An astounding documentation of the extraordinary things that can be achieved when people work together towards a common goal, Autobahn directing duo Pedro de la Fuente and James Worsley (who brought us flinch-inducing tattoo doc Skulls Snakes and the Flower of Death last year) travelled to Spain to capture the Catalonia festival tradition of the creating human towers in captivating documentary short Castells. A film which not only presents the visual spectacle of the centuries old tradition but also explores the characters and communities behind these breathtaking competitive feats, DN invited Pedro and James to reveal how they brought this stunning demonstration of social cohesion to screen.
How did you first discover the practice of Castells and what made you want to create a film about the Catalan tradition?
Pedro de la Fuente: We knew of Castells from watching it online 5 years ago. It was on a badly shot video but we were just taken aback by the sheer visual of the tradition. We kept that in the back of our minds and last year when we were in Barcelona for a commercial job we decided to investigate. It was around March 2018.
We spoke to a local producer who was working on the commercial with us and she had some connections. A few phone calls were made and then we were suddenly meeting one of the teams. We had no idea what the film was going to be and even if there was a film to be made but we wanted to capture this mesmerising thing on camera. We knew we could bring a new light to it and bring it to a new audience. So we made the leap.
We had no idea what the film was going to be and even if there was a film to be made but we wanted to capture this mesmerising thing on camera.
James Worsley: Neither Pedro or myself are Spanish or Catalan and although that for a moment deterred us, we actually thought about it and decided that was a good thing. Quite liberating making a film where you have no connection to it, no baggage and don’t come with preconceived ideas. We feel that this allowed us to come to it with our curiosities as a guide and resulted in a film that has at its core a sense of wonder.
How did the film concept and production develop from there?
PF: We had countless conversations amongst ourselves to decide on the direction and how to best approach the film. At first, we thought about making the film about the little girl that goes to the top but then changed our minds as we felt it needed to be bigger.
Before any film we usually put our thoughts on paper. Not necessarily a storyboard, but we write the concept, possible paths we can take on the narrative, almost as if we are testing it on paper first. Also, we look for visual references and ways other people have approached the subject. Castells have been extensively photographed so by looking at these photographs we could study the shapes, angles, without being there.
After this research, we went to Catalonia to visit some of the teams, meet people and record some audio interviews. We made a point not to bring a video camera as we wanted to allow this first trip to inform us and we needed to fight the urge to start filming from the get go. We wanted to allow time for the film to brew in our heads. All the conversations and recces really helped us understand what we were filming at a deeper level and informed our decisions going into the shoot.
What was your set up for the shoot?
PF: We shot the film on a Red Epic Dragon camera, using a set of vintage Kowa anamorphic lenses and an Angeniux 44-440mm zoom lens. We mostly used natural light and only used bounce and neg fill to shape things up.
How long did Castells take to make end to end?
JW: The film was brewing since March but in reality, we travelled twice to Catalunya to shoot. A four day shoot in October around the Tarragona competition, which is the one we see inside the stadium, and then we went back a month later for the closing performance of the year. We stayed around 4-5 days for that also.
Then 2 months on and off working on all the post. We love to collaborate and make our films a joint effort, we are only one cog in the wheel. The edit was a real joint effort amongst myself and Pedro and our team at Autobahn. We worked with Russ Chimes who composed the score, he has also released an EP soundtrack for the film.
We love to collaborate and make our films a joint effort, we are only one cog in the wheel.
We commissioned an amazing illustrator called ‘Stip’ who created the film artwork which appeared on the poster. The guys at Mount Audio worked on the sound design which really bought the images to life. The guys at The Mill were fantastic in their support, lending the fine eye and skill of Colourist Alex Gregory. I’m sure I’ve missed out someone very important, but you can check the credits! We then spent about one month just finessing everything, showing to some key people, getting it really tight.
PF: We are incredibly proud of the film as it feels like a mature version of what we had in our heads. It was such a great experience to make it and we are so happy everyone that watched it enjoyed it so far. Getting a Vimeo Staff Pick and a feature article on It’s Nice That was also quite exciting and together with all the positive feedback we got pushes us to keep making the films we believe in.