Manu Gómez • Director of Once Upon a Time in Euskadi
“I don’t agree with Hitchcock”
- The Basque filmmaker makes his debut with a feature film set in the tumultuous decade of the 80s, seen through the eyes of the child that he was back then
Once Upon a Time in Euskadi [+see also:
interview: Manu Gómez
film profile] tells the story of four young lads as they see, with curiosity and amazement, everything that was going on the Basque Country, riddled with terrorism, AIDS and heroin: newcomer Manu Gómez has poured his childhood memories into this film, with the support of Beatriz Bodegas (La Canica Films [+see also:
interview: Manu Gómez
film profile]). The result is due to be screen at one of the RTVE Galas at the 69th San Sebastián Film Festival.
Cineuropa: Are you happy to be premiering in Donosti (San Sebastián)?
Manu Gómez: I am happy to be releasing a film at all, given that we were filming in the most unimaginable circumstances: during a pandemic. And now, having completed it, there couldn’t be a more appropriate place to present it than San Sebastián.
Did COVID-19 interrupt filming?
We were about to start filming when the first wave came, which put us all under such a strict lockdown. Then when everything opened up again, we grabbed the chance to film; we were so lucky because just two weeks after we finished filming we were put under lockdown again.
How did you meet your producer, Beatriz Bodegas?
We worked together on a film she was producing where I was an assistant director under Antonio Hernández, Killing Time [+see also:
film profile]. I knew from the very start that she was an ideal producer when I saw her courage and approach to projects: how she chooses them and fights for them; she is like the female version of Elías Querejeta, because she makes great decisions on all aspects of the film, and we worked side by side throughout the entire creative process of this feature movie.
What did you learn as assistant director for Hernández and other movie makers? What errors have you seen that you want to avoid making yourself?
Arrogance, most of all. I filmed a short film in 2013, Das Kind, which we took to many festivals. Given its parallel with Haneke’s The White Ribbon [+see also:
interview: Michael Haneke
film profile], I was invited to a conference in Oviedo, and one of the many questions that they asked this film-making genius was, “What is the secret to your films?” And he said something that I have always believed: added value is really important, you have to surround yourself with people you can listen to. The most serious fault I see in my colleagues is that arrogance; when somebody gifts you a great idea and you don’t use it because it’s not yours. Films are made by a whole load of people together, and when you involve the whole team, they are making it too. When you are at the helm and you impose a strict way of working, the team can’t wait to end the working day and get back home; but if the team loves the project and things get tough, they will happily work extra hours, because they feel that they are a part of the process.
Do you also instil this in your students at the Madrid Film Institute?
Totally! Humility is something you should never lose and in this profession we are always learning, you will never know everything: and that means you have to be humble. I am teaching future actors: and at this point in time they are more humble than future technicians.
What are your benchmarks or inspiration?
I remember being ten years old and watching Berlanga films with my father, which I liked more than Back to the future. I also love Sorrentino, for example, and I can’t wait to see The Hand of God [+see also:
interview: Paolo Sorrentino
film profile], which also relates his childhood, like my film reflects mine.
The main families in Once upon a time in Euskadi are immigrants from other regions of Spain.
This film, which is highly autobiographical, is a tribute to those people, that immigration within the same country, which was just as tough: in the case of my father, leaving Granada and moving to a northern industrial town was not without its difficulties.
Alfred Hitchcock said you should never work with children, animals or Charles Laughton: although you haven’t worked with Laughton, you have worked with Luis Callejo.
(Laughing) I have had that master of acting, and I love him madly. I don’t agree with Hitchcock: it wasn’t like that for me. My kids were playing: when you understand their rules, they way to get them to work is to join in with their games. It wasn’t traumatic or difficult, quite the opposite. And as for the dogs, although the one in the film looked at the camera a lot, we had a Good trainer, and I don’t recall any critical moments.
(Translated from Spanish)
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