Castells: Interview with Directors Pedro and James
25th April 2019 by Will Stewart
Castells is a film that looks into the art of human towers in Catalonia. It explores the characters and the communities that are part of this beautiful and mesmerising tradition.
Castells are seemingly a simple activity; people climb on top of each other to create the highest tower. However, under the surface they are a metaphor to how communities interact, everyone playing a role, sacrificing oneself for a greater common objective. They illustrate how being part of society is about participation and interaction.
Thanks to James and Pedro for sending me their film for consideration, and for answering a few questions on Castells. If you’d like to see your film on MadeGood.tv, then please feel free to make a submission.
MadeGood – Please introduce yourself as a film maker, and how you got into directing. Is Castells a typical example of your work? You have a company called Autobahn, and your credited as co-director with Pedro de la Fuente. Please talk about that a bit too.
James – Pedro and I met back in the mid noughties. We soon found a common connection through our love for music, films, and all things creative. It didn’t take long for us to realise that our individual backgrounds and skills could be joined creatively to form a duo. My background in graphic design and motion graphics, along with Pedro’s camera and editing background, allowed us to form a collective vision as to how we approach our directing and visual style.
Pedro – We started Autobahn as a production vehicle for us to direct our commercial and passion projects through. We love telling stories, opening a door to a weird and wonderful world, immersing ourselves in it, and ultimately creating an emotional and visual film from it. And I like to think that is what we have achieved with Castells.
MadeGood – How did you find out about Castells, and what made you want to make a film about it? Did the Catalan people respond well to having a film made about them? What was it like on a personal level working with them, and how were you able to gain their trust?
James – We’re always researching and investigating things that catch our eye and interest us, but from what we remember Pedro first saw some images of human towers in an article online a few years ago. It was added to our list of potential doc subjects. I was at a wedding in Reus, a small town in Catalunya, earlier last year and saw lots of large Castells posters in the town, I remember sending Pedro a text saying saying ‘this has to be our next doc’.
Pedro – We’d met an amazing producer in Barcelona earlier in the year while working on some commercial work, and when we mentioned our idea to her she was super up for it and was committed from the start. Her background in journalism enabled her to connect us to all the right people and everything flowed from there. We were honoured and felt so lucky that everyone we encountered were so welcoming.
MadeGood – One of the interviewees in your film says that there are around 10 times more ‘Casteller’ teams in Catalunya now than there were when he was young. It’s quite rare that a niche cultural activity like this is actually gaining in popularity- why do you think that is? Do you see any parallels with the recent politics in the region, and the continued push for independence?
Pedro – What we have observed is that the Catalans see themselves as their own people, as in, different than the Spanish. From what they told us they always felt oppressed and to exercise their culture is as important than ever. It is a complex political subject (the independence) and for that reason we decided to leave it out of the film as we wanted to concentrate on Castells. But you can feel it all around when you are there.
James – I guess the rise in popularity is happening due to the sheer visual appeal of the tradition. More people around the world and in Catalunya have access to it and get motivated to try. Social media helps a lot with that and we hope that this film can play a positive role in showing the tradition internationally.
MadeGood – It’s breathtaking to watch people come together and cooperate in this way, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s heart is in my mouth every moment I watch those tiny children climb to the top! Some people might suggests it’s irresponsible to put young children in such a dangerous position. What do you think about that, in contrast with the huge sense of camaraderie that the participants are obviously experiencing?
Pedro – Some could say it is irresponsible to wrap our children in cotton wool and protect them from all dangers. We made this film trying to withdraw ourselves from any judgement but to us, it is a brave, beautiful and character building activity. It is emotional even. I remember my eyes tearing up the first time we saw a tall tower in front of us.
James – For the spectator it looks more dangerous than it is. But that is part of the spectacle, and the emotion created by that is what makes it so fascinating and amazing to see. Witnessing how it brings all of society together, across generations, in an activity that requires such close physical proximity, practice, and faith in one another, it’s just so beautiful and alien to anything I know.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Pedro – That is always the question in our minds. To be honest, right now we are concentrating on seeing where this film goes and what opportunities it can generate. We have many ideas of documentaries we want to pursue so soon enough we will be embarking on another one.
James – TWe always speak about doing something here in the UK. It would be interesting to point the camera at a subject close to home. The UK is going through an interesting moment and things are changing fast, everywhere you look there is a story waiting to be told.
MadeGood – Cheers guys! Good luck with promoting this one, can’t wait to see the next one,