Eloy Domínguez Serén • Director of Hamada
"I would always ask them if they fancied filming, and if they said yes, they decided what they wanted to shoot"
- We spoke to Eloy Domínguez Serén, the director of Hamada, which is taking part in the Nordic Documentary Competition at the Göteborg Film Festival this week
Eloy Domínguez Serén was born in Simes (Galicia). In 2012, he moved to Sweden, where he made his first short film. Three years later, he made the leap to the feature format with No Cow on the Ice [+see also:
film profile], which was festooned with awards at the Toulouse, Filmadrid, Play-Doc, L’alternativa and Márgenes festivals. His new documentary Hamada [+see also:
interview: Eloy Domínguez Serén
film profile], which was premiered at the IDFA, won the Best Spanish Film Award at the Gijón Film Festival and is currently taking part in the Nordic Documentary Competition at the Göteborg Film Festival.
Cineuropa: How did Hamada come about?
Eloy Domínguez Serén: I’ve been interested in the conflict in Western Sahara since I was a teenager. I remember my history teacher tiptoeing around the topic, but it really stuck in my mind. The information I was fed at secondary school was biased and embellished. Little by little, I started reading up on the origins, the consequences, the responsibility borne by Spain and the situation of the thousands of displaced people living in refugee camps in Algeria. In 2014, when I was already living in Sweden, I got in touch with an NGO called CEAS, and they let me visit the camps. Working as a volunteer teacher for two months, I forged a close and beautiful relationship with my neighbours, founded on trust, respect and shared interests. I carried on going back there and ended up spending a total of seven months there in the last four years.
What inspired you to film a refugee camp in the middle of the Algerian desert?
When I got there as a teacher, I had no intention of filming. My task was to help Sahrawi boys and girls film their own stories. It was a very rewarding job because a lot of them had never even picked up a camera before. It was wonderful to see how they were developing their film language, without the audiovisual conventions that we take for granted in the Western world. Later on, I started to shoot footage of cars in my free time – mainly at the weekends when I wasn’t working in the school and I would go on long walks with a small camera. I was fascinated by those old cars that you don’t tend to see any more on our roads: the old Land Rovers and Mercedes. Certain parts of the camps looked like open-air rust or dust museums. When I got back to Sweden and watched the footage from those walks, I realised I had a story to tell. On my next trip, I took a good-quality camera and some sound gear with me.
Why did you decide to tell the story of Sidahmed, Zaara and Taher?
Just like other young people in the Boujdour camp, Sidahmed, Zaara and Taher were students in my school. It took me a while to realise that they would play the lead role. The project started off as a portrait of the Sahrawi community through their relationship with cars. It was a group portrait of a small community. I have countless hours of gorgeous images of some of the other Sahrawi neighbours that didn’t make the final cut. Both the editor, Ana Pfaff, and I understood that Zaara’s, Sidahmed’s and Taher’s personalities, energy, temperaments and points of view could provide a perspective that was fairly representative of that generation of Sahrawis: how they approach their frustrating and uncertain day-to-day life with a truly remarkable spring in their step and sense of humour.
Hamada captures the everyday life of that generation through both personal and comedic moments. They are situations that are hard to gain access to for an outsider wielding a camera. How did you manage to get them to open up like that?
It was a matter of respect and trust, and just living with them. We spent many months together. The movie is one small part of a broader process of being involved in life there. One day we would be helping a neighbour to rebuild his house, the next we would be doing botch jobs on the electrics or helping to distribute medicine... We were neighbours, colleagues and confidants. That trust is reflected in Hamada, in one way or another.
Tell us about the shoot. Did you film them 24 hours a day?
The dynamics were always the same. When we didn’t have any commitments or responsibilities, I would always ask them if they fancied filming, and if they said yes, they would decide what they wanted to shoot. They would suggest the situations and improvise the dialogue. That working method was key for the type of project I wanted to make. Once again, it was based on gaining trust by spending time together. Although, to be honest, we were never filming. There was always something more pressing to do, like rebuilding houses that had collapsed during the torrential rain.
(Translated from Spanish)
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