Toronto Talent Chema Garcia Ibarra Talks Mystery, Near Docu Sci-fi

BARCELONA –  Spain’s Chema García Ibarra is hardly a stranger to big fest selection: His shorts have played Cannes Directors’ Fortnight (“Attack From the Robots From Nebula 5”), Sundance (“Attack,” “Mystery,” “Protoparticles”), Berlin (“Mystery,” “The Golden Legend”) and San Sebastian (“The Disco Shines”).

Now, championed by the ECAM Madrid Film School’s Incubator program, and having been put through Greece’s Oxbelly Screenwriter’s Lab, “ García Ibarra’s first feature project, “The Sacred Spirit,” has made it to Toronto, as part of its 2019 Filmmakers Lab. In his debut, half of Spain sets out in search of a missing girl, while a Spanish ufology assn. holds a night sightings session. One of its members, the weight challenged José Manuel, will determine the fate of humanity.

Mixing costumbrismo – local social detail – with touches of cinéma-verité and low-fi sci-fi, seasoned with a singular sense of surreal humor, García Ibarra, highlighted by Variety as a talent to track, has been described by Spanish docu-maker Óscar de Julián as “like an illegitimate son that Werner Herzog had on a trip to the Mediterranean.”

“The Sacred Spirit” is produced by Spain’s Apellániz y de Sosa and Jaibo Films and France’s La Fabrica Nocturna. Variety chatted to Chema Ibarra about his first feature project.

You’re fond of sci-fi concepts set in provincial environments. Your style’s not exactly naturalistic but does give local social detail. Will audiences find these elements in your first feature?

I like this idea very much: go to your grandmother’s home, look for an old photo album, open it in a random page and pick one random photo: now imagine that image as a frame of a sci-fi movie. I don’t know anything about your grandmother, but probably that photo would be a First Communion picture, a group of people around a table in a dining room or someone lying on a towel on a beach: you need to make a beautiful, exciting and poetic mental exercise to make that image part of a sci-fi film. That confrontation of universes –the “domestic” and “fantastic”– is what I am really interested in. I would like “The Sacred Spirit” to have one foot in both of these worlds.

And that link’s where a sense of mystery –a deep-rooted idea in all your shorts– emerges….

When “mystery” frees itself from the “resolution,” it becomes disturbing and attractive. A case in point: the third Mystery of Fatima: the last of the three messages that a Marian apparition dictates to some children is kept hidden for years, generating a mystique around it that disappears in thin air when the Pope reveals the mystery in 2000. All the beauty of that image – a hidden text dictated by a luminous being –  is destroyed by its public reading.

You’ll direct “The Sacred Spirit”like your shorts? Tell us how you work. 

I like that each frame to be useful, to build sequences with the least possible number of frames, so that each one is essential. I try to do the same with all the other elements involved in the film, from characters to dialogues. Is it necessary for this character to say this? Can he say it with fewer words? Can he say it with no words?

Why do you always work with non-professional actors? 

I’m interested in real physical features, regional accents, people wearing their real clothes, real spaces rather than constructed ones, and so on. I’m a documentary filmmaker making fiction movies. I don’t like conventional acting at all: The voices all sound the same to me, I see the same gestures over and over again. As I know that the characters will be played by non-professionals, it determines the scriptwriting process: that is why I make films with characters that speak little, hardly move and do not express “physical” emotions: I’ve never written a scene in which someone cries or has a fit of rage, for example.

What’s your ideal audience?

I try to think about what would happen if I hadn’t made my films but saw them as part of an audience. I think I’d like them very much! As a viewer I am quite open. The only thing I can’t stand is solemnity, the lack of a sense of humor. Anyone who shares this vision is welcome!

You attended Greece’s Oxbelly Lab and will now go to Toronto’s Filmmaker’s Lab. What are your expectations about these industry initiatives?

Writing this film has been very lonely work. So it’s always refreshing to hear other voices and opinions: Maybe what I thought was funny isn’t so funny, or what I thought was perfectly understandable turns out to be cryptic. It’s fantastic to hear opinions from people who come from opposite worlds –from mainstream to the arthouse– to know how your film is perceived in both worlds. Thanks to the meetings with filmmakers like Lucrecia Martel or João Pedro Rodrigues that I had at Oxbelly, I now think that my movie is better. So I hope to collect new opinions in Toronto that may result in new sequences or tweaks.


Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

  • Jonathan Van NessLos Angeles Beautycon, Portrait

    Jonathan Van Ness Reveals HIV Diagnosis, Former Drug Addiction

    “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness is getting vulnerable in his new memoir “Over the Top.” In a preview of his book with the New York Times, Van Ness opened up about his early struggles with sex and drug addiction as well as his experience with sexual assault, revealing that he was abused by an older [...]

  • 4127_D022_00003_RC(l-r.) Elizabeth McGovern stars as Lady

    Box Office: 'Downton Abbey' Dominating 'Ad Astra,' 'Rambo' With $31 Million Opening

    “Downton Abbey” is heading for a positively brilliant opening weekend after scoring $13.8 million in domestic ticket sales on Friday. If estimates hold, the feature film version of the popular British television show should take home approximately $31 million come Sunday, marking the biggest opening ever for distributor Focus Features and beating previous record holder [...]

  • Gully Boy to represent India in

    'Gully Boy' to Represent India In Oscars Race

    The Film Federation of India has chosen Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” as its entry in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category. The picture, a coming of age tale about an aspiring rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum premiered at the Berlin film festival in February before opening to a wave of acclaim at home in [...]

  • Lucy-Lost

    Cartoon Forum: 30th Anniversary, Little Giants and New Generations

    TOULOUSE, France –  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cartoon Forum wrapped Sept. 19 having showcased the ever-growing strength of European animation. 85 projects were pitched from 24 countries at the co-production forum platform that played host to north of 1,000 investors, distributors and producers – a record number. Falling on French-speaking Belgium – Wallonie-Bruxelles – whose [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content