Set in Extremadura, south-west Spain, “Nights Gone By” marks the debut feature of Switzerland-based, Madrid-born Alberto Martín Menacho, participating in this year’s ECAM Incubator. One of Spain’s most important film schools, Madrid’s ECAM has long proven a launchpad for generations of Spanish filmmaking talent.
Previously, Menacho had put the script through San Sebastian’s Ikusmira Berriak development residency for projects and several Swiss screenwriting labs.
In the film, four characters question their life in its conservative rural environment where traditional rituals and habits still influence everyday behavior, even as the region modernizes. Despite its spectacular name, Extremadura is far from the most cosmopolitan of Spain’s autonomous communities, better known for its magnificent mountains, forests, lakes and natural reserves such as the Monfragüe and Cornalvo Natural Parks.
“Nights Gone By” explores the hostages left to fortune by Spain’s ancient past, more specifically, primitive elements of human beings which exist down to this day, such as hunting and migration.
It’s executive produced by Pedro Collantes at Spanish outfit Mizunonaka and co-produced by Swiss company Lomotion.
Menacho spoke with Variety about his place in Spanish filmmaking, making a feature debut and the echoes of history that reverberate through modern Spanish civilization.
Can you talk a bit about how young filmmakers getting in the industry at this time are balancing writing, developing and looking to finance first films?
This feels a particularly difficult time to start taking the first steps towards making a debut feature. I don’t think it has to do with age, because I imagine that every person comes to this moment when they’re ready. But these things can’t be defined as a whole because we’re all, in a word, different. The important thing regarding age is to feel young every time you make a movie. I think that is important because you can feel it when you watch films. There is a freshness at the beginning for filmmakers that can be lost.
ECAM’s Incubator has launched generations of filmmakers. Have you been influenced by other alumni, and do you think there is something distinct about your generation of filmmakers?
Of course I have tools and references from Spanish filmmakers because I’m from that culture, but at the same time when I see a movie, even if I love it, I try to erase what remains in my mind of that filmmaker once I’m done watching. I’ve been watching Lucrecia Martell’s first three films and although she’s Argentine and not Spanish, my point is that while I enjoy her work so much, I don’t want her films to appear in mine. I also think we need to do new things. We’re in 2020 and living a pandemic, so why make movies like we did generations ago? As to whether there is a movement that I belong to or a new generation of filmmakers, the truth is I don’t see one. But, I’m still young and only time will tell.
The narrative of “Nights Gone By” seems to mirror that a bit. Recognizing the old but existing and adjusting to a modern world.
There is something about the past and our history that is very important to me. I think that although this film is filled with modern elements, it uses the past to help understand today. I don’t think there is one right answer as to whether Spain is modern or not, but I do feel that to understand our present, you have to look back and see where we come from.
And your movie talks about mental states, or states of social customs.
I want my film to discuss the atmosphere and sensations that determine how youth feels today. I also wanted to put a sharp focus on small generational gestures and changes. The traditions we inherit change over time as youth in each generation think differently than the ones before them. My film is a portrait of a specific moment in southern Spain, but it is also the portrait of a forgotten region that I feel has been underrepresented in cinema. Very little filming has been done in Extremadura.
Have you started looking for funding? What are you plans there?
So far our funding has come from the Swiss government’s Office of Culture, and regional funds from French-speaking Switzerland. Before the end of the year we will reach out to broadcasters as well as the ICAA for public aid.