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Patrick reviews the 2021 Catalan Film Festival, celebrating all its sweet and sour glory.

In November and December of 2021, Scotland saw the seventh edition of the Catalan Film Festival. The largest exhibition of Catalan cinema outside Spain, this annual event is organised by CinemaAttic, an Edinburgh-based film curation company, with support from the Spanish and Catalan governments. When I asked CinemaAttic director Rafael Cueto why they chose to focus on Catalonia, he replied: “Catalonia is the original region of cinema in Spain. They have had people at the forefront of the film industry since the very beginning.” Excited to see what the region has to offer, I headed to the events at Glasgow Film Theatre.

I missed the first film: Sedimentos, a short by Adrián Silvestre about Catalonia’s transgender community, but the CinemaAttic team filled me in. Cueto told me that it was “one of the best documentaries ever made in Spain". Silvestre managed to portray human beings in the brightest, best light possible. Eugenie Theuer, who balances her role as CinemaAttic’s Community Engagement and Access Officer with a master’s degree in Film Curation at Glasgow, told me about the project she created around the film. She “didn’t want it to just be screened and end” and wanted it to "be the start of something", so she organised a panel discussion on transgender cinema to accompany it. This included Aitana Yanez Zambrano, a Glasgow-based hairstylist who has dealt with homelessness and asylum difficulties, to bring forward “the kind of stories you don’t often get to hear”.

The first film I saw was Armugan, the fascinating story of a Pyrenean mountain-dweller who travels through his nearby towns and villages to help the sick and elderly on their final journey. He is an otherworldly figure, closer to the afterlife than this realm, but is tethered to the turf by Ánchel, his companion and guide. Their life in the beautiful summits is torn apart when they disagree on how to deal with a terrible situation. Like the rest of the audience, I was captivated by the film, and sat through the end of the credits in stunned silence.

The film never got the credit it deserves, but hopefully this festival will change that. Alberto Valverde, CinemaAttic’s programmer, told me: “It disappeared. Audiences, festivals, critics, didn’t look properly at this absolutely amazing film. But we don’t mind if it’s popular, we take it because we blindly believe in it." It perhaps faced resistance because of its use of the Aragonese language, which I, like most outsiders and international audiences, had never heard before. “Spain is astonishingly diverse in terms of languages,” Theuer expressed, “but it’s still Castellano that dominates on the international platform. It’s always been important for us to let people know that there’s so much more, and this is one reason why we were drawn to Armugan.”

"We don’t mind if it’s popular, we take it because we blindly believe in it."

Valverde told me about the festival’s partnership with the Catalan Film Archive: “Every year we like to work with them on digging in the archives and bringing in something special”. The product of this partnership was the presentation of a Catalan classic, Los Tarantos. Through the upbeat music and stylish colouring of 1960s Barcelona, it tells the story of two rival gitano (Spanish traveller) families, and how their younger generations find love despite adversity. 

The adventures take place in the shantytowns of Somorrostro, where Barcelona’s working-class and gitano communities formed a coastal counterculture against the fierce repression of the Franco era. The film became an invaluable historical document three years after its release, when most of the area was demolished. Theuer noted: “It was beautiful to give the community that no longer exists a platform”. 

The final film shown in Glasgow was Transoceánicas. Using the modern methods of Skype meetings, screen recordings, and WeTransfer packages, it explores the lives of two estranged friends, who try to keep in touch as they navigate loneliness, heartbreak, and ever-changing situations. The story is laid bare, with a much rawer production than the rest of the festival’s offerings.

It was accompanied by a Q&A session with Meritxell Colell, one of the two co-directors. She spoke about the unorthodox story behind the scenes. She and Lucía Vasallo spent four years creating it, as a private project, not indenting anyone else to see it – “it was by us and for us, an elegy to friendship”. However, after a screening in Malaga in 2019, they decided to release it to the public. She felt a “great vertigo” when it was first released, but has been proud of its reception since then.

With the festival’s Glasgow wing drawing to a close, I asked what we can expect next from CinemaAttic. They told me about their various upcoming events, including a celebration of Latin American films, and a Valentine’s Day event showcasing shorts which “redefine what love is”. They also assured me that there would be “amazing films” at next year’s festival. I said goodbye to the towering mountains and crashing seas of Catalonia, certain I would never forget them.


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