Spain’s Turanga Films and Sintagma Films are set to co-produce “Sleepless City,” the first fiction feature from award-winning documentary filmmaker Guillermo García López. A coming-of-age social drama, the project is being presented at the Berlinale Talents Project Market this year.

“Sleepless City” follows 13-year-old Ramón, a Romani boy living in a shantytown at La Cañada Real in Madrid, one of the biggest illegal settlements in Europe where the young man films the harsh environment with his cell phone, as if it were a mysterious sci-fi set.

“On one hand, the film is built around Ramón’s teenage awakening. There is a dull roaring inside him, almost unfathomable,” García López told Variety. “On the other hand, the film is a portrait of the universe that surrounds Ramón. I want to compose this portrait by playing with the perspectives found in the aesthetic of the area as well as the images that Ramon captures.”

By filming his own reality Ramón finds solace in the place where he lives, and a way of escaping from it. At one point, Ramón’s family receives an eviction order saying that their house is set to be demolished. For Ramón it’s a chance to leave La Cañada behind, uncovering a hidden desire to create a different life from that of his parents, who will move heaven and earth to prevent the eviction. The film will evolve from futuristic fiction to a more subtle observation of Ramón’s reality.

“The tone and the atmosphere of the film will feature a poetic realism, almost magical, where Ramón’s imagination can find its own reflection,” García López explained while mentioning inspirational references in Italian neorealism, the poetry of memory and dreams expressed by Tarkovski and Buñuel, and the work of Alice Rohrwacher.

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Guillermo Garcia Lopez Credit: Turanga, Sintagma

In its plot and setting “Sleepless City” examines the Spanish Romani and Moroccan cultures, both rooted deep in Spain’s larger cultural legacy and underlined by current migratory flows.

“’Sleepless City’ seeks to value the dignity and the sense of belonging a people have with their home, and to break the stigma that has been placed on these types of spaces,” said producer Lina Badenes at Valencia-based Turanga Films (Iciar Bollain’s “The Rosa’s Wedding,” Lucía Alemany’s “The Innocence”). Based in Madrid, Sintagma is García López’s own label.

García López’s “Delicate Balance” world premiered at IDFA and nabbed the Spanish Academy Goya Award for Best Documentary and Austin Fest Audience Award in 2017, among other kudos. He also was creator and co-director of “Atlantics,” (2019), a series of three films on the border between documentary and fiction filmed in Greenland, the Canary Islands and Namibia.

The producers and director have organised documentary film workshops for young people in La Cañada, and are working to create a film school with the aim of involving teenagers from the area in the project.

“Sleepless City’s” development path has seen it feature at the Berlinale Script Station, the Torino Script Lab – where it received a Special Mention from the CNC Jury, and the Cannes’ Cinéfondation Résidence program  – where it took the Prix Moulin d’Andé, and was one of ICAA’s 10 Promising Spanish Projects at the Marché du Film last year.

“Sleepless City” is scheduled to shoot in 2022.