Children dressed as cowboys in the middle of Spanish Africa. Social gatherings with black servants. A Spaniard who pays to be carried over the mud. The first time that the word “cayuco” is heard in the national audiovisual. All this and much more can be seen in the creation documentary Overseas memories, by Carmen Bellas and Alberto Berzosa, who have used 14 hours of homemade material dated between the 1940s and 1975 to construct a 48-minute story about colonial African Spain (Sahara, Tangier, Equatorial Guinea and Morocco). A complex and delicate portrait because the current point of view has little to do with that of those who made the recordings during those more than three decades. Overseas memories, Produced by the Spanish Film Library, it opens on Sunday, March 28, at the Doré room in Madrid.
With Overseas memories, the Filmoteca closes the trilogy that began with Vestiges in super-8: an ‘amateur’ chronicle of the years of change (2018), a session composed of private recordings of super-8 made between 1976 and 1979, and continued with Diaries of exile (2019), created with a dozen family videos of Republicans exiled after the Civil War. Now the time has come for the lesser-known Spanish colonies, the African ones, which in recent years have gained weight in commercial cinema. For this work, Carmen Bellas —director of Once we were wild (2017), award for best documentary at the Alcances festival and special Numax award at the Novos Cinemas competition— and Alberto Berzosa —associate professor at the Carlos III University of Madrid and author of Film homoheresies (2014) and Camera in hand against the Franco regime. From Catalonia to Europe, 1968-1982 (2009) – have dived into the material provided by various film libraries (Filmoteca Española, Filmoteca Valenciana, Filmoteca Canaria, Filmoteca de Navarra and Filmoteca de Andalucía) and have tracked down family archives while the pandemic confined everyone at home. “On the one hand,” says Bellas, “the advantage is that, compared to the two previous installments, we are not as fresh as how the Spanish lived in the African colonies.” In return, Berzosa points out, “there are the unconscious remains that the NO-DO left on the presence of Spain in that continent.”
There is not much material from that time. In February 2020, the two filmmakers met with film institutions and found that other sites had to be traced to obtain images. “After a month they confined us,” they recall in a telematic interview, “and we launched messages in bottles, searching forums and asking for those recordings; in the end we got 20 collections ”. There were many communions and weddings, home and family moments, like children’s baths. “We screen to highlight what is relevant, how a Spanish way of behaving was maintained in daily life, part of that colonial process that imposes traditions.”
During the montage, Bellas and Berzosa faced a great challenge: “The images did not match each other, both because of their territorial difference and because there are obviously no interrelations between them. We think that if we respected the unity of each collection, as if they were semantic units, we would achieve a certain link ”.
They found a better narrative element, which is seen, for example, in the recordings of the 1940s in Equatorial Guinea, when the author, “who had already edited the images”, causes a movement back and forth of a woman walking by. the farms. “There we discovered that with the alteration of certain moments we could highlight those traces and colonial traces that we had found,” says Bellas. “And that led us to the games we propose: enlargements, rewinds, frozen …”. And the sound, which reinforces what appears on the screen. “Some films had already been voiced, others had had a colonial soundtrack added,” says Berzosa. “We decided to equalize everything, avoiding an underline of the exotic of the images.” They speak of two layers of sound: “The first gives life, immerses the viewer in the day to day. The other, more metaphorical, gives another level of reading to the piece ”.
Overseas memories it looks from the gaze of the 21st century to tortuous pasts: “We are not used to dealing with colonial memory in Africa. And it is much more recent than the presence in Latin America. It is curious, because in a certain sense Spanish democracy arises when it is detached from colonial roots. It is a thorny issue ”, warns Berzosa. “We should not judge images that actually show a very romanticized life. The heirs of those who made the recordings have very happy memories of those years, and that is undeniable, but you can’t just show them ”. Hence, they made several assemblies until they got a balance. “The first cut showed our rejection of what we saw, and it was unfair to the context and its creators, because they are part of an intimate sphere,” says Bellas. “I think we have found a certain critical discourse without moving away from what they are: family collections.”
The medium-length film closes with the Green March in the Sahara, in 1975 and the end of colonial Equatorial Guinea, through the collection donated by a son of Armando Balboa, who was secretary of the National Assembly of his country after independence in 1968. Married to the Catalan Nuria Mercé, they had five children, and they are the mixed family that appears in the closing. As Bellas emphasizes, “we put it there because it is the first time that an African has not appeared at the edge of the frame serving tea. Balboa is in the center, drinking it, and that clashes with everything previously shown. In addition, Mercé and Balboa are filmed in a very beautiful, almost erotic way, when until that moment the Spaniards had filmed the Africans, the boys, the servants, almost like furniture ”.