Extraordinary Movie & Video Guide interviews Carlos Atanes
"Independent film director Carlos Atanes (b. 1971) is a happy and ordinary Spanish man. When you watch his films, they just won't give that kind of impression, because they contain violence, unorthodox plots, freaky characters, horror, black humour, screams, pain and agony. So, what's going on with this man?
Carlos Atanes tells in this interview about himself and how it feels to be an independent movie maker in today's Spain.
Tell us your background as a filmmaker. Which movie or event was the one that you decided to be a filmmaker?
I am myopic! It could seem a contradiction, but that pushed me to make movies. Of course I liked films since the most tender age. I went to watch two double features at theater every week in my childhood. In my life, films were like the air I breathe. But what I really wanted to be was an astronaut. Sci-fi movies fascinated me, but what I wanted was not to make them – but to live them. I wished to explore outer space above everything. Then I was 10 and the ophthalmologist put the glasses on my nose. I had the same handycap as the main character of Gattaca for travel to the stars. So my dream about conquering Solar System was smashed to smithereens. I sublimated that desire filming fantasies.
I guess you hear people comparing you to David Lynch, but do you see the similarities by yourself.
Some people say it. I blush. Similarities? Let me think. Incomprehensible stories, strange characters, worrying sound score, decrepit scenarios, beautiful actresses… Yes, maybe there are correspondences between us. Even so I swear I don’t think about Lynch’s movies when I am working. I just think on finishing the sequence before the sunlight goes.
Where does all the bleak & disturbed visions in your films come from? Did they represent you in which ways?
It’s a good question, because I don’t know where those visions come from. I am a nice guy glued to a smile, an impecable citizen loyal to the Crown with no penal records. I don’t consume drugs, I don’t flagellate myself, I don’t talk to trees. I love cats and quince jelly. My hobbies are common: I go to the movies, I read, I smoke cigars, I have dinner with friends, I look shyly at cute girls. But if you watch some of my movies you could think I am an obsessive and unsociable man. Why?… Honestly, I have no response. They are paradoxes of art.
Welcome to Spain felt like a criticism towards your home country. What was the real message behind that - and how is Spain treating independent filmmakers like you these days?
These days were very similar to present time. If an injured independent filmmaker is dying in a Spanish street begging for water, surely people will go over him, stamping on his face, and go on their way like if nobody was there. In Spain there are two classes of people: real people and independent filmmakers. I wonder at the fact we still have ID card and the right to vote. When I made Welcome to Spain I was very angry. It’s clear when you watch the film. All in that film is a hell. I was angry because this undaunted laziness from industry and institutions, that apathy that makes any initiative devilishly arduos and needlessly difficult. Welcome to Spain is like a cry of fury, but also a war cry. Since then I have been calm and completely alien to Spanish industry and institutions.
Welcome to Spain was very therapeutic for me. When I made it nobody like it. More than thirty international film festivals rejected Welcome to Spain, it's my worst record. I felt misunderstood. However now, eleven years later, oddly a lot of people love Welcome and find it crazy and amusing. This was one of the reasons that encourage me to publish Welcome to Spain, Morfing and Metaminds & Metabodies (those three short films have a lot of things in common) together on the retrospective DVD Codex Atanicus.
Have you had any help from the Academia de las Artes y las Ciencias Cinematográficas de España or other official channels?
I live in Madrid, less than 500 meters from the Academia, but I’ve never set foot in it. In fact, I don’t know what the Academia is, nor for what it is useless. I have no links with official channels in Spain. My work is entirely independent and I love this way. Most of the Spanish filmmakers waste their time waiting for a grant. I spend that time making movies. The advantage is my films are so weird and free as I wish. The drawback is to work with scarce cash and without distribution companies’ consent. But I’ll always prefer freedom to comfort and audience’s judgement to bureaucrat’s approval.
Watching Metaminds & Metabodies was like following a theatrical play (surreal one..). Was that effect made in purpose or am I alone with this feeling?
I didn’t made it in purpose and you’re not alone. I haven’t thought it before, but it’s true that Metaminds & Metabodiescauses this feeling. Not only Metaminds but maybe my whole filmography. Firstly I think all my movies are easy to be adapted to theatre: very few locations, few characters… Besides, my dialogs owe a lot to Pataphysicians and Surreal authors —Leonora Carrington, Fernando Arrabal, Eugène Ionesco, Boris Vian etc. But what is more important is that my films are not naturalist, they constantly remind the member of the audience that he’s attending to an artifice of conventions. Sometimes actors look at camera, continuity is perverted, composition is hieratical, camera movements are not slight. The actors play characters but they play also actors. The presence of cameraman is subtle but present.
By this way from time to time I break what Coleridge called "suspension of disbelief". It’s not a rational trick, I am not looking for a Brechtian’s distancing effect or a critical provocation as Haneke does. It’s something more intuitive and I suspect it is connected with my aesthetic sense, which has more in common with medieval painting than realist art. This helps to explain a lot of stylistic aspects of my films, for example the character’s size in the screen, often not based on narration’s demands but on symbolic rank, like in medieval miniatures. Every time I am more aware if this vice, I develop it and it has been increasing in my latest works. Anyway that "theatrical" look of my films is merely circumstancial. I am not a theatre man, I don’t think in theatrical terms and I always has wanted to link my work not to theatre, but to magic, which is the real essence of the films I like (...)"