Luis López Carrasco on El año del descubrimiento

Bring a drink along to your screening of El año del descubrimiento, as this three-hour-long docufiction will soon make you feel part of the regular crowd at the bar where it takes place. An immersion in Spanish social life, the Tiger Competition film revisits an unknown part of Spanish history that director Luis López Carrasco feels should not be forgotten.

Written by Sasja Koetsier

A typical cafeteria in the southern Spanish town of Cartagena: this is where Luis López Carrasco investigates the legacy of a span of heavy protests in 1992, when the workers in the region’s shipbuilding and metal industries took to the streets in fear of losing their jobs and incomes – and ended up setting fire to the regional parliament, just 14 years after democracy had been reinstalled in the country. Weaving documentary and fiction, past and present narrowly together, the film shines a light on all but forgotten events, which coincided with Spain celebrating the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America and hosting both the Olympic Games and the World Expo.
One day, scouting locations for his film, López Carrasco walked into a bar that oozed the exact atmosphere that he was trying to recreate. “Entering this bar was like going back into the 90s, completely”, he says on the phone from Madrid. “On the walls they still had the football results from 1991, ’92, and ’93.”

  • Luis López Carrasco

So it was there you chose to revive a part of Spain’s history from the perspective of ordinary people – like in your debut feature El futuro, in which you recreated a fictional house party on the evening of the Socialist Party’s first election victory. What determines your interest in the recent past?
“When the global financial crisis arrived in Spain in 2010, the impact on my generation and on society as a whole was so strong that I felt I lacked the tools to understand the current time. In the previous months, I had lived and worked in Germany, and when I returned to Spain in 2010 I got the feeling the country I had been living in for 30 years didn’t exist anymore. The crisis affected the very structure of society. Many people left because of high unemployment, and we lost a lot of social rights. At that point I started to make films about Spain’s recent history. I needed to understand the past in order to understand how to live in this new country that I didn’t know.”

How does filmmaking help you understand the past?
“Cinema allows me to reach experiences, stories and ideas that my own imagination couldn’t invent. I also write short stories and I’ve been working as a screenwriter. But filmmaking means working with people, objects and places. The film is being written as it’s being prepared, and then the shoot is the moment where everything comes together and unpredictable events occur. Working on a film is creating the conditions for the unexpected to happen.
“Our casting takes a very obsessive form. The research, the location, and every aesthetic and technical decision – they’re all important, but the people are truly specific and unique. So the decision who appears in the film and whom they’re interacting with is the most crucial one. We found our non-actors while we were doing research, while scouting locations, in our own neighbourhood or during open castings in neighbours’ associations of Cartagena and La Unión.”

During the film, a split screen shows different angles to the same conversation, or things happening elsewhere in the cafe at the same time. After a while, I felt as if I were among the people in that cafeteria.
“It was only in the editing process that we decided to use a split screen, because we felt it would indeed be a good way to evoke the feeling of actually being in a cafe, with several things happening simultaneously. The split screen expands the space and immerses you in it. The way we worked with our actors was also aimed at making them forget that they were in a shoot. Our crew was very small and the camera was often at a distance. We shot the film in Hi8, a popular video format from the 80s.”

What did you envisage with bringing the past and the present – some of the former strikers and the younger generation of working people – together?
“Our original idea was to make a reconstruction of a day in 1992 – just like El futuro recreated an evening in 1982 – but during our interviews with the workers that participated in the protests back then, we got the feeling that we shouldn’t use them just as a source of information; we wanted them to be in the film themselves, speaking about the events of the past. We realised that nobody had ever seen them and their story was still untold. So I decided the film would be part direct documentary, part reconstruction, or re-enactment, reflecting both the past and the present.
“The costumes, for example, were designed in such a way that they could be both from the 90s and the present day. And when you hear people talking about the crisis, it’s not always clear whether they talk about the crisis in the 90s, which also hit society very strongly, or the most recent one. That ambiguity was very elementary. It came from a feeling I experienced in some of the villages that we visited for our research and casting. These places still felt like the 90s, because everything had just stopped there since that moment in time.”

Photo in header: Still: El año del descubrimiento