Three Documented Faces of Spain

July 20, 2014
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Spain is a fascinating country, desperate to move forward and be a player in the modern (Western) democracies but unwilling to give up an ounce (or should that be a gram) of the past. Contradictions abound amidst a strong cultural heritage. In Catalonia, bullfighting is a thing of the past, but just down the road in Pamplona, people still flock to the San Fermin running of the bulls. There are several official languages, depending on where you are. The cuisine is world beating and international in flavour but God help you if you want to buy a non-Spanish wine from the local supermarket. And despite all the cries for a republic when the King recently abdicated, the state just quietly passed the necessary legislation and then crowned a new one. Mind you, the last republic didn’t do so well. It lasted just eight years, ending in a civil war that resulted in a nearly 40-year rule for the dictator Franco, otherwise known as El Caudillo.

And this is what the world tends to forget: modern Spain is a new democracy. It’s still less than 40 years old, and there’s still really only one generation that has been born and raised outside of a dictatorship. Three recent documentary films (one not even finished yet) have between them given glimpses of some of the contradictory faces of this country…

Bye Bye Barcelona” is all about the impact of mass tourism on the Catalan capital, but could apply equally well to pretty much any other Spanish city. An array of academics and locals bemoan the loss of much of the central parts of town to hordes of tourists. Whether they’re on a cheap package deal, visiting via cruise ship, or one of the endless parade of stag and hen parties, it’s true, Las Ramblas is entirely given over to sunburnt travellers from Northern Europe and beyond. Ever since the 1992 summer Olympics, the local government has assiduously courted the foreign visitor and the result is that local residents now feel like strangers in their own city and have to pay to visit their municipal parks.

Los Colonos del Caudillo” shows a darker side to sunny Spain: a hint of the civil war legacy, with fascist roots that reach into the modern day. The focus is on the towns created from nothing (and in the middle of nowhere) by Franco’s National Institute of Colonization. These ‘colony’ towns still exist and – more shockingly – still retain Franco’s title in their names. It’s a little like discovering a village in rural Germany called Fuhrerville where Hitler is remembered fondly. Because some of the residents still bemoan Franco’s loss, even today. Others, of course, are far less complimentary, likening the place to a concentration camp in which “home, land and work are controlled by the party”. Spain still largely goes in for the pact of forgetting when it comes to its civil war past, but that doesn’t mean that it’s actually forgotten.

On a less serious note, “I Need a Dodge!” is a yet to be completed documentary in search of Joe Strummer’s classic American car that he parked in Madrid in the mid-80s but could never remember where. This film by British journalist Nick Hall, looks at Strummer’s time in Spain around the time the Clash were falling apart. Spain is a country for which JS had great affection (an affection that was mutual, there’s a street named after him in Granada) and the film promises to be a quirky sideways look at a country only a decade old at the time but already with the beginnings of the huge British expat population that – for good or bad – now defines great stretches of the Mediterranean coast. All the while, looking for Joe’s automobile even though nobody interviewed can even agree on its color.

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