Hay Festival: relive the talk between Fernando León de Aranoa and Andrés Mompotes

This January 26, the Hay Festival began, which turns 18, in Cartagena, Colombia. At the opening of the festival, the director of EL TIEMPO, Andrés Mompotes, spoke with the filmmaker Fernando León de Aranoa about his extraordinary career and, especially, about ‘Sentiendo lo mucho’, a documentary about the last decade of the great musician Joaquin Sabina, which is also screened at the festival after the talk.

(You may be interested in: Fernando León de Aranoa: cinema for the marginalized)

The talk included the virtual appearance of the Spanish musician, who talked about his friendship with León and what his cinema means to him. “He’s an absolute master,” he said.

Fernando León de Aranoa (Spain), film director and screenwriter, is one of the fundamental creators of contemporary Spanish cinema, author of films such as ‘Barrio’, ‘Los Lunes al sol’, or ‘El Buen Patrón’ (recommended, among others, by Barack Obama).

His films have won awards at international festivals and he has worked with actors and actresses such as Javier Bardem, among others. Interested in social reality, relying on very characteristic scripts and dialogue, he has also directed a documentary on the Zapatista movement in Mexico (Caminantes, 2001). León is the author of literary books such as ‘Here lie dragons’; In addition, and he was the screenwriter for films such as Fausto 5.0.

Conversation between the Spanish filmmaker Fernando León de Aranoa and Andrés Mompotes, director of EL TIEMPO., at the beginning of the Hay Festival 2023 in Cartagena.

Conversation about friendship and cinema with Fernando León de Aranoa

How was meeting Joaquín Sabina? It was the musician who asked to meet Fernando León, over dinner, as he was amazed at two of his productions: ‘Barrio’ and ‘Los lunes al sol’.

“I remember it as a privilege for someone who has always liked his art, his music, his writing so much,” says the Spaniard. And he adds: “To a large extent, the documentary means the opportunity to share with the viewer what I have always felt as a privilege, which is being close to Joaquín’s conversation.”

The musician and filmmaker met 20 years ago. At dinner, Joaquín Sabina arrived with some of his books with a dedication to León, who says he was very flattered and reminded Sabina that the “fan” was him.

The director of ELTIEMPO, Andrés Mompotes, highlights that between Sabina and León there is a friendship that is nourished by mutual admiration. In addition, he mentions another of the great close friends of Fernando León: the Spanish Javier Bardemwinner of the Oscar Award (2007) for best supporting actor for his role as the psychopathic murderer Anton Chigurh in ‘No Country for Old Men’.

Is it true that Fernando León was standing on a corner of Las Vegas, in the United States, someone yelled at him from a car and it turned out to be the actor? The filmmaker answers that yes, that Bardem arrived with some friends and “rescued” him. He was doing the documentation for a project, but he already wanted to leave the US city for Mexico. He shared several hours with them until his flight the next day, at 5:00 am.

He recounts that, until that moment, they did not know each other. They knew about the work of both, but they had not established a friendly relationship. Later, Bardem became Santa, one of the central characters in ‘Mondays in the Sun’, a feature film about unemployment that was released in 2002. In addition, he participated in ‘El buen patrón’ (2021), another production by León.

His most recent documentary recounts the life of the composer and singer Joaquín Sabina.

Does the cinema have to be ‘engaged’?

Because it covers issues of social and economic crisis, some say that León is a representative of ‘committed cinema’. Do you think cinema has to be like that? For the Spanish director, people should make the cinema they want: ‘One form of commitment to cinema is to make what you really want to make; whatever the genre,’ he says.

On whether humor is the best way to cover these topics, the Spaniard says that he does not feel it as an imposition on the story or as a tool, but rather “just let it flow.” And he emphasizes that humor is inevitable and inherent in life.

While they talked about ‘Barrio’ (1998) and what their life was like as a teenager, the director says that “the film tries to contrast their illusions -how young people imagine the world is going to be- and what reality has in store for them. From that clash, in the end, growth and maturation emerges.”

León de Aranoa affirms that, in adolescence, his vocation was aligned with drawing and not with cinema. He had prepared himself to study Fine Arts, but, due to a clerical error, he was unable to present the charcoal drawing that he had ready. Thus, he arrived at a Communications school and at the cinema. So, he fell in love with screenwriting.

How is the creative process of Fernando León?

Fernando León de Aranoa (Spain), film director and screenwriter, is one of the fundamental creators of contemporary Spanish cinema.

“Directing seemed like a very complex undertaking to me,” says the filmmaker. Mompotes remembers that, before fully embarking on films, León de Aranoa was a storyteller.

The Spaniard says that, in his youth, he worked for other directors and that he thought he would never direct. However, he made it into a short film to test if he would be capable and, because he had a lot of fun, in his words, he went on with the movies. ‘Family’ was the first.

He says that it has always been very important for him to feel comfortable with the script and the characters. That gives you more security.

And why did I stop writing literature? He answers that it is because of how demanding the cinema is and because of the incompatibility of times.

‘Here lie dragons’ (2013) is precisely a book that he wrote between film productions. During the opening of the Hay Festival, Joaquín Sabina’s reading of the first text, called ‘Epidemic’, was screened. The musician also made an appearance on a video call in which he spoke of his friendship and complimented the filmmaker.

“In addition to a brother, he is an absolute teacher,” he says. And he qualifies him as the best film director in Spanish. “He is a Renaissance man in the 21st century,” he adds, noting his talent as a cartoonist and writer.

Filming of ‘Sentiendo lo mucho’, the documentary about Joaquín Sabina

Fernando León remembers that it was an intermittent process of 13 years. He reassured him that Sabina was the one who proposed that he accompany him in writing a record with Benjamín Prado at that time.

He says that being so close didn’t make it more difficult, as can sometimes happen, but instead was very easy, as they were both very comfortable.


Conversation between the Spanish filmmaker Fernando León de Aranoa and Andrés Mompotes, director of EL TIEMPO, at the beginning of the Hay Festival 2023 in Cartagena.

The filmmaker affirms that in the documentary there is a “very beautiful” scene in which the great musician is seen singing in places other than a recording studio or a stage. It was important to him that she show up. In the conversation, they also recall a scene where Sabina is taking a bath, which shows how comfortable they were filming.

The name of the documentary, says León, was another for a long time. However, “Sentiendo lo mucho” was finally left, which is also a song that Sabina composed in honor of her friend and the great job she was doing with the production.

Before doing the screening, León and Sabina said that they hoped that the spectators would not cry, since it is a scene that has been seen on other occasions. “I want them to laugh,” says Sabina; Leon agrees.

The filmmaker affirms that it is important for him to transmit the sensations that he had when accompanying him for so many years on set; also, to show Sabina’s personality and what he perceives of him. He stresses that the musician doesn’t take himself too seriously. “I have tried to make the documentary look like him: to have humor, to have beauty, all of that.”

“How can you achieve a life of that size of success without taking it so seriously?” Mompotes asks Sabina. The musician replies that the job of standing on stage and having people pay to go see it, even in times of crisis, is sacred.

“You have to take the job of writing the songs and singing them completely seriously, but you don’t have to take yourself seriously; the job is, I am not,” concludes Sabina.

At the end of the conversation, there was a time for questions from the public for the filmmaker and the musician. After that, ‘Sentimento mucho’ was screened.

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Hay Festival: relive the talk between Fernando León de Aranoa and Andrés Mompotes

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