaza” and “The Waltz” for best documentary at the 2nd Platino Ibero-American Film Awards, unspooling July 18 in Spain’s Marbella.
Distinctive in style, subject, setting and natural audience, the five titles still underscore fast-evolving trends in docu-feature production in Latin American and Spain.
One is the globalization of concern: the world’s about Latin America; Latin America and Spain’s about the world.
Produced by Seville’s La Claqueta and Madrid’s Contramedia Films, “Born in Gaza” for instance, takes Spanish director Hernan Zin to Palestine’s Gaza Strip.
A bio-portrait of Brazilian photographer Sebastian Salgado, “Salt of the Earth” is co-directed by a German, produced by David Rosier’s Decia Films, the also Paris-based Amazonas Images, run by Brazilian Salgado and wife Leilia Wanick Salgado, and Italy’s Solares Dell Arti, in association with Vagalume Filmes in Brazil’s Minas Gerais and Moondog Prods in Belfast.
A Sundance Fest opening night film, “Who is Dayani Cristal?” is directed by Brit Marc Silver, produced by Pulse Films, which has offices in London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles, in association with six companies ranging over the U.K., U.S. and Mexico. It stars Mexican Gael Garcia Bernal. Taking its title from a tattoo on the chest of a man’s corpse discovered in Arizona’s Sonora Desert in 2010, whoever – or whatever – Dayani Cristal is, it is certainly not Mexican.
These days, with an iPhone, everybody can be some sort of documentarian. Reacting to the digital world’s data/image overload, its ephemeral impact, many of the films – or their subjects – represent an attempt to put a human face to mass tragedy. That is the literal thrust of portrait shutterbug Salgado’s career, founded on portraits of the marginalized individuals, whether from Latin America’s indigenous communities – the Saraguros of south Ecuador, peasant communities in Oaxaca, North Mexico’s Tarahamaras – a village in West Papua, or the victims of war, famine and displacement in Africa, a continent he traveled to time and again and again, producing the photo volume “Sahel, The End of the Road” over 1982-84. Salgado’s magnum opus, “Workers,” is a six-year work capturing Soviet Union steelworkers, ship-builders in Bangladesh, fishermen in Galicia and Sicily, car mechanics in Calcutta, tea-pickers in Ruanda and. most famously, gold-diggers at Sierra Pelada, a Dantesque open mine, in his native Brazil.
Another Platino Award nominee, and part of a now significant Chilean docu movement, Chile-Argentina co-pro “The Waltz” (“El vals de los inutiles”), from Edison Cajas, relates Chile’s 2011 student protests for free-of-charge, quality education, through the stories of its two protagonists, Dario, a 17-year-old high-school student who supports his school’s seven-month sit-in, and Miguel Angel, a businessman-turned-tennis coach from a well-off family who was detained and tortured in 1979 by Augusto Pinochet’s security forces. Miguel Angel’s support for the students street 1,800 hour marathon around Chile’s Moneda Palace links Chile’s past and present. “I wasn’t interested in a one-off event but a larger picture, how people movilized after suffering for years a system created by the dictatorship, in economic, political and social terms,” Cajas told Chilean daily La Maleta.
“Born in Gaza” traces its origins to when director Zin saw reportage of an Israeli double-missile airstrike in July 2014 which killed four children, aged nine-to-11, who were playing on Gaza City beach. Zin flew into Gaza and interviewed two child survivors, as well as eight other children, such as Mohamed, a child cart and horse rubbish collector, Rajaf, whose ambulance driver father was killed when on service; and the hospitalized Sondos, wounded in the stomach by an Israeli Defence Force attack. An aerial view depicts a bombed-out neighborhood of Gaza City. It looks like Dresden in the sun.
507 children were killed in 2014’s Gaza War. As the film’s subjects talk direct to camera, or are depicted at play, or talk about by friends, it is the mental and emotional scars the children suffer which are particularly distressing. One of the Gaza Beach attack survivors, Hamada, who was hit by shrapnel in the chest, says he feels like joining the resistance to avenge his dead cousins; another child, Bisan, just a mite, lost her family in an air raid. She draws pictures of her dead parents but won’t talk about them. Rajaf said that when the bomb hit his father’s ambulance, everybody inside was killed. Such was its bomb’s impact that the bodies were torn to pieces, none bigger than a handful, he gestures to camera.
Attempting to bring a deeper significance, but also humanity and empathy to events, documentaries can end up as hybrids. Both “Who Is Dayani Cristal?” and “The Waltz” employ a mix of reportage and dramatic reconstruction to drive home their human stories.
“I wanted to craft a narrative that built identity as the story unfolded – that ‘re-humanised’ and turned someone with no identity at the beginning into a living breathing human being by the end,” “Who Is Dayani Cristal?” director Silver told Indiewire.
Like “Salt of the Earth,” “Paco Lucia: the Search,” also a Platino Award nominee, pictures a master of his craft, flamenco guitarist Lucia. Compared to other Platino Nominees, it has less social issue context.
“I was left-wing until I made my first two million pesetas,” De Lucia says to camera. Now he doesn’t say he is left-wing any longer. Glorious footage – a young De Lucia conquering Los Angeles, playing “La Malagueña” at the Greek Theater with a combination of stacatto virtuosity and heart that would launch a career – meshes with a clear view of what made Paco de Lucia: Learning the rhythms of flamenco at his father’s knee; the U.S. breakthrough; advice from flamenco maestro Sabicas that flameco guitarrists should “play their own music”; working with Cameron de la Isla, “the most important thing musically in my life.”
But, for a once tongue-tied youth, it is the trenchant candor and emotional percipience of his observations that lingers longest. “If I could have half, a quarter of that happiness, that lust for life that I had when young,” De Lucia says, recording his U.S. breakthrough. “But now they’ve put me on such a pedestal that…with the perfectionism my father gave me, having to meet people’s expectations isn’t fun. It’s torture.”
Or on talent: “People talk about somebody being a ‘genius.’ I don’t believe in that. Some people work, have worked a lot, and have talent. Work is essential, also a sense of knowing nothing.”
Working, with the final scenes of “The Search” still to shoot, Paco de Lucia died Feb. 2014 in Mexico of a heart attack.