Emigration in the cinema was not born with the current crisis. But there have never been so many Spanish filmmakers pursuing a career in another language as today. The last to touch the glory have been Chino Moya, director of Undergods, which in the United Kingdom has been released in theaters and in the United States on digital platforms, and James Castillo, responsible for the virtual reality medium-length film Madrid Black, released at the Tribeca festival in New York. Meanwhile, a veteran of that trip, F. Javier Gutiérrez, announces that he will shoot a version of Anguish, horror film in English that Bigas Luna premiered in 1987. They are just some of those new names that join previous generations of filmmakers who decided to travel to other lands when they did not find their place in Spain, from the glorious Edgar Neville or Luis Buñuel to current cases, such as that of the director of action Jaume Collet-Serra.
In London, where Guillem Morales stands out in the Spanish colony (Julia’s eyes, The house of miniatures), the last two filmmakers who have made noise abroad reside. Chino Moya, 45-year-old from Madrid, has premiered Undergods (2020). In Spain it cannot be seen, but in the United Kingdom it has been in theaters for a month and in the United States it has achieved an echo, after being released in cinemas, thanks to its premiere on Amazon Prime, Apple TV and other platforms, and repercussion in media such as The Guardian O The New York Times. His thriller, a dystopia in a destroyed world with Soviet architecture, “it is ambitious for a first film, with a lot of post-production,” he confesses by videoconference from his home in London, a city where he has spent 15 years. Undergods it was raised with money from all over Europe with a cast full of well-known faces of auteur cinema fans, and it was shot in Belgrade. “The producer and I wanted to see a generic Europe, with a multitude of accents, and the co-production reaffirmed us on that path,” he says.
With an atmosphere based on the environments of Enki Bilal’s comics and with that trip “that occurs for example in Israel and Palestine, in which you cross a door and go from the first world to the third”, Undergods speaks of a 21st century darkened by the worst shadows still cast by the 20th. “Humanity is in a very miserable state. It is very superficial, individualistic and not very communal, just what we find in my characters, and within a delocalized society in which today everything is the same wherever you are ”, says the director.
“Meritocracy does not work in Spain as it does in the Anglo-Saxon world” Chino Moya
Moya has grown up shooting commercials and music videos. “It helped me understand what I liked as a director, to play with dystopian worlds.” And it has also hardened with the rejections of projects in Spain, both in production companies and in official aid. “In fact, Undergods, which has risen in three years, I did it a little in response to so much repudiation, I wanted to shoot a feature as it were, “he recalls. “I decided not to go the Spanish way. I received a British grant, and little by little we won various grants in Belgium, Estonia, Sweden and Serbia ”. And he laments: “My film cannot be seen in Spain, it hurts me. And I feel that meritocracy does not work in my country as it does in the Anglo-Saxon world. In Spain you have to be part of a community in order for the projects to be financed ”.
The 31-year-old from Madrid James Castillo, also based in London, he is presenting his film in Spain these days Madrid Black, Animated medium-length film made for the almighty production company Oculus, a leading company in virtual reality, which has premiered at the Tribeca festival in New York, and at Annency, the pinnacle of animation, before going, in two weeks, to the market from Cannes. “I’ve been going around the world for a month, and I’m going back to London now, because the film goes on sale next Thursday the 1st at Oculus and I want to be with the team,” says Castillo, who studied in Singapore and has worked in Miami
The director wanted to do a thriller “With people smoking, guns and murder,” and Oculus gave him absolute freedom. “I started in 2016 with the story, I made a short that served as a presentation, and the producers, the Atlas V company, contacted me because of it,” he recalls. “It’s sad that Spain doesn’t make products like this, and not because we don’t have artists, what talent there is. In 2015 I already worked in Melita, a Spanish short in virtual reality, and I know that here I could not build a production of such a long journey ”. So what Madrid Black takes place in pre-war Madrid, in which a nine-year-old girl investigates what her uncle does, with whom she spends a season. Already older, in the same city in the fifties, she serves as a guide to the viewer, who accompanies her in the reconstruction of some diffuse memories. “I wanted it to sound genuine, to see a Spain made by a Spaniard,” reflects Castillo. And he laments: “It is very sad that we still do not understand what a powerful national animation industry would mean economically and artistically.”
The Cordovan F. Javier Gutiérrez, 47, belongs to the community of cinematographic emigrants in Los Angeles with veteran status in the city. Some have already returned and work with one foot in each industry, such as the actress Paz Vega, the composer Lucas Vidal or the directors Juan Carlos Fresnadillo or Julio Medem, in the wake of, obviously, Antonio Banderas. Gutiérrez himself will return with Anguish, whose filming has been announced this week. “It is an exciting movie,” he says. “The symbolism, its images, as well as its violence and deep psychological burden, marked me in my youth. At the same time, Bigas’s work exudes love and fascination for cinema ”. Although the project has just started, he assures that “Anguish it will maintain the essence of Bigas’s film, its lights and shadows, its strength, its madness, its transgressive spirit … something that a conventional Hollywood studio could not assume ”.
A century of comings and goings
This trip is not new. From Edgar Neville, Luis Buñuel or actress Conchita Montenegro, in classic Hollywood before World War II there have always been Spaniards. Especially entertainers, since there was no work for them in Spain: this is how names today consecrated such as Raúl García or Sergio Pablos opened the route. In the last five years, filmmakers such as director and screenwriter Luiso Berdejo have come together there (The other daughter, Violet); the director Jaume Collet-Serra (Blue Hell, The Passenger); producer Beatriz Sequeira (The Amazing Spider-man, Let Me Out, We); actress Marta Milans (¡Shazam!); veteran cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (The road, Thor: Ragnarok); his son Jon, also responsible for photography (A Dark Foe); actress, screenwriter and director Ana Asensio (Most Beautiful Island); and other directors such as Gonzalo López-Gallego (Apollo 18, Open Grave) or Victor Garcia (An Affair To Die For). Others, like Paco Cabezas or the Pastor brothers, combine Anglo-Saxon and Spanish careers. Jon Aguirresarobe is also part of the company The gang, founded in Los Angeles in 2012 for the production of all kinds of audiovisual content.
Regarding his career in Hollywood, Gutiérrez points out: “Although I’m still here, in Los Angeles, I never finished leaving, part of me has always been and will always be in Spain.” After the success of his science fiction film Three days (2008), the man from Cordoba moved to Los Angeles. There he started various projects and directed Rings (2017). “I see it necessary to alternate, escape to Spain from time to time,” he says. “The American experience is tough, complex too, and sometimes very frustrating. But overall it is enriching. It is neither an easy road nor for everyone ”.