The career of Spanish film-maker Guillermo Barreira started with the success of his documentary Soccer Stories, taking second prize at the sports film festival Marca in 2007. An award was also won at the Festival de Cortos de La casa Encendida de Cajamadrid for Burking, but this belies unique personal experiences. His artistic journey has encompassed a number of countries in Europe and then onto America, befitting the vast possibilities that it has consistently offered to European artists. The career of Salvador Dalí began to expand upon his arrival in New York City in 1940, which included his work being utilized as a lucid sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, but Barreira is not part of a neo-surrealist art movement. He founded Codebreaker Productions, a well known production and rental company in New York, and other projects include the recent short film Aquelarre, which enabled a sensitivity to stimuli that could not be achieved in his place of birth.
The slight buzzing and whirling of the phone-line reflects the artificial confines of the environment that Barreira is now in. He was born in Valencia, the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona and was firmly situated within an artistic background.
I cannot remember at what age I wanted to do this. What I felt what I wanted to do was tell stories, for sure, and not write. It was very normal as I came from a family of painters. It was absolutely organic.
The resources and tools that you have to express yourself at the start of the 21st century is more sophisticated than anything else. You have many ways of expression.
A development in his life involved spending a semester at the Malmö University, or Malmö Hogsköla, in Sweden.
It was close to Copenhagen, which is in the South. I knew that I wanted to travel and I was 22 years old when I went to Sweden. I didn’t have time to learn German or Italian as I wanted to leave. People say I went to Sweden because of the girls, but it was because it was the right opportunity.
Studying documentary meant that he uncovered a different sensibility, which has been a fundamental in the work of Swedish film-makers such as Victor Sjöström and Ingmar Bergman. The naturalistic landscapes of the country were utilized in films such as The Outlaw and His Wife and Through A Glass Darkly, and also influenced Barreira as a film-maker.
It definitely widened my perspective as it was the first time that I was living outside of Spain and I met a different sensitivity there. The light in Sweden is different: light is yellow, but there it is white. In winter, the days are shorter and you don’t see the sun at the top of the sky and it changes your perspective as it’s so powerful. The nature was so powerful. The people were also very different. I wouldn’t call them shy, they have a lot of passion inside. They are passionate and extremely creative. Everything that I mentioned was influential on documentary.
Spanish film-makers have crucially influenced his output, unsurprising as artists such as Dalí used film as another artistic medium.
In regards to them, I would say Víctor Erice probably, particularly Quince tree of the sun and The Spirit of the Beehive. It’s part fiction, part documentary. All of his movies were masterpieces. It would be unfair to say that it was just a documentary as that is restrictive, but it’s a simple movie and has a painter. I can’t find a link with Almodóvar. There is also anything by Luis Garcia Berlanga and Open Your Eyes by Alejandro Amenábar.
His film Aquelarre marked the third time that a Spanish title had been used after the television movie Remordimientos and Corazón de gorila. The film depicts the heinous behaviour of a group of young witches, but was not specifically meant to be a Spanish product and was more of an American product than you might think.
I have to say, and I am proud of this, I love not to rationalize when I work on a piece of art. In an artistic environment you have to rationalize and explain the artistic meaning of your artistic creation.
The film felt like a continuation of the dark themes apparent within his short film Dollhouse, which documents the activities of some gangsters. Barreira contemplated whether he was drawn to marginalized themes such as witchcraft due to being a European living and working in America.
That’s a good question. It’s like a cultural shock to be here. One of the first things that the average European realizes is that they are overqualified and they are passionate. American film-makers don’t tend to have as many references as we had, they tend to reference obvious culture. We can call it the commercial film, but they tend to know quite a lot that we don’t. They tend to worry about the rhythm and the pace. American film-makers have great culture. I don’t pretend to be arrogant as Europeans can be better film-makers, but American film-makers are very, very good at what they are good at.
In terms of influences, I will mention of course Dario Argento. I love Suspiria. I would also mention Pasolini and Salo and the three witches in Orson Welles’ Macbeth. I didn’t want to go too far and Salo went very far. If I went that far then it wouldn’t be commercial, that would be pornographic and you can do that if everybody knows you. I am film-maker very worried with the concept of desire. Lynch is very good at capturing the concept of desire. What you see in Aquelarre is doing the opposite by trying to suggest that the object of desire is within the witches, but then make it something that is totally degrading. I was trying to use two opposite conflicts to create an atmosphere.
This creativity is at odds with an industry of Hollywood films that values spectacle over integrity and passion. Barreira joined the first team of the Association of Visual Arts of Valencia (AVVAC) in Spain, which understands the importance of protecting culture.
I come from a region of Spain where there is a great history of culture and arts. The arts are a struggle and have to fight to have rights.
Photo credits go to Guillermo Barreira/ Exclusive interview for Mole Empire