Blade Runners in Benidorm

Ion de Sosa and Chema García Ibarra talk about experimental sci-fi Androids Dream.

by Rebecca Naughten

Ion de Sosa:
Ion de Sosa: "We chose Benidorm because the architecture seemed very good for us"
Set in an eerily-empty Benidorm, the experimental sci-fi Androids Dream (Sueñan los Androides) was one of the stand-out films at the 5th edition of D’A Festival and a key part of its (Im)Possible Futures strand. We spoke to director Ion de Sosa and co-writer Chema García Ibarra (a director in his own right) in Barcelona about the elements that fed into their onscreen dystopia, the strangeness of Benidorm, and why so many Spanish films are finding success on the festival circuit.

You said during the Q&A after the screening that one starting point for the film was the idea of implanted memories [an idea sparked by a line in Blade Runner] - and what it might mean for an android to have your memories. Were there other inspirations, or did the project develop from that initial idea?

IdS: Yes, there were other inspirations at the start. A few films - one was 66 Scenes From America by Jørgen Leth and another was Elephant by Alan Clarke - I like the form of their films and wanted to incorporate that into what I wanted to say. I wanted to talk a bit about Spain today, about young people, the evictions, about people being mistreated by unemployment or the precarity of working conditions, which doesn't permit them to have a future, or to think of buying a home or having children - anything like that becomes very complicated. So the starting point was from Philip K. Dick's novel - Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? - the idea of implanted memories, plus films that I've seen and wanted [my film] to look like, plus this socio-political environment which we've been living in Spain in the last few years. All of this together.

How does it work, having three writers working together on a film like this?

Ion de Sosa:
Ion de Sosa: "What I wanted was a format that would give that element of strangeness"
CGI: In the case of Androids Dream, it wasn't a matter of a traditional script. In fact, there was no text written with "beginning, middle and dénouement", but loose notes scribbled on post-its. It is a film that was born free from the bondage of conventional cinema! More than writing, it was the "organisation" of information and those sequences that Ion had already filmed. What we did was try to put them one after the other to have a certain order that would convey something, not necessarily information about the plot, but feelings, suggestions, mystery. In my films, the scripts have a fairly conventional structure, so it was a pleasure to work so differently.

I've never been to Benidorm, but it occurred to me during the film that it's a space slightly apart from reality because of the tourism industry - did that strange atmosphere influence the film, or were you already looking for that unreal aspect?

IdS: We chose Benidorm because the architecture seemed very good for us. It was a small village in the 1950s, but later they started development with all those vertical constructions ... we saw this as ideal for us because the architecture was from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and you could put it to use as if it were the future. It seemed a good place to film, like somewhere that could be anywhere in the world, and doesn't necessarily have to be Spain. It's also on the coast and we hid the sea, so that it could appear to be in the middle of anywhere. It was ideal for us.

Why did you use 16mm?

Androids Dream poster
Androids Dream poster
IdS: Because if I made this film in digital and in 16:9 widescreen, right away you would be thinking that it's a film made now. And as the film itself doesn't have any elements from the future, the only thing to do was to use a format that is not from this era, that is a bit from the 1970s and is square, no? Making it look like this film wasn't made today also draws attention to the texture and the colour [of the 16mm], which are very important for me and which I like a lot. What I wanted was a format that would give that element of strangeness.

There's always cinema in the margins (outside the industry), but why do you think that there's currently a resurgence of this type of cinema in Spain? Is it simply because of the economic situation, or is there something else going on as well?

IdS: Why all of a sudden, I don't know. I believe it has something to do with the economic situation but also to do with the way that anyone can pick up a camera and make films. Films are more democratic now and it's quite natural, because if there are people who know each other and have concepts in common, well then they get together and develop projects, as a minimum. I don't know what the truth is. There are a lot of students, a lot of people learning about how to make films. I don't know if that's all there is, and it's just the way people are doing things.

CGI: I think there's a question as to whether there has been a resurgence like you say, or whether - for whatever reason - the press has started to focus on a cinema that already existed. Have people been making the same kind of cinema in the margins and suddenly the press have started paying a bit more attention, or is there really something more going on? I don't know, but it could be ... I don't have an answer, but it's a possibility. Then, why? Because there is a situation in Spain, no? It's not been good for anybody, but I suppose it has been answered by a certain type of cinema, made with very little money.

Ion de Sosa:
Ion de Sosa: "Making it look like this film wasn't made today also draws attention to the texture and the colour"
There's one thing that bugs me - what they call 'cine low-cost', like Ryanair - I don't like that name because the people I know who make films put all of their money into making films, so it's a 'cine high-cost'. Although my 'high-cost' is quite a small amount of money, it's all I have. So it bothers me when the films are described as low budget because I've put everything I have into it. We don't have any other way of making films, so you do what you have to do. So, suddenly there are many examples of films made with fewer resources, or exploiting what resources you have, and they attract the attention of other filmmakers who then also think, "Oh, I can do that" - so it's a mixture of people already working in that form and people whose eyes have been closed realising that filmmaking can also be done like that.

I realised that if I wanted to see this type of Spanish cinema then I needed to go to film festivals - and last year I saw a range of Spanish titles such as El Futuro, Coast Of Death, Falling Star, The Creator Of The Jungle, and Edificio España at UK festivals. Why do you think these films are having so much success at festivals, particularly those outside of Spain?

IdS: I don't know. But I would like to know. These films suit festivals and they're not really for general audiences, partly because of the format or duration of the films. People aren't accustomed to watching this kind of cinema. The success serves us because there is often no other way of seeing these films and we also don't have the means of publicity so that people get to know about us, so this is our only opportunity - to be selected [at festivals] outside of Spain, and depending on the reception in those countries, to then return to Spain and show the films here. I don't think it's about being undervalued here, it has more to do with circumstances - although perhaps we're undervalued by certain institutions - but the Spanish festivals choose us, and the [Spanish] critics write about our films here.

CGI: Well, to begin with it's because those films are very good, basically. They're having a lot of success because they're good films, they're interesting, and they're made in a way - particularly in the cases of Edificio España and El Futuro - that says something about the country in a metaphorical way, and this has a value for international festivals. But perhaps that question is more for the festivals, no?

What will you be working on next?

Chema García Ibarra:
Chema García Ibarra: "It bothers me when the films are described as low budget because I've put everything I have into it."
IdS: I'm here [in Barcelona] now and have been travelling with the film practically since November, working on promoting it, so I've not had time to sit down and think about it. I don't know whether the next will be mine, or if I'll finance something by another director, or someone else, one of our group of friends - there's a short film by César [Velasco Broca - director of Avant Pétalos Grillados] that we're helping to organise finance for, Chema is writing something, and another friend of ours called Luis [López Carrasco - director of El Futuro] has something in mind. As I've not got ideas right now, what interests me is being involved in the projects of my close friends, whether it's with the camera [de Sosa was director of photography on El Futuro] or the production.

CGI: I have a feature-length project that I'm currently writing, in the same style as my previous films - a kind of domesticated science fiction with non-professional actors and filmed in the small town where I live, so no change of style for me.

Translation from Spanish by Rebecca Naughten

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