18 May Interview to Omar Al Abdul Razzak director of ‘Paradiso’
by Amaya Bañuelos
THE ORIGIN OF THE STORY
Adult cinemas are probably not the most popular topic in films. When featured, films tend to reflect what the majority of the society thinks of them: sordid places in dark alleyways where spectators come and go in the greatest secrecy. One cannot help but thinking of the scene in Taxi Driver when Travis brings his date to one of these, immediately provoking a strong feeling of repulsion on her.
But Omar A. Razzak, with no prejudices, chose the very last adult cinema in Madrid to make his debut film. He explains that what firstly drawn him to this place was not the cinema itself or the topic of pornography but the film posters created by Rafa (the owner and projectionist of the cinema) that he saw in a newspaper article. He then decided to go to the Cine Alba with the writer of the film to meet this person. “It was after meeting Rafa, and also Luisa, the box office clerk, that we knew there was a story there, a story with characters. The cinema was a very cinematographic space too.”
The film was made in the course of three years and time is key to understand the familiarity this project evokes. Omar says that the first year was spent in going to the cinema to get to know the space, its customers and workers and write a story. “The original storyline was about Rafael who was going to project Cinema Paradiso in the adult cinema and throw a party for the neighbourhood. I thought this would take about a year; I also wanted enough time to follow the characters.” But eventually the film changed direction as Omar realized that the story he wanted to tell was a different one. “The focus of the film shifted to Luisa, who was about to retire, and what would happen from then on.” The film, however, kept its original title, ‘Paradiso’, because the director felt that it already belonged to the story.
THE IDENTITY OF THE CINEMA SCREEN
‘Paradiso’ not only pays tribute to Tornatore’s masterpiece in its title, it also holds a strong sense of identity, conveying the vanishing nature of the traditional cinema. It depicts the last adult cinema in Madrid, which eventually closed in March, this year. Many films have explored the disappearance of cinemas; ‘The Last Picture Show’ (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971), for example, sees cinema superseded by television as the preferred social activity.
In Spain cinemas have been closing down for several years now. In Madrid only, more than 115 cinemas have stopped operating since 2004. Despite this dramatic change, Omar does not think this has such an impact on the cultural identity of the city. “Cities are continuously transforming themselves, and identities change accordingly. In Madrid many cinemas have shut down but others have emerged. It is sad, though, to see cinemas turned into shops or similar things. But, in truth, spaces need to be used. It is even sadder to see cinemas totally abandoned, not in use.” In fact, Cine Alba’s identity has been drastically altered; the cinema is now a restaurant. Omar believes that Madrid still offers a diverse film choice, as opposed to smaller cities where the closure of cinemas has made it even more limited.
The drop of spectators in the last decade is also linked to the appearance of websites that allow film streaming. In 2013 ‘Paradiso’ received the Rizoma prize that helps films getting distributed. Thanks to this prize the film is now included in the catalogue of filmin (Spain’s leading online platform for independent films). When asked about the changes in our film watching habits, Omar explains that people still watch a lot of films and that we are getting more used to pay for watching films online. “It is not the death of the cinema, it is the death of the cinema as the place to socially watch films.” However he agrees that there is something unique about the cinema: the connection with the people, the ability to immerse yourself in a film. “When you watch a film at home, you never feel as if everything else stopped; that only occurs in the cinema, where the screen totally absorbs you.” He believes that the bond between a spectator and the cinema is created during childhood and becomes part of one’s life ever since.
‘Cine Alba’ exemplified this idea of cinema with an identity– a social space with a regular clientele, largely elderly, who met there everyday. “Where will these people go now? They used to see each other there; they felt welcome and listened to. Now that there is no longer a cinema they are probably spending most of their time alone. It is sad, truly sad, it was beautiful to see all those human relations in that place.”
THE DOCUMENTARY GENRE AND IBERODOCS
The documentary genre is difficult to define as documentaries adopt a myriad of forms. To Omar, documentaries let him feel close to reality and work with real people. “I like watching fiction films, but whenever I see one with known actors in it, I immediately feel very detached from the story.”
Documentaries show us stories from all corners of the world, allowing us to understand the diversity and connections of our cultural identities. “Recently, I have been editing a documentary about a region in the Amazon called the Vaupés, in Colombia. If this film did not exist, we would not know why certain people live there. What takes place there partly has to do with the Spanish colonisation and the Dutch history. Without documentaries like this, we would miss out on much of what happens in the world.”
‘Paradiso’ has been screened in different festivals and his latest stop will be at Iberodocs. Omar thinks that the festival has the potential to attract different audiences regardless of their nationality. “I have noticed that the programme is quite diverse, offering a great panorama of recent documentary making.”
Currently, Omar is busy editing his new documentary called Torpe (Clumsy) about a group of boys with Asperger Syndrome rehearsing a play. He is also planning to spend the summer filming in a fishing boat in the Ponza Island in Italy. “I will be observing how they fish anchovies. There is a legend about an Italian that came to the North of Spain to fish anchovies in the Cantabrian Sea and he fell in love with a woman. And this is how the canning industry established itself in the north of Spain.” He says that only two fishing boats remain in the island. He will stay on one of them, not that he intended to look for the last fishing boat…