“In 2016, after the final trial took place about my case, I looked at the big box of correspondence sent to me during almost three years in prison,” recounts writer and director Arantza Santesteban in a cafe at the San Sebastian film festival. “I opened the box and looked at the letters. It was at this moment that I knew I wanted to make a film about my almost three years in prison.”
On the night of Oct. 4, 2007, several Spanish National Police Corps vans stopped the car in which Santesteban was travelling. She and her friends were arrested accused of terrorism, due to their political activity in a party declared illegal under the Political Parties Law of 2002. Santesteban would spend 918 nights in prison.
“The film is a way to reflect on what happened in prison, it’s not for catharsis,” says Santesteban. “The film is to reflect. It’s about a process of transformation. There are some stereotypes and cliches around the idea of political prisoners that everyone in society has that I want to dispel.”
Santesteban is a researcher working on the communication, culture, society, and politics master’s program at UNED in Spain, studying questions that relate to cinematographic representation, feminism, and contemporary political conflicts. She obtained a degree in creative documentary from the Centre de Cultura de Dones Francesca Bonnemaison in 2012 and has since made work for galleries and cinema, including short films “Passatgers” (2012) and “Euritan” (2017).
“Arantza Santesteban came to us at Hiruki Filmak in 2017 and pitched ‘918 Nights,’ and we immediately said yes,” says producer Marina Lameiro. “We presented the film to some laboratories and funds, and in 2018 we took the film to [funding program] Ikusmira Berriak.”
It was at this program that they met producer Marian Fernandez Pascal of Txintxua Films, who helped obtain money from Basque and Spanish public and television funds, used for the production of the film.
They arrived at the inaugural WIP Europa at the San Sebastian Film Festival with an hour of footage. The films selected for WIP Europa compete for the WIP Europa Industry Award and for the WIP Europa Award going to the winning film of the Industry Award. The footage starts with Santesteban looking through her phone in a car and describing what happened at her arrest and contains recollections through still photos, reports and reenactments.
A final shoot is planned for October, and a final cut should be ready by the end of the year. With financing for production largely in place, Lameiro says, “We are looking for the best distribution possible at festivals and also for its release.”