Álvaro Gurrea • Director of Ancient Soul
“I started filming like a man possessed”
- BERLINALE 2021: We chatted to the first-time director, who shot his debut, hybrid film (half-fiction, half-reality) immersed in the stunning natural surroundings of Indonesia, using local actors
Álvaro Gurrea (Barcelona, 1988) has made his feature debut with Ancient Soul [+see also:
interview: Álvaro Gurrea
film profile], a film shot in East Java (Indonesia), where he has lived for several years, and starring non-professional actors, who injected part of themselves into a storyline written by the director himself. The movie is taking part in the Forum section of the 71st Berlinale.
Cineuropa: You are currently in Barcelona. Are you itching to return to Indonesia?
Álvaro Gurrea: I would love to… But that country has been shut off since the start of the pandemic. I haven’t been back since late 2019, and we are constantly waiting to see when it will open up again. You can go there now, but only with visas that cost an absolute fortune, so at the moment we’re not even considering it. As soon as I can go back, I will.
But how did you end up in such a remote place?
I was working here in Barcelona, but a few things were starting to come up there, where I had started to spend a bit of time. My girlfriend, who’s a clothes designer, had started to develop her brand there, and we began to live there for five months a year. When I discovered the volcano, I started working on the film: that was five years ago. Since then, there have been multiple shoots. Every year, I would go once or twice, on my own or with one other person. At the end of 2019, we filmed with an actual crew: a sound recordist, an assistant director and an art director. That spawned about 90% of the film, bringing together everything we had learned, thought and developed during the various shoots prior to that.
This evolution that you went through… Was it something that the actors in Ancient Soul also experienced?
Our experiences went hand in hand because when we began, I was as much a filmmaker as they were actors: I had never shot a film; I hadn’t even made a video or been part of anyone else’s feature. I had an utter lack of awareness of film, but during that journey, I did have my first teacher (Álex Fernández) and I studied my Masters in Creative Documentary at the Pompeu Fabra University. After that, my knowledge of cinema improved no end. At the same time, they gradually got used to working with the camera and ended up becoming decent actors, breathing life into the roles that they play in the film very well – they play themselves, but in a fictional story.
Was reaching the volcano the thing that compelled you to start shooting?
The impetus did indeed come from the volcano. I ended up there because some friends from the area took me there. It was a surprise: we arrived one night, like just another bunch of tourists, and it was an eye-opening experience, something mysterious and inexplicable. At that moment, I took photos, without any lofty ambitions, but when I found myself in those surroundings, I started filming like a man possessed.
Manuel Muñoz Rivas worked on the editing: he had previously examined the landscape with a particularly sensitive eye in his film The Sea Stares at Us From Afar [+see also:
interview: Manuel Muñoz Rivas
film profile]. How did this collaboration come about?
The work we did with Manuel was really important. Rocío Mesa, the producer, knew his work and knew clearly from the get-go that he was the right person to edit this film. We were lucky that he was interested in it and agreed to do it, because I had no previous works under my belt, but Manuel liked what he saw and came on board the project, which ended up being crucial. I learned a lot from him, and his ability to reflect on film and images. He understood the movie when nobody else understood it. We sent him a rough cut that I’d done myself, and he replied telling us what he’d seen in it, which meant that he’d understood what I was attempting to recount. Then he got down to brass tacks and set about getting the most relevant bits out of the film.
How did you feel when you found out that you had been selected for the Berlinale?
We took part in WIP Europa at the San Sebastián Film Festival, and there was a contributor to the forum in attendance, who came out really enthusiastic about the movie, and I was delighted by that. Then they saw the finished version and selected it; I was overjoyed. We’re really thrilled that the Berlinale is taking place in two stages and that we’ll be able to share it with a physical audience in June. We’ve got used to accepting that what is happening is beyond our control and that we can’t do much to change this situation that has completely overwhelmed us. So we are very fortunate to be at Berlin, and we accept that it’s an unusual festival, as we have endured a whole year exactly like this, and we accept it without complaining too much. But we can’t wait to go in June: given that it’s a tropical film, seeing it in summer, in a more suitable climate, would make more sense.
(Translated from Spanish)
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