Enric Ribes • Director of Singing on the Rooftops
"I have always been interested in the world of drag"
- In his debut feature, the Catalan director combines fiction and reality to portray Gilda Love, a nonagenarian transvestite, a resident of Barcelona's El Raval neighbourhood
After screening at the D’A and Sheffield DocFest festivals, Singing on the Rooftops [+see also:
interview: Enric Ribes
film profile], a film that oscillates between fiction and documentary, directed by Enric Ribes (33 years old) and starring Gilda Love, a veteran transvestite from the Raval neighbourhood in Barcelona, premieres in Spain, at the start of the LGBTQI+ Pride celebrations in Madrid.
Cineuropa: We don't usually talk about the elderly in cinema...
Enric Ribes: Yes, it's as if they don't exist. It is hard to see films by older people, let alone LGBTQI+ people. Gilda Love had everything to tell a beautiful, human story, with the issues of that age. I met him (Eduardo, his real name) six years ago and he caught my attention when, among his repertoire of raunchy and spicy songs, he performs a monologue where he tells the story of how he was born at the same time as a girl, and she died strangled by his umbilical cord. I found that very poetic and tragic, plus dressed in the flamenco dress and with the wig on he's very photogenic. We became friends over time, because this film could not have been made without this friendship: it is a tribute to him out of affection and friendship. We shot a previous short film about Gilda's biography, condensed into six minutes: a film collage in super 8 and 16 mm. I had worked on a project with Inicia Films, with Valerie Delpierre, and I told her about the idea, showed her the piece and said I wanted to make a feature film with Gilda; the producer liked the idea, and the film was born.
So is there a script?
Everything that appears on screen is real, but there is a prompted part. We like the concept of the hybrid, of not knowing whether it is real or fiction, but it doesn't matter. We have also left some furtive glances at the camera from some of the characters in the final editing: this spontaneity achieves a more real result.
The Raval neighbourhood is also vindicated in Singing on the Rooftops.
Gilda is like the last Mohican so to speak. El Raval is constantly evolving and renewing, Barcelona's district one, the centre of welcome and freedom, of darkness and light. He is the last of the rebellious seventies and eighties: many have already returned to their hometown or have died, but Gilda is the only one still performing. He represents a neighbourhood that is disappearing. I have always been interested in the world of drag and I love Jean Genet's The Thief's Journal, which discusses this, and even his Querelle is based on a brothel where Gilda worked.
Ventura Pons' documentary Ocaña, an Intermittent Portrait, also portrays that marvellous, libertine Barcelona.
Yes, Gilda met Ocaña: they were unique characters. There is a documentary entitled Yo soy así, by the Spanish-Dutch Sonia Herman Dolz, which I have used some parts of in my film, where Gilda appears younger during the last years of La Bodega Bohemia. Because after the Olympics, El Raval started to undergo a transformation: they tried to modernise the neighbourhood and many of its old cabarets disappeared. And the artists did not know what to do with their lives.
The transvestite world used to be more clandestine and hidden than it is now.
Yes, for the drag queens, but justice is being done to the work of all the Gilda’s: the entire drag movement of the last decades of the 20th century, which had remained a rebellious stronghold of the city's underground entertainment, is being appreciated.
They were great fighters.
The first to take to the streets how they felt. We also try to reflect that in my film, because in El Raval you can go as you please, you don't attract attention if you wear high heels as a man: it was a stronghold of freedom and tolerance since Franco's regime.
How long did the filming and preparation take?
We got caught up in the middle of Covid, so we polished the script a lot. Shooting was limited to four weeks, and we filmed with children, animals and old people, in pandemic conditions and with masks on everybody. We knew it would be chaotic from the outset: we took great care of Gilda and tried to make the planned sequences flow as well as possible, in a linear fashion, shooting it as a reality. There were no rehearsals: Gilda met the child co-star in the middle of filming.
The connection between them is fascinating.
They speak with their eyes, neutral and pure: Gilda was like a grandfather and grandmother at the same time.
(Translated from Spanish by Vicky York)
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