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LOCARNO 2021 Competition

Chema García Ibarra • Director of The Sacred Spirit

“I like to shoot in places where nobody has taken a camera before”

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- The award-winning short filmmaker presents his long-awaited feature debut, shot with non-professional actors in his hometown of Elche, which is dripping with his peculiar sense of humour

Chema García Ibarra • Director of The Sacred Spirit

Chema García Ibarra has not ceased to garner praise or harvest awards ever since he premiered El ataque de los robots de Nebulosa-5 back in 2008. That short film was shown at Sundance and Cannes, and like most of his works, he shot it in the town of Elche, where he was born some 40 years ago, with his family members, friends and neighbours. This is something he has continued to do right up until his feature debut, The Sacred Spirit [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Chema García Ibarra
film profile
]
, which is now in competition at the Locarno Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: What is it about places like your home town that makes you want to use them as settings for your films?
Chema García Ibarra:
The fact that they’re not Madrid or Barcelona, which you see so often: all those identical balconies, people, shops and so on. It’s so well-worn in film that it makes me bored and doesn’t excite me in the slightest, and that’s why I like to shoot in places where nobody has taken a camera before: they possess a freshness that I adore. It also happens with people because I film with non-professional actors.

It gives it a certain purity: they haven’t been perverted by the presence of the camera.
In places where movies are shot quite often, people have a predisposition to film, and they find it hard. But in places where nothing has ever been shot, everyone sees a film shoot as something fun and signs up, and that really helps. Some of my friends have told me about the ordeals they have been through when filming in a shop in Madrid, and they couldn’t have made it any easier for me in Elche. The owner of the establishment couldn’t have found it more enjoyable. You get a different, more cheerful reception there.

You have shot so many times in your home town that they will end up naming a roundabout after Chema García Ibarra…
Yes [laughs]; almost all the residents have come out so far. People come up to me and say, jokingly, “If you need me…”, and then I call them up and they say that they’re too shy. Elche has been very good to me.

The other Spanish film at Locarno, The Odd-Job Men [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Neus Ballús
film profile
]
, also makes use of non-professional actors, just like you do in The Sacred Spirit.
Yes, what a coincidence! Also, Neus Ballús was at the Berlinale with The Plague [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
at the same time I was there with my short film Misterio. And then, again, at the European Film Awards in 2013: we run into each other so often.

She told me [see the interview] that she used rehearsals and coaches with her non-professional actors. What was it like working with your performers?
I like it when you can’t tell that they’re actors: I like there to be no acting. We captured their natural spontaneity and transferred it to the film, but the actual content of their actions is fictional. I talk with them a lot about what it means to make a mistake: if you change the order of the sentences, it’s not a mistake; nor is it a mistake if you stumble over your words; nor if you drop something and then you catch it. And what is a mistake? Looking at the camera, divulging the fact that there’s shooting going on, or saying, “Cut!”. They have to carry on, just like in real life, where you stutter or trip over your words, and it doesn’t matter. I look for that kind of natural spontaneity: I try to avoid them memorising the text and have them read it only a few times. The rehearsals consist of seeing what that person can bring me: which expressions they use, hearing their accent and, more than rehearsing, I talk to them to see what they can contribute of their own personality. They don’t feel under pressure because they don’t have to remember a certain text, which means you get this feeling of familiarity that fosters what I want to achieve: for them to feel themselves while uttering something that someone else has written.

And do you choose them for their personality or how photogenic they are?
It’s a mixture of everything: I imagine a group of characters, and I feel drawn to people who resemble them. I really appreciate their manner of speaking, their voice and their look. Also, our ability to communicate: they should understand me and I should look forward to being around them. Nacho Fernández, the protagonist, is a guy from Alicante who works as a night watchman in a car park. He sent me a video, and I liked his physique: he’s on the short side, with quite a chubby face, and the main thing was his eyes, as well as the fact that he was easy to be around. It was a bit like love at first sight with Nacho.

The music is surprising – it brings to mind the films of John Carpenter.
While I was writing the screenplay, I was listening to songs from a German record label from the 1970s, Sky Records, which released music by Krautrock groups such as Cluster and Moebius. While exploring further, I came across this bloke who brought out just one record, Dieckmann, from round about the time of Kraftwerk, who was murdered in a bar by a drunkard before releasing his record, which was a short, instrumental album. And I thought: “What would happen if I combined them? What if the music that I was listening to while I was writing could actually be heard in the film itself?” And I love how it turned out!

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(Translated from Spanish)

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