David Pantaleón and José Víctor Fuentes portray in “Un volcán habitado” the humanity exhibited by La Palma’s inhabitants during the Tajogaite eruption, “with another level of truth and another point of view”


• The audios exchanged by a group of El Paso residents as the disaster evolves give weight to a piece whose main strength “lies in the fact that you discover that, in the end, people help each other,” as Pantaleón points out

• “When the audience has seen the film, the first thing they ask is how the people of La Palma are doing now,” says the Canarian filmmaker

Un volcán habitado’s first screening is scheduled for this Friday, April 19, at Cine Yelmo Las Arenas

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Thursday, April 18, 2024. Un volcán habitado (An Inhabited Volcano) is definitely not an ordinary documentary about a volcanic eruption. Yes, the piece fits perfectly within the genre, but there are no first impressions recklessly captured at the foot of the lava (although there is a lot of quality in the pictures of the event), or tears in close-ups of the victims of the catastrophe. And yet, Pantaleón and Fuentes’ film manages to create and offer some quite deep layers about everything 2021’s eruption in La Palma entailed. The telegraphic conversations and the messaging audios they’ve used stand as a very powerful element to convey to the audience all the significance that the Tajogaite explosion truly acquired on the ground. The first screening of Un volcán habitado will take place on the opening day of this 23rd edition of the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria International Film Festival, this Friday, April 19 (Cine Yelmo Las Arenas Screen 6, 5:30 p.m.).

David Pantaleón, an established author of Canarian documentary cinema and a connoisseur of the film festival in the capital of Gran Canaria, recalls that, with the eruption, “there was a collective impulse that attracted people to the event. We went there to see something that had been in the collective imagination of the Canarian people for a long time. We had in our memory Roberto Rodríguez’s pictures of Teneguía, El Hierro’s submarine eruption had already happened…” Nature seemed to throw a challenge to these two Canarian filmmakers, which has crystallized in this title produced by Chukumi Studio. Un volcán habitado has already been screened at festivals such as Nyon (Switzerland), Valladolid or Prizren (Kosovo), has also been part of the competition in the documentary category of the CINESPAÑA Festival in Toulouse, and has been awarded at L’Alternativa and Márgenes, too.

The idea of the film began with that initial impulse and gained weight when the reality of the islanders overcame the filmmakers. “Yes, we realized that there was something interesting to build on a cinematographic level, when we made that rather intuitive than rational first trip,” says Pantaleón. “But then something happened, when we were looking for a way to film the volcano: José Víctor was getting some audios from his friends in El Paso, because his family is from there. And through those audios and what the media were broadcasting we discovered that we had something intimate. Something really special. First-person experiences, worked from the intimacy of a WhatsApp group. We had another level of truth, another point of view and, of course, another level of intimacy.”

The development of the film took place in 2021, and then continued, at a narrative and structural level, in the editing itself. It was an “atypical shooting, with several trips to the area. You know you are filming something, but at the production level it was strange, because we were not sure when it was going to end. We ended up making the decision to close the film before the eruption stopped,” summarizes David Pantaleón. He, Fuentes and the editor, Fernando Alcántara, agreed on a three-way working system. “In the end it was super nice: I think films are not only the final result, they are also the processes. And in this case it was very organic, with its critical moments, but very pleasant in general. In contrast, of course, with what we were telling,” says the Gran-Canarian director.

The special strength of the film lies, undoubtedly, in those dialogues that are reproduced over the images. For Pantaleón “they become a very attractive element, especially when you see that they are coming from people who are looking at something that’s happening a few kilometers from their home. Or directly on their home. That is the film’s biggest asset: from natural disaster to solidarity.”

These audio messages faithfully capture the concerns of La Palma’s inhabitants at the time, and afterwards as well. “Normally you have to discuss every thread you pull, every subplot. In this case, the content is given to us by reality itself, with this group that is waiting for help. The time that passes after the eruption, the waiting. You understand that the solutions are much more complex than when you just distribute funds here and there. All of that had to come out as well,” Pantaleón explains.

The co-director of the work admits that “a documentary always has a creative component, playing with reality to a greater or lesser degree.” And, therefore, he defends the figure of the author within the genre. In Un volcán habitado, “facing the volcano as a human being is almost oneiric. The line between reality and fiction is again blurred. Sometimes you think that what you are seeing can’t be true. And you also feel attracted to the abyss, you never get tired of looking at it and you even have an urge to get as close as possible to it.”

How was the Tajogaite shot for this project? With two cameras, filming independently during the day, and sharing at night “what we had done, sometimes coming across the same shots. We didn’t use special permits, and that also gives the film a human dimension,” Pantaleón explains.

The creative process avoided the trends of then-current events and the urgency of the news. “When you make a film, you free yourself a bit from that carousel of updated news, which is something crazy at a conceptual level, not to mention from certain specific media only interested in sensationalism. I think we managed to put ourselves in a place that does the film a lot of good, with a more thoughtful, calm vision from which we did not pursue tension or tears. We wanted to build an intimate story: the strength of the film is in the aftertaste that I think you are left with. We discovered that people help each other, and that’s encouraging.” That is the message stressed by Pantaleón who, having already started his international tour with Un volcán habitado (An Inhabited Volcano), says that “when people see it, the first thing they ask is how the people of La Palma are doing now.”

Un volcán habitado is one of the feature films programmed in the Canarias Cinema section of this 23rd Las Palmas de Gran Canaria International Film Festival, which also includes La hojarasca (Macu Machín), Una casa en el pueblo (Domingo J. González) and Voy a desaparecer (Coré Ruíz). There will be two screenings of each of these films.

The Las Palmas de Gran Canaria International Film Festival, organized by the Culture area of the Gran-Canarian capital’s City Council through Promoción de la Ciudad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, has received public assistance by the ICAA [Institute of Cinematography and Audiovisual Arts], the program for the internationalization of Spanish culture, PICE Visitantes, of Acción Cultural Española (AC/E), from the Consejería de Universidades, Ciencia e Innovación y Cultura del Gobierno de Canarias, as well as public support from Promotur Turismo Islas Canarias.

Among the Festival’s collaborators we may find Fundación Auditorio Teatro, Cines Yelmo, Las Arenas Shopping Center and Hotel Cristina by Tigotan, places which also function as venues or hold activities of the film event; as well as other institutions and companies such as Sagulpa, Hospitales San Roque, Jameson, Ikigai, Cientouno Group, el Centro de Cultura Audiovisual de Gran Canaria, Audiovisuales Canarias, Music Library &SFX, Blackout Films and International Bach Festival. Likewise, its market, MECAS, has been possible thanks to the sponsorship of the Gran Canaria Film Commission-Sociedad de Promoción Económica de Gran Canaria and the support of Canary Islands Film and Proexca.

The University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Mid Atlantic University, the CIFP Felo Monzón Grau-Bassas, the Canary Islands Film Institute, the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas, Digital 104, the Audiovisual Cluster of the Canary Islands, CIMA Asociación de Mujeres Cineastas y de Medios Audiovisuales, the Cartagena International Film Festival, the Gijón International Film Festival, the Barcelona Independent Film Festival, Toyota Canarias and Very Good Script are also collaborators.

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