Macu Machín offers in “La hojarasca” an intimate documentary fable that anticipates La Palma’s eruption, with her own family as the main characters


• The Gran-Canarian filmmaker, who premiered her latest film at the Berlinale and is currently presenting it in Cartagena de Indias, obtained two Silver Biznaga awards at the Malaga Film Festival

• The Tajogaite’s eruption provides a very special climax to this story with a careful pacing and atmosphere that attracts the audience to a setting reminiscent of the classic western, where the three female characters grow

La hojarasca’s first screening will take place this Friday, April 19, at Cine Yelmo Las Arenas

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Thursday, April 18, 2024. A conflict, family love and a climax as volcanic in the content as soothing in the form hold together the narrative thread of La hojarasca (The Undergrowth). This is director Macu Machín’s latest work, screening for the first time in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria this Friday, April 19 (Cine Yelmo Las Arenas, 7:30 p.m., Screen 6), as part of the Canarias Cinema section of the Festival. The Gran-Canarian filmmaker approaches the film with that tone of hers in which she combines pure documentary cinema with fables and human beings’ deepest emotions, in a very particular context and with even more special protagonists: her aunts, her mother and her family lands in La Palma. Sealed by the Tajogaite’s eruption, the emotional journey of the film becomes as authentic as those pictures with the volcano in the background.

La hojarasca, produced by El Viaje Films, premiered at the Berlinale, where Machín lived an “unusual and gratifying” experience. “Starting in Berlin accompanied by my own family was like a precious closure to this period of sharing filmmaking with them, a very nice adventure,” she admits. After that, the film won two Silver Biznaga awards (Best Film and Best Director) in the Zonazine Section of the Malaga Festival, which she thinks might be “a very nice push, I guess this will benefit the reception of the film.” She is also presenting her work at the Cartagena de Indias International Film Festival (FICCI), in Colombia, before returning to her island to participate in this new edition of the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria International Film Festival.

Carmen Machín and Maura Pérez, the filmmaker’s aunts, and Elsa Machín, her mother, are immersed in a conflict over the inheritance of their lands, which were given to their family in a manner typical of the most canonical fable. That is the starting point for Machín’s film, in a setting “reminiscent of classic cinema, of classic westerns,” but on the island of La Palma. In the course of the docufiction, illness, old age and the passage of time are addressed, as well as the love that intrinsically supports the family, with a pace defined by the very nature that provides the context and the routines of the three women.

For Macu Machín it was “essential to make this film with my mother and my aunts, from the beginning. Without them this project made no sense, and my references were there. Yes, you discover how love can be underneath some misunderstandings. They have been an inspiration for me, not only for the film. In the end, it has been a gift, a process of vital growth.”

The feature was shot at several different times, as the director explains. First, between October and November 2020, “when we were able to get out of confinement. But the shooting process had to be cut short due to family health problems. We naively thought we could return in February 2021, but people happened to get sick, almost in a chain. And it was very complicated to schedule everything.” The project was resumed in the fall of 2021, “and I thought it was great, because we were in the same cycles of life around the land, also with the almond harvesting,” Machín recalls. But of course, in September the volcano exploded in the island.

“We knew we had to go and shoot. Without knowing much how we were going to do it, but sensing perfectly where it could fit, in the end, as a kind of catharsis, a climax. For safety reasons we were only able to work for a week,” says the director. The volcano was something that “obviously I hadn’t planned for it to happen. But when it exploded, it seemed to me that organically it fit with the structure of the film, because I had already been working with elements of nature from the beginning.”

“The wind, the rain or the storms,” Machín continues, “had that component, very typical of German romanticism, of romantic painting, where nature expresses everything that human beings are incapable of putting into words, especially when it comes to their own emotions.” With those new circumstances, “we had to interweave this new character of the film, the volcano, with the protagonists themselves. The problem was how to resize it on a human scale, in the story I was telling. I didn’t want it to steal the spotlight. That was the biggest challenge for me,” says the filmmaker from Gran Canaria.

“For me, everything in the film is true.”

As for the genre she explores in La hojarasca, Macu Machín admits that “I don’t really know if this is a documentary that turns into fiction or the other way around. I am so deeply tied to everything that happens in the film that for me everything is true.” And the fact is that “as much as we built a small framework in which they could play at performing something, the idea was that this would be like some sort of spring, a trigger that would help to express other things I found more interesting, that are true and define the characters.”

“It has been very nice to play between fiction and documentary,” claims the director. “There are some parts that are observations, dead moments in which the set is being prepared and they are simply waiting, without marks or indications,” she says. And those elements “which are very narrative from a cinematographic standpoint, helped me a lot to distance myself from the story, because at the end of the day I am the daughter and niece of the main characters. By placing everything in a somewhat very fabulous place,” explains Machín, “it allowed me to position myself outside it all to evaluate those reactions, the responses that were given. That way I could think about the tone, the pace and the atmosphere, which is so important for me in this film.”

La hojarasca 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 Un volcán habitado (David Pantaleón and José Víctor Fuentes), 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 and Very Good Script are also collaborators.

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