This week expert Montserrat Bailac of Corporació Catalana de Mitjans Audiovisuals tells us the story behind her favourite archive-based films.

1. The historical “El Perro Negro”

El Perro Negro (2005)” is one of my favourite film for several reasons, but mainly because of the topic, the Spanish Civil War and the aesthetic way it is presented. It’s not easy to be original or to surprise the audience when talking about this historical episode. A lot of films and series have already been done on this subject, but with “El Perro Negro”, filmmaker Péter Forgács succeeds in catching us with his story.

Péter Forgács uses footage deriving from two amateurs filmmakers, both with relatively small and unknown collections, Joan Salvans and Ernesto Díaz Noriega. Ernesto was a middle class student from Madrid who survived the war. He was surprised by the Civil War when he was spending his holidays in La Sierra de Gredos. He uses images and commentaries as a poetic collage of home movies and footage to lead us to a very special state of mind. Joan Salvans was a wealthy Catalan business man, killed six days after the war broke out. Joan recorded everything that interested him at “La Barata”, the place his family moves in summer. His film shows, among other things, their way of living and their interests. 

Through the lives of these two filmmakers we travel across the Spain of the 30’s and 40’s and of the twentieth century. This film will be greatly remembered because of the writers’ aesthetic way of telling a war story.

2. A ravel around the world inFräulein Stinnes fährt um die Welt – La volta al món de la senyoreta Stinnes” 

This film, released in 2009, captivated me mainly for the fantastic footage of Miss Stinnes’ travel around the world. The film follows a German woman, Clärenore Stinnes, who left Berlin in 1927 determined to be the first person to travel around the world by car. At a time when there were no roads, gas stations or workshops in many places, and in which it was not advisable to travel without ammunition. Nonetheless, she traveled 48,000 kilometers by car. She left accompanied by the Swedish photographer Carl-Axel Söderström and a support vehicle with two mechanics. Her adventure started on May 25 1927 and lasted to June 24 1929. This docudrama, which combines recreated scenes and original images, shows an adventure that lasted two years and reflects the determination and courage of an exceptional woman.

This fascinating film directed by Erica von Moeller is based on the original films made by Söderström during their trip with a precise and careful dramatization.

3. “El quadrat d’or” on Barcelona’s architecture

El Quadrat d’Or – Centre de la Barcelona Modernista (1990)” is the synthesis of the exhibition that took place in La Pedrera, Barcelona, from June to November 1990. It’s not quite a real documentary, but it was a creation that surprised me when I first saw it in the 90’s for the innovative way Manuel Huerga uses archival footage.

Quadrat d’Or (Golden Square) in Barcelona corresponds to the urban space between the streets Passeig de Gràcia and Passeig de Sant Joan, Gran Via and the Diagonal. It is considered to be a privileged space in the city as it was the part of town where the bourgeoisie lived, well connected by the tram and the railroad and the downtown area of the city.  

This new district was built from 1860 onward, following the demolition of the city walls which hemmed the old Barcelona. Following the Cerdà Plan, the neighborhood was built with money provided by Barcelona’s well of families. The city’s bourgeoisie decided with one another to build the most aesthetically refined homes in modernista buildings. With profusely decorated interiors and façades which used a wide diversity of materials, including wood, ceramics, leaded glass and wrought iron. This can be seen in many of the modernist’s buildings on the right side of Eixample, where there is a plethora of buildings by architects, including Puig i Cadafalch, Domènech i Montaner and Gaudí. The Quadrat d’Or keeps very important exponents of Barcelona’s modernist Catalan architecture from the beginning of the 20th century.

The film shows us the Golden Square while travelling through the buildings which have disappeared, transformed or have been modified. Huerga makes us pay attention to details of magnificent floral decorations, neo-Gothic details and stained-glass work revealing the best of a surprising life. “El Quadrat d’Or” is a real open-air museum of modernism, and the film is an invitation to observe this legacy of architecture and art from the late 19th and early 20th century. 

4. A personal portrait of the twentieth century in “Barcelona abans que el temps ho esborri” 

The film, released in 2016 and based on the book “Before the time is erased”, by Javier Baladía, won the Gaudí Prize for best documentary. In the film the memory of the author is recovered thanks to the graphic and written materials that Baladía inherited from his ancestors. With the help of this documentation and some other, belonging to families of the high society of Barcelona, Mireia Ros, the director, sets a remarkable portrait of a part of our history; the golden age of a dynamic and open Barcelona. A sepia chronicle of the high bourgeoisie society that made the Industrial Revolution possible in Catalonia. Showcasing a portrait of a Barcelona that attracted intellectuals and artists from around the world. Mireia Ros manages to catch the viewer with rich archival material. Baladía himself is the protagonist, and through his voice over is the driving force behind the history of his family. Showing the private life of a family; a personal portrait of the twentieth century.

5. A film about Spain’s first photojournalist “Joana Biarnés, una entre tots”

Joana Biarnés, una entre tots (2016)” is a documentary on the career of Joana Biarnés, the first photojournalist of Spain. The film reveals the life and work of an exceptional woman. Joana was a pioneer who overcame the prejudices of her time, succeeded in her profession, met and immortalized famous historic figures, and just when she could have become a legend, she disappeared from the artistic world.

She explains directly to camera in a sincere, straight manner how she began to devote herself to photojournalism in the 1950’s, when it was still a profession dominated by men. She narrates many anecdotes from her 30-year career, illustrated with some of her splendid photographs. For example how she sneaked into the suite of the Beatles, how she tricked Roman Polanski, being Raphael’s photographer, she choose Massiel’s dress for Eurovision and Clint Eastwood kissed her once. She was a friend of, among others, Xavier Cugat, Joan Manel Serrat, the Duchess of Alba, Fernando Rey, el Cordobés, Lola Flores and Salvador Dalí. 

The work of this pioneer, which was forgotten for years, is again being recognized and her photo archive has been revalued, with the help of this documentary. Her archive holds impressive images on topics such as the Vallès floods in 1962, the visit of the Beatles in Barcelona and portraits of many personalities such as Jackie Kennedy, Orson Welles, Rudolf Nureyev, Audrey Hepburn, Roman Polanski and Salvador Dalí.