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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018 Special Presentations

Telmo Esnal • Director

“We wanted to turn tradition on its head”


- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018: Basque director Telmo Esnal presents Dantza, the winning film at last year’s inaugural edition of the Glocal in Progress industry platform here in San Sebastián

Telmo Esnal  • Director
(© Lorenzo Pascasio)

Telmo Esnal (Zarauz, 1967) has directed various short films and one feature film (Happy New Year, Grandma! [+see also:
film profile
) and is currently immersed in filming Agur Etxebeste!, a sequel to Aupa Etxebeste!, which he co-directed in 2005 alongside Asier Altuna and the same cast and crew. A year ago he unveiled a solo project, entitled Dantza [+see also:
making of
interview: Telmo Esnal
film profile
, at the inaugural edition of the San Sebastián International Film Festival’s industry platform Glocal in Progress — and won. Now, in the festival’s 66th year, he has returned to San Sebastián for the world premiere of this captivatingly beautiful film.

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Cineuropa: How did the award help you finish the film?
Telmo Esnal
: When we entered the competition, we hadn’t yet filmed the final section of Dantza, although the film was at a very advanced stage. We had a very tight budget and Glocal in Progress helped us wrap it up in the best way possible, because having secured a distributor (BTeam Pictures) we were able to do some really great work on the visuals and the sound. The film was practically complete; it just needed some digital post-production, which Félix Bergés’s company El Ranchito (The Impossible [+see also:
film review
interview: Juan Antonio Bayona
film profile
) took on. As a result, the film was polished to a standard we weren’t used to.

The film certainly has a unique beauty and grace about it…
That was the idea when we started on the project: to tell a story through traditional Basque dance in way that was really beautiful ― that was the big gamble. The fact that we had Koldobika Jauregi, a sculptor who is very well known internationally, also gives the film that special touch and it wouldn’t be the same without him.

How did you manage to tell a story through dance without it becoming monotonous?
In traditional Basque dance there are lots of different kinds of dances. Some are very close to ballet, others are danced only by women, then there’s the polkas... The variety is impressive, so we picked out quite a few. We didn’t make any up, although we did rework some of them. Starting from tradition, we shaped them to the story we wanted to tell. We took existing dances and their music and adapted them, sometimes also changing the props that are used in each one.

The settings are stunning as well...
We wanted to lift the film out of its context, so it was familiar but at the same time could be anywhere in Europe — because the symbolism in traditional dance is much the same throughout Eurasia. Above all, they’re spaces that had to help tell the story and have a connection with the dances that take place there, so we spent a year of weekends on location. We wanted to show a life cycle, an evolution and a seasonal progression, which is why we filmed over a whole year.

Tell us about the music ― was it also adapted from tradition?
Yes, we started off with traditional tunes and with the help of Pascal Gaigne (Loreak [+see also:
film review
film profile
) we reworked them to give them a narrative and make them work on film, so they brought the right atmosphere to every dance. It was complex work, but the end result works quite well.

It’s a very harmonious film; you manage to put the audience into a certain emotional state...
The intention was to have the audience watch the dances and ask themselves what they were being told. In a certain sense, we’ve deconstructed dance. We wanted to turn tradition on its head; I danced until I was 28 and I always asked myself why we couldn’t tell a story at the same time, like they do in Flamenco. We should take pride in the customary forms of dance, but at the same time change the costumes, turn it on its head and refresh the choreography and the music to make it more contemporary.

It’s surprising that such a bold and different idea turned out so well…
It was a complex process because it was very abstract: yes, there was a screenplay, but you would have had to be familiar with Basque dance to understand it. It was difficult to pull off and it stalled a few times but we did it, and now we’re sending it off into the world — the release is scheduled for 21 December, to coincide with the winter solstice.

Watching the film, it’s impossible not to recall Carlos Saura’s films about dance…
Yes, there is a clear influence there. I’ve seen all of Saura’s films, especially Blood Wedding, which also tells you a story. There are also references to Dreams, by Akira Kurosawa. Another film that left a big impression on me at the time was Pina [+see also:
interview: Wim Wenders
film profile
, by Wim Wenders, although it doesn’t have much of a connection with Dantza.

(Translated from Spanish)

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