Printmaking Makes the Movies!
by Mike Booth
"Silence please, we're rolling..."
"Silence please, we're rolling... Action!"
It's the first day of filming on a half-hour short film about a Spanish fisherman in his sixties who causes a revolution in his village when he abandons his wife for an English printmaker who has gone there to live. This is the first foray into fiction by the young Spanish documentay filmmaker, Juan Carlos Romera. The cast is artfully made up of a mix of professional actors, an amateur theater group and citizens of Las Negras, one of the last remaining traditional fishing villages on Spain's Mediterranean coast as yet unspoiled by tourism. The professional actors are Idilio Cardoso, who plays José, the fisherman, and Maria Alfonsa Rosso, the beleagured wife. The role of Maureen, the English artist is played by real-life expatriate British printmaker, Maureen Booth.
The title of the film, "¡Bive!" is a semi-literate Spanish fisherman's written rendition of "¡Vive!", "Live!" "It's the story of an old man who doesn't want to die without experiencing real love," says producer/director, Romera, who also wrote the original screenplay. The film, narrated from the points of view of the Spanish fisherman and the English printmaker, reflects the clash between the rigidly traditional way of life of the former and the free creative lifestyle of the latter. It portrays the effects this confrontation has on the placid life of a Mediterranean fishing village. Romera tells his story in deceptively simple terms, with an eloquent economy of dialogue and a universality reminiscent of the plays of Spanish poet and playwrite, Federico García Lorca, one of which, "Blood Wedding," was based on an incident which took place in the twenties in a farmhouse which still stands just a few kilometers inland from where "¡Bive!" is being filmed.
Las Negras grandmother never
Young Director's Secret
"It's like most of the nicest things that have happened to me in my lifetime," says Maureen, "pure serendipity. We met Juan Carlos six or eight years ago when my husband did some work voice dubbing documentaries into English for him," she adds. "Then we met his girlfriend (now wife), María José, and since then we've been friends, eating together at one another's houses at least once a month. So we've followed Juan Carlos' evolution as a filmmaker from the beginning. We felt like proud parents when his Tibetan documentary, 'Tashi Delek,' which told the story of a Spanish woman who works with orphans and street children in that country, was selected for the Hollywood Documentary Film Festival."
Fascinated with Etching
Sharing personal histories...
Cell in my Body..."
Since then Maureen has forged a formidable career as painter and printmaker, progressing successively through three studios, the last one incorporating an etching press and space for editioning prints. "I was lucky enough to be chosen at the end of the seventies to participate in the etching project of the Rodríguez Acosta Foundation in Granada," says Maureen. "That was an every-day-for-two-years experience in a fully equipped printmaking workshop with three etching presses, a giant resin box, a 'maestro grabador,' two printing technicians and all materials provided by the Foundation, all in the company of an international group of artists. It was a dream come true. It was there that I discovered I was also a printmaker." She adds, "Spain is a great country for artists, as Spanish people have a special sensitivity for art and poetry and all things cultural, as well as a seemingly unlimited tolerance for artists."
Shooting begins in Maureen's printmaking studio.
Looked at Their Faces and Decided to Change My Life"
When he started to feel the itch to make his first fiction film, Romera was acutely aware that he had no idea of screen writing. "But I firmly believe that in six months you can learn anything, so I signed up for a script writing course with the Cuban screen writer, Eliseo Altunaga. Romera took with him to Cuba the germ of a script idea. It was about a mature English lady artist in Spain who disrupts life in a traditional fishing village by getting involved with a local fisherman.
Juan Carlos' production assistant is his sister, Raquel.
Late-Blooming Fishing Village
Las Negras remains today a humble village of flat-roofed houses with its feet in the Mediterranean and its back to the Almería badlands, lands so parched and poor that the cactus dries up and dies. It was near here in the sixties that Sergio Leone, Samuel Bronstein, David Lean and other filmmakers chose to shoot films like "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," "El Cid," "Patton," and "Lawrence of Arabia."
These badlands were so bad that, being useless for anything else, the Spanish government declared them a national park: el Parque Nacional de Nijar-Cabo de Gata, which includes both the land and the sea bed, one of the most unspoiled in the Mediterranean. Though the last 30 years saw the entire Mediterranean coastline "developed" nearly to death, Las Negras was so far off the beaten track and so ill communicated that it never took off touristically, remaining a talisman for a few devoted primitivist holiday makers.
A forward thinking German entrepreneur actually built a small aparthotel here in the sixties, but finally had to sell off the units at a loss to families from the provincial capital to use as weekend residences. There used to be a Civil Guard barracks in Las Negras but even Franco's once-feared-and-loathed military police got bored here and left. Their little flat-roofed barracks with its terrace imperfectly shaded by five scraggly eucalyptus trees now houses Diego's bar and restaurant, where the cast and crew eat all their meals and where some of the scenes of the film are being shot.
"José" enters into the world of the artist.
Las Negras still doesn't even have proper cellphone coverage; most people make their calls from the phone booth above the beach. One is reminded of "Local Hero," that wonderful film in which Burt Lancaster plays a Texas oil magnate who wants to buy a one-phone-booth coastal village in Scotland to locate a gigantic oil refinery. In the end, instead of the capitalist swallowing the village, the village, with its charm, humanity, humor, sincerity and Scotch whiskey, swallows the capitalist. Las Negras is a little bit like that. Just substitute red wine for Scotch whiskey.
This an Earthly Paradise?
Maureen's charcoal portrait of "José"
and Well in Las Negras
As I explain the problem in detail he grimaces with extreme concern, as if the elephant were standing on his foot, not mine. He comes up to the room, picks up the remote control and starts pressing buttons judiciously. He concentrates, he cogitates, he empathizes, he suffers vicariously. (Juan Carlos could cast him as the village priest!) In the end the theatrical hotel owner gets the same thing I got: hot air. At one point he indicates the face of the control and asks, "What does it say here 'en inglés,' 'EEE-MED-LO.'" Then it hits me. That moustache. Just last week we saw a re-run of "The Return of the Pink Panther" on television. It's Inspector Clouseau! He's alive and well in Las Negras! My guess is that the air conditioner has been broken for months and Inspector Clouseau mounts this number for his unwitting guests about three times a week.
Antonio de la Cueva, director
Professionals, 14-Hour Days
The cast and crew are regularly working 12 and 14-hour days, and it's hot out there. What motivates these people, most of them seasoned professionals, to participate in a beginning director's short-film project? It's certainly not the money, as most of them are working for just expenses or token sums at best. "I love working with young directors," says María Alfonsa Rosso, "they're so fresh and unspoiled, so full of 'ilusión', of poetry and noble intentions. Also, since nobody's getting paid, the whole project is shot through with a spirit of altruism and comradeship. The rewards are great, especially if it's an interesting film you're working on, and this one is certainly that!"
Juan Antonio, the director of photography, agrees with María Alfonsa, but goes even further. "It's great working with young people who are enthusiastic and innovative," he says, "but there's another incentive for me. On a novice director's short film I have much more freedom to experiment and create. I'm not restricted the way I would be on a commercial production. That means a lot to me."
Juan Borrell, the sound tecnician, nods in agreement and adds, "As for me, I didn't go to school to learn this profession. Everything I know I've learned from my 'compañeros.' The least I can do is to return something to those who are coming along after me."
This willingness to lend a hand to the young filmmaker extends down to the last person related to the project. The retired ship's captain who has restored Las Negras' only remaining sailing fishing boat has volunteered it for the film. He has also volunteered to sail it for the crew, even though this entails enclosing himself in the boat's tiny hold in the blazing heat for hours at a time while filming goes on. And this at no cost.
you must make a difficult
in the Artist's Home and Studio
Having a film crew take over your house is like inviting 15-20 guests, each one with a couple of 1,000-6,000 watt movie lights, light stands and about a kilometer of wire each one. There comes a point, when they've been hammering, screwing, taping, mounting and dismounting for a couple of days, that you fear your life will never be the same again. It is hellish interesting, however, and in the end patience, good humor and team spirit overcome all the inconveniences. The catered meals together outside on the terrace are hearty and fun. By the time the end comes the warm feeling of achievement is washing over everybody. The professionals in the cast and crew agree that Maureen is a natural actress and she should expect phone calls from Madrid whenever casting people there need "una inglesa." The goodbyes are typically Spanish, lots of kissing on both cheeks.
Suddenly everybody is gone. As John Wayne used to say, "It's too quiet out there!"
Maureen, Idilio y María Alfonsa
"Maureen" and "José" in character
Juan Carlos Romera, director
The confrontation in Diego's bar
Juan Carlos & Maureen on set
morning of a shoot is a flurry of activity
Maureen and Esperanza, the makeup girl
Rally round the monitor!
A picnic supper "en el campo"
dinner on the terrace
agrees, Juan Antonio's
José looks tangled up in blue...
twin grandchildren, Dean
staging area/seating on the
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