Carlos Atanes has been popping up on our site a number of times since the discovery of his short film collection "Codex Atanicus" much due to his strange style of filmmaking. We've gone through much of his work in reviews, praised them in Best of-lists, but this is the first time we're interviewing the man. Where do you even start with a guy like this? It's hard to know where he gets his influences from, what makes him tick, and so forth, so we've tried to pick his brain a little bit in this following interview!
(All the photos in the interview are by Jacobo Medrano)
Thanks for doing this interview with us! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into filmmaking?
I am not a too much interesting human being, just a self-taught maniac misanthrope. I shot my first scene in 1987. It was a 40 min. point-of-view shot walking through underground tunnels under a hospital. Afterwards I inserted extracts of this material into several films. Unconsciously I was revealing my inclination for Speleology and underground film since my very first shot.
Did any specific filmmaker or artist inspire you when you started?
Sure, but I don’t remember who.
You've developed a unique style of science fiction, where does your interest in sci-fi originally come from?
When I was a child I read popular science and science-fiction exclusively. I suppose real world was not especially interesting for me. Lem, Aldiss, Lovecraft, K. Dick, they were my mentors. They and the 70’s Sci-Fi films.
For quite a few years you made short films. Is there a creative difference in making feature films? Do you feel that you are more free when making shorts?
Absolutely not. Freedom depends on the production’s size more than on the film’s length. There are short films out there more expensive and complicated than most of my feature movies. And I tend to make films more and more cheap with a more and more little crew each time. In the past I work with large crews, but I don’t bear it anymore. My target is to work like a photographer, just with the actors, the essential crew and a tight budget. I was very close to it in “Maximum Shame” and “Gallino, the Chicken System”. This way guarantees a total freedom for working. My latest was a music video, “Meat market”, for the Finnish musician Esa Linna. We were just three persons shooting: an actress (Eva García-Vacas), an assistant (Jacobo Medrano) and me. I did the scenery at my home’s hall. I wish to make more feature movies in the same way.
A few years back you decided to release three of the shorts in a collection called "Codex Atanicus". How did you pick the shorts for it, and are they connected in anything?
Well, those short films were the most loved/hated by audience. More hated than loved, probably. But their circulation was limited: some few venues and festivals. I thought it was a good idea to put them together in a DVD for the posterity. For the future haters.
With your feature films it seems like "FAQ" and "Próxima" belong together, while "Maximum Shame" and "Gallino, the Chicken System" belong together. I mean that mostly in attitude, vibe and style. Was this something intentional, or simply because of where you were as a filmmaker at the time?
It’s an evolution. I am in continuous movement towards... I don’t know where.
You recently put out your latest feature "Gallino, the Chicken System". You have described it as a pornophilosophical film - can you explain that a little bit?
“Gallino” is a film about an alternative way of watching the reality, a way that can be summarized in one sentence: “Down with metaphors, long live the flesh!”. It’s a call for breaking the thick net of preconceived ideas, ideologies and prejudices that wrap us and pervert our reason. When I do a movie I invariably face the same questions: “What does this mean?”, “What did you want to say with this?”, “What does it symbolize?”… That everlasting and unbearable demand of connotations. Fuck off! I am so tired of this pester! What I do with my films is what I do. What I say is what you see. Period. There are not metaphors. In “Gallino” I piss on metaphors, connotations and ideologies. And, which is the only film genre that is the quintessence of what I am talking about, that shows just what you see in it? Adult films, pornography. In pornography there are not metaphors, just flesh. Just surface. “Gallino” is a Dionysian party, a celebration of surface. A very complex, autological, self-referencing, multi-dimensional surface, it’s true. A non-porn movie made from porn assumptions, through porn structures and iconographies and even with porn purposes.
It's been at a few festivals. How have people been responding to the movie?
“Gallino” is perhaps my most radical film and, surprisingly, it’s perhaps my best accepted film. People find it odd, innovative and funny. Of course, as usual, there are people who hate it. I have a loyal entourage of devoted haters who follow me everywhere.
Why chicken, why the Chicken King, and how did all of this become a story you wanted to tell?
The answer is IN the film. Just in the middle point, when Manuel Solàs (“The Poulterer”) unfolds a map after throwing out his filthy linear screenplay. It is my very own map, the film’s map! I did not start writing the script of “Gallino”, but I took a piece of paper and sprayed words on it intuitively, throughout its surface. Words like “chicken”, “Magick” or “Bertrand Russell”. I connected the different words with lines until I had a map (“that” map) and then I wrote the script. “Gallino” is not a story but a mental territory, a field of games.
Much of your work is focused around apocalyptic/dystopian ideas, is this merely an interest for you in fiction, or something you see or expect in real life?
When we talk about ideas it’s not very clear where fiction ends and real life begins. Each one of us sees reality according an specific narrative. I perceive reality as a chaos more than an organized template. Probably the need of coherence in a chaotic real world drives me to build fictitious world under severe rules. I think it denotes a progressive distancing to real life: I impose my own arbitrary rules to my characters, I make my own Ends of the World. My films are not mirrors faced to reality, but entelechies. Of course I can not avoid to add references (often embittered) to real world. But they are collateral liberties.
As your work is so peculiar, can you guide me through the process of starting a production? How do the ideas spawn, how do you find your cast, etc.?
I write down ideas, words, silly comments throughout the year in a small red notebook. It’s like a cloud of random thinkings. My inspiration very rarely comes from films, but from readings, conversations, art exhibitions, unexpected strange neuronal interactions and the wish of working with specific persons. But this stuff is not enough. I need three things for starting a production: a bit of a sequence that I feel “that’s it!”, a physical place and a vague idea of general structure. When that bit comes from my mind (it can be a simply but powerful image), then I come back to the notebook and review the notes. Some are not compatible with the bit, but I link the useful stuff to the place that I have in mind and organize them according to the pre-established structure. Then I start to writing. From beginning to the end, never other way. When I begin to write I know already what’s the size, vibe and style of the film, so I roughly know how much places, budget, days and people I need to do it. When I finish the script I know which actors I want, and I do tho things: call them and set a production schedule, with shooting dates. Then I look for cash. When the dates arrive, I shoot.
Women drinking milk is frequent in your work - why is that?
An ill-concealed tribute to the touching gokkun genre.
What's your opinion on the accessibility of filmmaking today, where even phones can be used?
The accessibility of pencils is a good new, isn’t it?... Cameras and edition devices are also tools. Yes, I know there are people who hate this accessibility. They are the same people who few years ago -and still nowadays- hated films shot in video and who few centuries ago hated the literacy of subordinates and the movable type printing. I don’t share that defence of cowards’ privileges.
What exactly do you mean when you say "the accessibility of pencils is a good new"? (Editor's note: we had to check if there was a typo)
Ha ha ha. No, it is not a typo (although maybe I have not expressed well). I say "the accessibility of pencils is a good new" because benefits of filmmaking accessibility is a common question, but anybody does this same question about pencils, photo cameras or personal computers. And all these things are just tools. Tools for making things. Only a mad guy could think that accessibility of pencils could cause problems. But there are people who think that filmmaking accessibility does cause troubles, as if it would be a bad thing to have too much people making films in the world. That's because the fear to don't belong to an exclusive group. The coward's privilege which I mentioned. Perhaps I would say "the accessibility of pencils was a good new".
What can we expect from you in the near future?
I don’t do plans and my prediction skills are very limited. My only wish is to make more films and theater. But future -near future too- is a blurry cloud for me.
Do you have a dream project that you some day want to make?
I make my dream project every two or three years.
Do you have any advice for new filmmakers that want to create something truly unique, much as your own work?
Stop watching films. Read more. Don’t go to film school. Make films. Feed your actors. Use the camera like a hammer. Ignore the insults.
Thanks again for this interview. Anything that you would like to add or promote?
Thank you, Ronny. I will just say that you do a great work with your site Film Bizarro and I hope you’ll keep it alive for many, many years. Film trenchs need sites like this.