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Lucas Figueroa • Director of Renaceres

“A mask forces us to pay close attention to someone’s gaze”


- Argentinian filmmaker Lucas Figueroa filmed Madrid in the time of Covid-19 for Renaceres, a cinematic poem uplifted by the voices of José Sacristán and Imanol Arias

Lucas Figueroa  • Director of Renaceres
(© Martin Mendez - Heroes Agency)

Lucas Figueroa (Buenos Aires, 1978) has unveiled his début documentary, Renaceres [+see also:
film review
interview: Lucas Figueroa
film profile
: a portrait of the emotional experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, as lived in the Spanish capital. Prior to this first dalliance with non-fiction, Figueroa directed a number of shorts and feature films, including Despido procedente and Viral [+see also:
film profile
. We caught up with him to find out more.

Cineuropa: Did you find it hard to navigate the transition between fiction and documentary?
Lucas Figueroa: I see Renaceres as a work of poetic experimentation. Filming it was delightful, like painting a picture; it wasn’t like making a film at all. It had more to do with the world of art than the world of cinema.

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Speaking of paintings: in some shots of the deserted city, the light has a murky quality.
We barely touched the colour. I always filmed those shots at eight o’clock at night, and that’s how the sky was: grey and overcast. We spent the rest of the day filming indoors; I have enough material to make Ben Hur. Nine months of filming, day after day... We ended up with a crazy amount of material. And in 25 years of making films, never before have I been given permission to fly a drone into an airport — we got in a few laps around the control tower.

The film is also a kind of love song to Madrid.
My father is from Vigo and my mother is from Almería, although I was born in Argentina. I came to Madrid more than 20 years ago and I owe this city everything, so this is my homage.

The documentary is being released just as we are starting to glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel, with Christmas just around the corner too...
I didn’t think about that, because everything is changing week by week... It never occurred to me that I would be able to release it in December; it just worked out that way. We’ll see how it does... I had some reservations, because maybe we all have a bit of pandemic fatigue.

But the way you deal with the pandemic is quite understated: there are hardly any hospital scenes.
I never wanted this to be a film about Covid-19. The idea was to approach it as a pivotal, historic event that has forced everyone to slow down, giving us this chance to ask ourselves some deeper questions: where has my life been heading? What sort of relationship do I have with other people and with the environment? What am I doing? That has certainly been my experience, and I was trying to capture that on film.

You also brought in friends of yours whom you’ve worked with before, like Imanol Arias, to recite poems: are those Figueroa originals?
The initial idea was to pay homage to Madrid and to the Spanish literary greats, like Bécquer, Lope de Vega and Quevedo, reciting their poems over three-minute static shots of the city, like paintings, then to fit them together into a 30-piece exhibition. After I got started, I realised that the poems were fine, but they didn’t have much to do with the images. I had written a book of poetry, so in the evenings I looked at the shot I had taken, wrote a poem to go with it and sent it to Alejandro Sanz and José Sacristán. One by one, we got others on board: in the film we hear five, but there are others, like Lolita and Ana Belén, who are part of this future exhibition of 30 pieces. All of the poems are my own except the first one, read by Imanol. That’s attributed to Borges, but we don’t actually know who wrote it. The others were all written by me.

What made you decide to film in 8K?
Cinemas screen in 2K, so it’s unusual to film in 8K, but I started out with the idea of creating an archive for historical memory. It was important to document what was happening in the highest possible quality (8K), although nothing is screened like that at the moment. I hope that in a few years’ time, we’ll be able to watch it in 8K. For now, I have a wall of server cabinets to store all the material we filmed, and sometime in the near future it will come in very useful.

The film also shows us workers in empty hotels and children wearing face masks, honing in on the power of the eyes.
All those shots of people in masks, we also have without masks and with them removing the masks partway through. The final cut shows only a small sample of all the faces we filmed, but the point is that we aren’t used to focussing on the eyes. A mask forces us to pay close attention to someone’s gaze. The part of the film where we see the faces of children, adults and older people is my favourite: just one human looking at another, the viewer, through the screen. I think that’s really powerful.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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