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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018 New Directors

Koldo Almandoz • Director

“The challenge was making a conventional film.”


- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018: Basque director Koldo Almandoz was in San Sebastián to present his second film, The Deer, just days before its release in Spain

Koldo Almandoz • Director
(© Lorenzo Pascasio)

Two years ago, San Sebastián’s native son Koldo Almandoz surprised more intrepid audiences with his debut film, the gripping documentary Sipo Phantasma [+see also:
film review
film profile
, shown at Rotterdam, BAFICI and, of course, the San Sebastián International Film Festival (Zabaltegi-Tabakalera section). This year he was back to compete in the New Directors section with The Deer [+see also:
film review
interview: Koldo Almandoz
film profile
, which scooped the Irizar Award for Basque Cinema. The film is already on release in Spain, distributed by Golem, and we sat down with the director to talk about the project.

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Cineuropa: In comparison with Sipo Phantasma, was there a deliberate change of narrative with The Deer?
Koldo Almandoz: I want to feel like I made a conventional film, because that was the challenge. Sipo Phantasma is a completely free-wheeling kind of film that builds up as you discover new things; it’s a kind of work-in-progress, an investigation and an obsession, and it was aimed at a niche audience. I knew there would be a minority of filmgoers who would like it, and a large majority who wouldn’t even think it was a proper film. In The Deer, rather than repeat myself, the challenge was to make a conventional film: a story with characters that could be shown in cinemas and that would reach a more general audience. We worked with more of a narrative screenplay, but in the course of filming and editing it became what it is now, and so the film was evolving right up until the last moment. I think there’s a need for this kind of film; we mustn’t get entrenched in making films just for our own pleasure, and I’m confident that people who aren’t so used to this kind of filmmaking will also come to see it.

All the same, there are certain images common to both films, like those ghost ships.
That’s right, even as you’re working, things change. Some of those boat shots weren’t in the screenplay; they came out of the process of finding the maze and getting stuck in to it, making discoveries and devising sequences as we went along. There are a lot of sequences in the film that we came up with as we were filming, while others we had written got left out, because you get a sense of what needs to be in there, and other things that worked on paper didn’t make sense in the film. I was lucky in that production didn’t quibble over what we wanted to do; the creative team had to be on board with the changes, but they were quite happy.

In Sipo Phantasma there are clear references to Murnau and Dracula. We see a poster for The Night of the Hunter and there are some shots that bring Charles Laughton’s film to mind, with those stuffed animals that look like they’re watching you or the characters wading through a river…
Yes, I love that film, which is obvious from watching The Deer, with the escape by river, when it becomes less of a narrative film and more of a daydream, like a fairytale or a suggestion. That’s one of the intentional references, but there are also loads of subconscious ones, too; in the end, we’re shaped by the films we watch or that get lodged in our minds and colour what we do.

The watery landscapes where the film is set are a mixture of the dull grey of the factories and the lush green of nature — that’s very typical of the Basque country…
I think you find that all across northern Spain; it’s full of remnants of a time when the world of work was mostly confined to factories. Now, there are people living in those areas who have never left, and others who have arrived more recently — those who come in from outside and have fewer resources end up living in these no-man’s lands.

Is that why the film focuses on a young immigrant?
It was important that the kid was an immigrant because that’s a contemporary reality: they are the local community now. It’s a current reality, not something that’s coming, but he’s part of that place — the actor who plays the lead has a very similar life to that of his character. He arrived at the age of eight, speaks Basque and his connections are all local. We need to do away with the cliché of the socially marginalised immigrant: he’s a young guy like any other in the community. There’s also the reality of the local girl who wants to get away — there are people who have come in, but others who want to leave. Perhaps having roots isn’t always as positive as we believe.

(Translated from Spanish)

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