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SAN SEBASTIAN 2022 New Directors

Rocío Mesa • Director of Tobacco Barns

“I’m rural and psychedelic”

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- In her first fiction feature, the filmmaker recreates her childhood and adolescence in southern Spain, armed with a dreamlike/fantasy style and non-professional actors

Rocío Mesa • Director of Tobacco Barns
(© Gari Garaialde/SSIFF)

Rocío Mesa has presented a premiere of her debut fiction feature Tobacco Barns [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Rocío Mesa
film profile
]
in the 70th San Sebastian Film Festival’s New Directors section. The action unfolds partly in several children’s imaginations and partly in the real-life world of the countryside, exploring teenage malaise, loss and nostalgia.

Cineuropa: Your film shares the same theme as another two recent titles, Alcarràs [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Carla Simón
interview: Giovanni Pompili
film profile
]
and El agua [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Elena López Riera
film profile
]
.
Rocío Mesa:
I haven’t seen the latter one, but I’ve been told it’s a lot like mine: I love Elena López Riera; we don’t know each other personally, but we do follow one  another’s work closely. To me, the link you’re talking about is one of the most beautiful things that can happen to a generation of creators. It just so happened that we three directors were shooting our films over the same summer period, at exactly the same time. None of us had read each other’s screenplays, yet we made similar films: one in Catalonia, one in Levante and another in Andalusia. This implies that we’re experiencing a particular moment in time where women have been given voices, and clearly there were communal universes within the female world which we wanted to explore; so we made films which dialogue with one another, even though they each have their own authorial stamp. We also care for and support one another: when Carla Simón triumphed at the Berlinale, I understood how football fans must feel when their team wins the World Cup, because I cried. And it was the same thing when Elena took part in Cannes. There’s an incredible sisterhood between us. I’m thankful to be part of this group.

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Is there anything of yourself in Tobacco Barns’ protagonists? Does the child represent your childhood and the young girl your adolescence?
Even though it’s not an autobiographical film, it’s born out of feelings which I myself experienced: I was once that wild, feral girl who discovered nature in a timid way, visiting my grandparents’ town, and that teenager, who isn’t interested in anything at that age, and who can’t see the beauty that’s right in front of her because she’s got other thoughts whirring around in her head. And in that psychedelic sequence, which I filmed in Super 8, she can finally see the beauty of nature once again. This psychedelic, rural story emerged, and that’s what I am: a girl from the provinces who lives in California and who likes rock and roll.

Tobacco Barns has a dreamlike tone reminiscent of films like Where the Wild Things Are or The Spirit of the Beehive, featuring children who can see a magical world invisible to adults...
It’s because that girl was me: when I lived in Vega de Granada and I saw the gigantic tobacco, cottonwood and brick dryers, I imagined magical creatures lived in there. As an adult, I started to see these dryers from a political viewpoint: they’re architectural ghosts reminding us that there was once culture and industry in this landscape, which have since been engulfed by a real estate expansion which is devouring agricultural lands which should be untouchable. The fact that we’re destroying the land which sustains us and that we need to import food from South America in containers, destroying the planet, is a terrible thing. The creature in the film was also a product of this political viewpoint, because there’s also the collective force of the working-classes, a historical memory which becomes a magical creature, in my mind; collective energy creates living beings, just like in the Shinto religion.

How did you go about choosing your non-professional actors?
The most important thing was to find people who were capable of using their imaginations, forgetting everything around them. They also need to resemble the characters you’ve written. And to be from the countryside, with that distinctive body language, as is the case with the teenager’s mother, who’s been hanging tobacco since she was small. You need to see thousands of auditions before you can find such people, and this takes time, and most importantly, a decent budget: in all of her interviews, Carla Simón reminded people that she’d been able to make Alcarràs because it was a co-production and it had a decent budget. Don’t expect magic from us, because miracles don’t exist. My film is a one-million-euro movie where a nine-month casting period wasn’t an option. It was shot without rehearsals and it was hugely challenging. My advice to producers wanting to make this type of film would be to adapt their production schedules and budgets, because non-professional actors need time to develop the talent they have: it needs to be teased out and worked on.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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