Daniel Sánchez Arévalo • Director of Seventeen
“Animals make us better people”
- Daniel Sánchez Arévalo’s road movie Seventeen is the first Spanish Netflix film to take part in the Official Section of the San Sebastián Film Festival and sees the director return to his roots
Daniel Sánchez Arévalo (Madrid, 1970), who also devotes himself to other domains, such as literature, has not helmed a feature for more than five years. Now he makes a return to the director’s chair with Seventeen [+see also:
interview: Daniel Sánchez Arévalo
film profile], starring fresh faces and various animals, and with Netflix taking on some of the production duties. The film has been premiered out of competition at the 67th San Sebastián Film Festival.
Cineuropa: What did it mean to you to have Netflix contributing to the production of Seventeen?
Daniel Sánchez Arévalo: For me, these kinds of platforms have heralded the arrival of a lot of work for the audiovisual sector after it endured quite a tricky period: films were turning into products, and the supply and diversity of what was available were dramatically reduced. With Netflix and the other platforms, there is more variety, as they need stories to feed off, so this gives the power to the creator. In my case, they read the screenplay, they liked it a lot and they told me that they wanted to keep my gaze intact. On the production level, they understood that it was a film with on a small scale, but not necessarily a cheap one. They agreed to come on board.
Without Netflix on board, would Seventeen not have been shot?
I’m confident it would have been, but under God knows what conditions. Netflix provided us with the funds and the tools to tell the film’s story effectively: without that, the movie would have come out worse.
As in your previous films, here you were also able to rely on the support of your regular producer, José Antonio Félez, of Atípica Films.
Félez is my travel buddy, my partner and my big brother, and we go hand in hand. That’s why Netflix embraced both of us so that we could shoot the film as we had envisaged it. And they were extremely respectful with the entire artistic process: they made suggestions, some of which I took on board and others I did not.
For a good chunk of its running time, the film unfolds aboard a motor home that’s pootling around Cantabria...
For the main characters, this vehicle constitutes something from the past that they’re clinging onto. It’s from a time when everything was ok and they behaved like brothers. It’s still the vehicle they’re using to reconnect and reconfigure their broken family.
Ever since DarkBlueAlmostBlack [+see also:
film profile], you have said that your films are like therapy for you. Was this also the case with Seventeen?
Yes, as far as the filmmaking process was concerned: it was born of this pressing need I have to step out of my comfort zone and go someplace else, to reinvent myself and go back to my roots, just like the first time. That’s why I didn’t use the same crew, and nor did I use my regular actors from my previous movies, so that I could carry on growing and moving forward. I use film to feel like I’m progressing as a person.
And how did you find your little-known lead actors, Biel Montoro and Nacho Sánchez?
It was a difficult process of casting and love at first sight because as soon as I came across them both, I was absolutely convinced. When you do a casting, you see how the actors mould and enhance what you’ve been writing, and it’s very exciting to see confirmation that it works. And when I put them together, they connected immediately. In addition, they fell in love and shielded each other during the shoot, just like brothers.
You carried out a selection process to find the actors for the film, but did you also do a casting for the dogs in order to choose the canines that appear in it?
Yes. It was clear in my mind that I didn’t want trained or vicious dogs, and because of my commitment to and my love for them, I wanted to prioritise animal shelters because there are so many dogs there looking for a home. We found all of the dogs that appear in the movie at shelters. We genuinely created the mutual understanding between the main character and the dog called Oveja by improvising, and little by little, things happened and we enabled the kid and the dog to really get along.
Do dogs make us better people?
In my case, they do: I’m a better person thanks to my dogs. That was the germ of this film: it features a kid who’s on bad terms with the world, who’s disconnected from his surroundings and who has retreated into his shell. Then he starts to reconnect with life, his emotions and his responsibilities through a puppy, giving him hope and something to hold onto. For me, being with these animals really clears my head, as they’re like a good sedative: when I feel overwhelmed, I play with my dogs or take them for a walk, and I feel safer and more cocooned.
(Translated from Spanish)
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