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SAN SEBASTIAN 2023 Zabaltegi-Tabakalera

Alberto Martín Menacho • Director of Nights Gone By

"We get close to some people without knowing why"


- The filmmaker from Madrid with a love for Extremadura talks about his first feature-length documentary, in which he returns to the village in Badajoz where he spends part of the year

Alberto Martín Menacho  • Director of Nights Gone By

Nights Gone By [+see also:
film review
interview: Alberto Martín Menacho
film profile
is the title of the debut feature film by Alberto Martín Menacho, a 36-year-old filmmaker who spends part of the year in a village in Badajoz which serves as the central setting for this film (co-produced by Switzerland and Spain). It premiered at Visions du Réel and is now screening in the Zabaltegi-Tabakalera section of the 71st San Sebastián International Film Festival. This is where we met him, who wore an earring similar to those worn by grandmothers in the region bordering Portugal.

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Cineuropa: You're from Madrid, right?
Alberto Martín Menacho:
Yes, I’m not from Extremadura by birth, but I am from the heart. My mother and grandparents are from Salvaleón, Badajoz. For me, Extremadura is that specific territory within the region, because I don't know it well beyond my village. Since I was very young, I’ve experienced the relationship between the people and the animals, because my family raise livestock.

But there is a scene at Los Pilones natural pools...
That sequence was filmed in Garganta la Olla, Cáceres. I just happened to end up there one summer and as we had to film something with water, young, naked bodies, that place became part of the film, even though it wasn't actually in the area around Salvaleón. There are also scenes shot in other surrounding towns and one in Madrid, in the NASA centre in Robledo de Chavela, with huge space exploration antennas.

In your film we can see this contrast between the technological present and the customs that are still kept in rural areas.
I wanted to be in both periods: past and future, with a permeable present.

And, as you said before, from donkeys to greyhounds are present on the screen.
In the relationship of those who work with animals - because they are livestock farmers or use them for hunting - there’s a contradiction between someone who is capable of loving an animal and kissing it, and another who at the same time is capable of slaughtering it. Both types of relationships form equal parts part of the territory and I think it was necessary to show both one and the other: the rawer and the more romantic approach to animals.

Your love for animals is evident.
The film is dedicated to my brother and to Vica, a greyhound dog who lived with me for a while. I’ve always had animals in my home. I was surrounded by dogs and cats, and in Extremadura by others who don’t live at home, such as pigs, cows, donkeys and horses.

Why did you dedicate the film to your brother?
Because he was the one who introduced me to the history of greyhounds and the relationship with an animal from puppyhood to adulthood. The greyhound Vica appears asleep next to one of the characters. This is a symbol that reveals the whole story behind greyhound hunting, because some of them end up, as Juan the main character sees, in a very hard spot.

Why the original title Antier noche?
It’s a local expression, a contraction of "the night before yesterday" and for me it speaks of time. From the present when we say that we’re already in the past, because we’re talking about something that has already happened. The idea of taking something personal in the title is to do with how my grandmother speaks, being in two tenses, with one foot in the present and the other in the past.

Why did you choose the central characters?
There’s a lot of intuition involved, in the end we get close to some people and we don't know why. And with some of them there’s a bond prior to filming, whether they are friends or family, and with others it has been pure intuition and a desire to meet them, which has bought the film together.

It shows very everyday acts, minimal scenes, chronicles of a village.
I want it to reach as many people as possible and I have tried to portray something I know, where I feel comfortable and with people I wanted to be with.

As the older people pass away, will expressions such as the one that gives the film its title disappear?
I think it’s being revived to some extent and will not be completely lost, something is getting passed on.

Is Nights Gone By a love poem to your grandparents’ village?
I’ve shot two short films and a feature film there. In all this work there is love and contradictions towards that place, and great affection for the people.

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(Translated from Spanish by Vicky York)

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