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David Martín de los Santos • Director of That Was Life

"It’s important to make films based upon truths"


- We chatted with David Martín de los Santos who is competing in Seville’s European Film Festival with his intimate and emotional debut work That Was Life

David Martín de los Santos • Director of That Was Life

The Madrilenian director who grew up in Almería David Martín de los Santos is making his debut in fiction feature film direction with That Was Life [+see also:
film review
interview: Damián París and Rosa Garcí…
interview: David Martín de los Santos
film profile
, a film shot between Ghent (Belgium) and Almería, and starring Petra Martínez, Anna Castillo and Ramón Barea in its cast. The film is battling it out for the Golden Giraldillo, the highest honour at the 17th Seville European Film Festival, which the author is unable to attend due to Coronavirus-related restrictions. He spoke to us via telephone instead.

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Cineuropa: How have you found this new way of launching your first film?
David Martín de los Santos: This weekend we’re presenting That Was Life at the Tokyo Film Festival too, which we’re also unable to attend, which is a bit sad. Under normal circumstances, our film would have come out in cinemas shortly after the Seville Festival, but we’ll organise it next year instead. All of these films are a miracle in themselves, because it took a lot to shoot them, with various delays along the way, but at least we’re weren’t hit by the first wave of the pandemic. Now there are many risks involved in shooting. It wasn’t an option for us to fail, or to have an extra day, so imagine what it would have been like if we’d had to do it under current conditions... Because it really took a lot for us to obtain funding. We succeeded in the end, thanks to Canal Sur and the ICAA.

Is it still a miracle that films are made? Is filmmaking still a profession for romantics?
Absolutely. Producers have to fall in love with the story and drive it forwards. It’s a vocation and an exercise in endurance.

Was the film born out of events from your own life or was it a result of professional insights?
It has something to do with my mother who belonged to the protagonist generation, given that she was born in the 1940s: she was my inspirational muse, and the idea came to me when she was diagnosed with a terminal illness. This story came to mind as I sat alongside her; a special form of communication developed between us and I felt closer to her. There was also room for generational dialogue, with all the changes that have taken place and the reality of those women who were raised to be good mothers, daughters and wives, linking back to Catholic morality and care-giving values. The character of the young woman [in the film] is also uprooted, with each of them seeing in each another what it is they don’t have. I made a documentary about young people in 2011 and I was struck by the 15M movement: one of the characters left for Belgium where we also shot part of this film.

My neighbour Paquita, who’s 91 years old, confessed from her balcony during lockdown that she would have liked to have been a young person today so as not to have had to put up with machismo all her life or be at the beck and call of the men in her family...
Yes, it’s a generation that was raised to be invisible and silent. There was a project within the Francoist regime, the Women’s Section, founded by the Falange party, through which women were educated to be housewives. And sexually speaking they were hugely repressed by Catholic morality. Furthermore, they’re a modest generation, raised with a sense of guilt when it comes to sex: it was seen as something dirty, frightening even. My mother revealed her true self; she separated from her husband very late in life and, at that point, I discovered a whole other person, without the stiffness she had before. Like her neighbour, my mother was resentful, and she told me she would have liked to have studied, if she’d been allowed to. It’s normal that she feels envious.

When we spoke with Isabel Coixet a few days ago about It Snows In Benidorm [+see also:
film review
interview: Isabel Coixet
film profile
(read our
interview), we commented on the fact that it’s rare to see stories starring those of a certain age on screen...
My interest in film, as a viewer too, is about far more than simple entertainment. Life goes by quickly and I need to connect with the stories I tell: there has to be an emotional drive to them, to ensure it endures the test of time. There was a certain reluctance on the part of the producers: they suggested the protagonist should be younger... But I believe it’s important to make films based upon truths.

There’s an adult audience out there which looks for stories that make it reflect, sit up and think. Whenever I wanted to convince people about this project, I would always say that the women who consume the most culture fall into that very age bracket. But you come across fear and prejudice along the way, even if I don’t have any data on this to hand. And I wonder to myself: how do we see people of that generation? Because, at times, we’re so wrapped up in our role as children that we don’t see beyond the role of “mother”: but they’re people too. For all of these reasons, this project wasn’t easy to sell, but eventually it came off.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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