Introduction of Pau Faus and and his transition from architecture to his work as a documentary movie director:
My name is Pau Faus. I am from Barcelona, Spain and I am here at Carleton because in the last three years I have directed two documentaries: one on the Platform of People Affected by Mortgage (PAH) and another on Ada Colau, who was an activist of the PAH and is now the mayor of Barcelona.
Could you describe your work and the themes with which you deal even in the projects before your documentaries?
Well I’m a trained architect, I finished my studies in architecture in 2002 and during the first years I worked as an architect. But at the same time, I began to make projects for art centers or for cultural centers. They were projects that had to do with architecture and urbanism but from a slightly more social perspective. I have always been very interested in self-construction of architecture or self-management of public spaces, so when you study architecture, in theory, you study because you have to decide how a building is, like having to use a public space, etc. But the reality is that many places in Europe perhaps less so than in Latin America, and much more in other places, public space architecture is something that is built and thought, and modified by the people who use it. Then, in time, I realized that I was much more interested in this architecture and this urbanism that people proposed, not the one proposed by the architect; I gradually became more like an observer. Instead of thinking about how to do it, I was more interested in documenting or understanding why this happens because another thing happened, then this progressively takes you away from the classic role of the architect. Every time it makes less sense to work in a way and I was doing more and more of these projects on self-construction self-management ways to use public space always with this part a bit as a critical vocation, maybe they were projects about practices in the public space that are criminalized, as is the case for the the street vendor in South America, for example I did a project about this. Or how can the gardens in the periphery of Barcelona that are usually criminalized or can even be considered as unimportant, and for me they are very important examples to understand many things.
So, in this I was working many years and in 2011 when there was the great moment of citizen protests in Spain because of the economic crisis, there I had been doing these projects for a long time, which were always very short projects, one month here, two months there. And I realized that I wanted to get involved in something more continuous (not so small), something more real because these types of projects that are more theoretical do not have a very direct contact with reality, they are like reflections, it’s like a laboratory, but I wanted something a little more direct and apart of something that was in my day to day, not too far. Then I approached the platform affected by mortgages (PAH) that was a group that was fighting against evictions and was very popular at the time and I offered to help and there, I started doing video work for them. In that environment had the label «Pau is the one who makes the videos.» Well naturally we started to document all of this trip and this ended up in a film that has already had another level of film that would be made with a producer and has won prizes at the Spanish level and has had many awards …etc. That is a little about how I have come to what I do now.
Can you talk about this transition to being an observer. How do you capture reality and how was this process different for each documentary?
Well the first question that I usually ask myself and also happens with our projects is when I know something a little from the inside, because you have the curiosity or because you are interested, usually what ends up activating the need to say “this has to be explained” because to explain something you need to have to be at least a little bit of curiosity. Because then it’s a long time, a movie lasts for years or a year and a half, then there has to be something there. There will be many moments during the project that you will think: is this worth doing, or not ? So really, it has to be something that matters to you because if not, you will not do it right. So in these situations normally what works for me is that you know the inside and you think, people need to know this. For example, you know the retirees who grow the gardens there by the side of the freeway and people say «ah, they should take it away» and then you do a little and you say, people have to know what’s behind all this. It’s not just this image. Or the evicted who protest in front of a bank and such and you say it is not only this. So this is the main thing, because, there is something that you want to contribute. There is a story that is known to most and you think there is a part of this story that is not known to exist and I think it is important to explain this. In the case of PAH it is to explain how this works inside. In the case of Alcaldessa is to explain how this person is living this change, because she was very famous at the media level, and any person a little popular generates many theories. “She is an opportunist, she only wants money” there can be these type of comments or there may be other comments like she is a heroine, that is to say a lot of stories are generated, no? And you see that there is a part of this story that is not being told or that it is not reaching people and it is important to explain it, this is the first thing. If you tell something, from my point of view, it is because you think it is necessary for this to be known and in my case usually because, it is because there is already a story that I believe needs to be completed. Because to be an account of what people already know, there are many movies that do this, but I do not care about making this type of movie. A film that will explain how Ada Colau arrives at the Mayor using everything we have already seen on television and interviewing journalists who talk about this phenomenon would not interest me. But in any case the idea is to teach, complete the story of what people know. And, in some cases you do it in one way or another but, this would be a bit the leitmotiv of any project that I do.
Can you talk a little bit about how the PAH came to happen?
It was a time when there was a very, very angry atmosphere. It’s these moments that you watch TV and you think «wow, this is a disaster», or you read the press and say the same, or you open Facebook and everyone is very angry, but you can tell that you can become this. Your way to react against this is to simply complain in front of the screen or say «bah this sucks» or even laugh because in the end comes a little cynicism. If you see «another banker who will not go to jail yet stole a hundred million», you can say «son of a bitch» you can get angry, or you can say «I’ll just laugh”. Then I have noticed that all this is a kind of paralysis because you do not know what to do against it. It was not a very pleasant thing, I did not like it, and above all I saw it in the others, I saw people complaining a lot and I got this good thing. Let’s complain less and do something. And that’s how I decided to go to PAH. I could have decided other things but I remember that after a few weeks of being in PAH, already recording videos and such, I no longer had this feeling of frustration, you know? From looking at Facebook and saying «oh shit», looking at Facebook people complaining…I also did not give myself a medal «because you do something, do not complain so much.» Because I understand a lot of people do not have time, people have jobs , people have families, people have every right to complain, not everyone has the time to devote or do not have to decide to do so. The point was not to do it so you feel like «I do it right and you do it wrong. » It was more of a personal thing, this kind of frustration disappeared, and in in the end I also did it for me.
Can you talk about the United States and if you see some similarities to what happened in Spain after the economic crisis? How do you see how we can move forward in the United States?
What I do think when I see the United States is that there will be people who are happy with the change because, in the end many people have voted for the new president. Because in the end it is a democracy and who wins, rules. And this is quite scary too, for me personally it seems like a step back in many ways, right? So if on the one hand, seeing the experiences in Spain and elsewhere, I understand that the first reactions are reactions moreso of anger and frustration. In Spain when there was all the protest of the indignados and of those who participated in 15M that occupied the squares and the cities. It was all very, very amorphous, we were tired and many people said good… but what do you propose? We propose everything, right? It was these type of phrases that were also said in the revolution in France in the May of ‘68.. These phrases were those of realists, and wanting the impossible. This kind of speech stated “we do not want to materialize, we are angry, this is a disaster, we want to start from scratch” everything that was said did not have much concretion. But surely it was necessary in that moment. Then all of this energy dissipates as they return to their homes, because you can not hold onto this for such a long time. These good people have already complained, they have already shouted a little. But from there they begin to build more concrete things. The PAH was not born from there but the PAH before 15M was very small, it was only made up of 4 or 5 people in all of Catalonia. After 15M, it expanded throughout Spain. The struggles against health reports, culture, and I do not know what, there were only 4 or 5 people fighting against this but 15 M worked like a great network. It exhibited what was hidden, “I have a contact in Madrid” and others, all of these being created by the network. I guess that after this initial reaction of rage or perplexity, what will eventually happen is that in the concrete forensics people focus on specific issues: immigration for example. Well it’s fine to say, “we are all the same.” These are phrases that are taken by the wind but then maybe in some places people feel strong, feel accompanied, and create a platform in defense of Mexican immigrants that end up paralyzing deportation. I do not know, but I suppose at some point it will move from the generic to the concrete, and that is where it is possible to better attack. The great success of the PAH was… “in Spain there are more empty flats than people without flats.” It’s like things you can explain to a young child. “Why do they take people out of their own house if the country is full of empty houses?” “ Banks that have been bailed out with public money pull people out of their homes and also have a lot of empty floors.” This sort of thing, right? Well, these are all very concrete things and very concrete demands and very concrete slogans that everyone understands. And this grows. If the slogans are said in a way where you do not know if it is true or it is a lie or they are very … “No citizen is illegal.” I agree with this sentence but this sentence does not build on much, right?
I imagine that your future works will deal with similar themes on that of contrasting places of presence and fleeting places that are ignored in the capitalist system?
I do not think that it is a singular thing, only of the capitalist system. I mean in our lives where things happen to us very quickly and one feels the need to stop, and we will stop here. It is true that as we now live with social networks for the way we communicate, there is less and less time to listen. You are sometimes writing an email while watching a TV screen, while you have a cell phone open, while another person is talking to you, while you are doing 4 or 5 other things at once. But in the same way in facebook you consume “ah is the birthday of my friend”, and “whoever is traveling”, “ah a bomb in Saudi Arabia has killed 80 people” “Ah, my soccer team has just won.” All of the information is the exact same, and taken in the same way. Then, secure the work of a journalist or a documentalist or anyone who wants to explain something slightly and explain a moment. This is not it, this thing that I saw here that has happened in this country is important and deserves attention. It is not the same as the birthday of your friend or the party of I do not know who. So, I think that maybe now ever more than ever and from now to twenty years surely even more, there will be the need to stop and analyze and to devote time to things, every time it will become more important. At the level of journalism it is now very clear, the journalism and free internet that only works with ads and clicks that has led to this very spectacular journalism that the title only wants you to enter, and the title promises you things that are not real or false news, etc. Which makes a real journalism more necessary than ever before, of course it has to be a journalism that pays well to its journalist because if they pay him $600, he will do it wrong. There is the need to inform well and to spend time on it, which I think have always been important but now surely it is of the same importance or even more important the way in which information is given to us.
What are your plans for future projects?
Well, I’m interested in the line of what I’ve been working on. Specifically in the case of what is happening in Barcelona…this leap from activism to the institution, like what really can be done or what is learned on one side and the other. I find it interesting because it is a personal experience, that people who interest me are having. I also find it interesting in the line of the other two documentaries because I think that it is important in these times that we have these types of documentaries because society offers very few alternatives. We are not going to create a documentary that when you finish watching it you you end up wanting to jump out the window. I think that sometimes we have to try giving tools, and it has to be useful so that it serves for something. This is highly criticized by people who do not believe that cinema has to have this but the cinema, the theater, music is for what you want it to be. There is no one way to do things. I think also what is happening in Barcelona apart from those topics that interest me, is that the way these people are living can also be a useful and interesting reference for other people in other places who are thinking about how we can question certain things. Nor is it to sell what happens in Barcelona as if it were the answer to everything because that would be a mistake too. Because when you put very high expectations and then it fails, it’s even more difficult because you say «bah they said this would work and it didn’t work.» Promising a lot and failing makes it so that people lose hope in the movement or even in the possibility of change. You also have to show what you do wrong and what you are learning because even this I think it can be useful or necessary to show. While always thinking about yourself, you also have to do something that you like because if you do not, you will end up becoming a kind of soldier. I make videos because it’s important and maybe you’re at home and you say: I do not want to make this video, this is very boring, or you have to find the way that you feel fulfilled because in the end if you do not become a soldier who follows, who obeys, or who works for the cause and this does not work either. One has to listen from time to time, that is to say: do I want to do this or I am doing it because it is what I have to do?
Could you say shortly what you want us to definitely get out of your work and this workshop with you?
Maybe it’s a bit what we talked about on the first day, that we have to learn or be aware that many of the things we’re told, no just kidding many of the things we repeat is information that we’ve been given that we have not built. Direct experience is in many ways the best form of learning. At all levels, it does not mean that one has to go to Iraq to understand what happens in Iraq. You can read people who have gone there. You can read two or three and your experience will be to build a small constellation of opinions and you build your idea from a mix that you have decided, for example. It does not mean that you have to go, If you want to know what happens with an event on the news, you can read two or three different news sources or two or three opinion articles to open a little more analysis on that. It’s not just going to the place. It is also being a little aware that this happens to us because we often hear people talking and arguing, I do not know: Mexican immigrants in the United States. I’m sure, it happens to you all a lot that you will hear people saying the phrase they have heard on TV. “Because it can not be, because they are murderers”, I’m making this up as an example. I do not think anyone in his family has been killed. Obviously, that person is repeating that message. The others also use it, I am not saying that it is only on one side, these phrases that tell you that houses without people, people without houses, and you hear people saying look they are already repeating it, I mean it works and it will always work but if one wants to be a little, a little more responsible then one would have to inform oneself a little more, no? Look, if not, or “oh look it’s true” or the same in the other. If in addition this, this experience, can be made going to the places, knowing them, asking, etc. Well, better. But I think this is important. And the work I do, I do it for myself because as I do it, I also learn and I do it because I think it is important that it is known. It would be very boring also for me to explain something that I already know and now I’m going to spend a year to explain it, for me it also has to be a learning experience that I am also learning, you know? Because it’s also a real curiosity, I think it would be this.
Christina: Hi Pau, thank you for sharing your experiences with us and thank you for teaching us about PAH and the struggle for living.
Jean: Ah okay, thank you very much, Pau.I’ve really learned a lot about the PAH social movement that I have seen as that has interested me I want to learn more of that is a subject that interests me a lot, social movements, and I have also Learned from Ada Colau, who would say that he is a very interesting figure, which shows that it is possible to be an activist and then bringing that spirit of activism to politics is something very interesting. Thank you very much.
Pallav: I learned a lot about social movements and how that translates into politics. Thank you very much.
Jessi: We were lucky to have Pau here with us. I think for me the most activity, I do not know more impressive, was to do this activity at the end of class to need to think about what we want to show of a scene because it made me appreciate more the thought behind each scene because you can always show Many things but always have to choose something. It has been very interesting to see it and to think about how difficult it is. And many thanks to Pau.
In the streets, in the bars … .. the song!