A brief movie depicting the experiences of overlooked, underprivileged, and marginalized children residing in the biggest shantytown in Europe, located near Madrid, is a finalist for Spain’s Goya awards, equivalent to the Oscars, to be held on Saturday.
Despite the late hour, the film “Even Though it’s Night” was filmed on-site at the Cañada Real informal settlement, featuring a cast of local residents. The story follows 13-year-old Toni as he prepares to bid farewell to his best friend Nasser, who is leaving for France, and to his own childhood.
The movie gets its name from a poem by St John of the Cross, a Spanish priest, poet, and mystic. In the poem, he expresses his journey towards a closer relationship with God while enduring spiritual and physical darkness during his time in prison. This title also symbolizes the reality that approximately 4,000 individuals in sector 6 of the settlement, including almost half being children, have been living without electricity for over three years.
At the helm of the production is Guillermo García López, a 38-year-old director, as the short film opens with two companions perched atop a hill in Cañada, gazing at the surreal skyscrapers of Madrid.
Nine years ago, García López visited the area for the first time while working on a documentary that explored the human impact of the 2008 financial crisis. He was captivated by the view and its paradoxes.
He mentioned being surprised by the distance from Madrid, even though it was only a 20-minute journey from the city center. It felt like being transported to a different place and era.
In 2019, the director dedicated their time to working in the Cañada community, leading film workshops for children with a predominant Roma and Moroccan background.
García López and his team were determined to create a film in the Cañada. They initially tried traditional casting methods, but were quickly met with challenges due to the logistics of the area. As a result, they resorted to personally visiting homes in search of actors. This approach proved successful as they not only found their cast, but also had the opportunity to introduce their project to families and gain the trust of a community that often feels misunderstood or vilified by the media due to the prevalent drug trade in certain parts of the settlement.
The director explains that the film centers on the theme of losing a close friend and the innocent perspective of a child. However, the depiction of the socioeconomic conditions in the region and the loss of both literal and symbolic power can be strongly felt throughout the film.
The Madrid regional government, one of the five governing bodies responsible for the Cañada, attributes the ongoing power outages to illegal marijuana farms. These farms allegedly put a significant strain on the electricity network, causing safety measures to be activated.
Naturgy, the power supplier, has expressed condolences to the residents of sector 6, citing “excessive and sporadic usage” as the cause of network crashes. The company stated that only three customers in sector 6 are officially registered, while the others have “unauthorized connections”.
The absence of electricity has stigmatized the children in this area. Many of them use flashlights or screens to do their homework, and some are afraid to go to school due to potential bullying over the smell of their unwashed clothes. Additionally, others constantly suffer from colds. However, the use of candles for lighting has caused fires and there have been cases of people being hospitalized due to fumes from their butane heaters.
According to García López, it’s important to remember that 4,000 individuals, including many children, have been without electricity for over three years. This is a violation of their human rights and they deserve access to a decent life and a reliable source of electricity.
The filmmaker, whose movie has been nominated for Best Fictional Short Film at the Goya Awards, aims to bring attention to the crisis happening near the capital of Spain and portray the strength and compassion of the families living in sector 6.
“St John of the Cross wrote the poem while he was imprisoned in Toledo and held in deep darkness and solitude,” he said. “This community is also in a profound solitude and people there struggle to find a future or just to live as happily as possible in the present. But even though it’s dark, they’re carrying on living and fighting and laughing and crying.”
He mentioned that it is unfortunate that the majority of individuals in Madrid are still hesitant or incapable of making eye contact with those who live nearby.
“He mentioned that we are close to our city and the children on the hill are observing us.”