Musings on Culture

Alejandra de Leiva's Blog

Category : Documentary

The Pedagogical Missions in the Second Spanish Republic

I’ve just seen a very interesting documentary about the Pedagogical Missions in the Second Spanish Republic. The film, directed by Gonzalo Tapia for Acacia Films in 2007, can be watched below (in Spanish with English subtitles).

When the Second Republic was proclaimed in 1931, Spain was a country riven by inequalities. It was a predominantly agrarian country with a deep division between landowners and peasants. Industrial development lagged far behind that of the US and Western Europe: modern industry existed only in a few Spanish regions. As a result, there was a a big chasm between urban and rural life.

One of the aims of the Republic was to fight these inequalities. Education was viewed as an indispensable instrument to lay the foundations of a new, equalitarian society. The government undertook an education reform to established free, obligatory, secular education for all. By then, the level of illiteracy stood at 44% per cent, and was predominant in rural areas.

The Pedagogical Missions were a project conceived to bring culture to remote villages. Teachers, school inspectors, artists and intellectuals travelled to the most underprivileged areas of the country to build libraries, show movies, reproductions of artworks, bring phonograph records and gramophones, teach music, organise open-aire theatre representations, etc., to bridge the chasm separating urban and rural areas. For many of the inhabitants of these towns, that was the first time they read a book, listened to a musical recording or saw a movie.

The documentary features actual interviews with former missionaries, inhabitants from these villages and original footage mostly shot by filmmaker José Val del Omar.

The implementation of the educational reform and the Pedagogical Missions arouse vehement protests from the conservative parties and the Church.

An interviewee in the documentary tells a funny and revealing anecdote: she explains that children were encouraged by the missionaries’ opponents to scornfully yell at them “Communists, communists!”… Some of the children did yell at them… but afterwards added: “When is the film?”.

Misiones Pedagogicas

This anecdote reminds me of the emotional and powerful last scene of La Lengua De Las Mariposas (The Butterfly’s Tongue), a film directed in 1999 by José Luis Cuerda, that adapted three short stories from Manuel Rivas’ book ¿Qué me quieres, amor?. People who have seen the film or read the book will know what I’m talking about; I don’t want to spoil the ending for those of you who don’t know the story!

In 1936, General Franco’s fascist uprising pushed Spain into a bloody civil war that resulted in the fascist victory in 1939 and the establishment of Franco’s dictatorship, until his death in 1975. The fascists’ regime carried out extensive purges among the teaching staff, that was regarded as permeated with communism. Franco’s regime endeavored to remove all vestiges of the Republicans’ education reform: Francoism reinforced class distinctions and ideological control.

To get a better understanding of the educational reform intended by the Second Republic, complement the viewing of the documentary with these  interesting articles:


“Hollywood Talkies” inaugurates a blog

The feature-lenght documentary Hollywood Talkies inaugurates a blog. Come take a look!


“Hollywood Talkies” in Venice

I’m glad to let you know that a documentary I was involved in, Hollywood Talkies, was presented at the 68th Venice Film Festival, Orizzonti section. I was involved at a very early stage of the project, when I was doing my masters degree in Barcelona, back in 2006-2007; I worked as a documentalist researcher. It’s a experimental documentary about the Spanish actors that went to Hollywood to participate in the first talkies in the 1930′s. I haven’t seen the final version yet; I’m looking forward to it!

More info HERE (in Catalan).


Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”

Werner Herzog is one of my favourite filmmakers. He has recently directed Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary about the Chauvet Cave in France, that contains the earliest known cave paintings and other evidence of Upper Paleolithic life. The film was released in the UK last Friday, I’m impatient to watch it!

More info about the production on Herzog’s website HERE.

Check the trailer:


“How film is made”

Nowadays that almost everything is digital, let’s watch this 1958 documentary to understand the origins of photographic and cinematic film…

“How film is made”


ARTE looking for documentary series for prime time

From the European Documentary Network:

ARTE France has launched a call for proposals for a documentary series of 40 X 26 minutes. The series is to be broadcasted in prime time.

The intention with the prime time documentary series is to start broadcasting from the fall season of 2011.

Given the short time span for the series and to ensure the successful completion of the programs, ARTE France will consider to supply editorial and technical capacity to the production.

The call for projects will be closed December 22, 2010.

Feedback on submitted projects will provided from February 2011 after the submitted ideas have gone through evaluation at the ARTE GEIE Programs Conference.

Here you can read ARTE’s call.


Documentary about Eadweard Muybridge (2)

Yesterday I watched the BBC documentary about Muybridge I told you about on my previous post. It was very interesting, a good complement to the Tate exhibition. You can now watch it on BBC iPlayer HERE.

Available until 11:34pm Tue, 28 Dec 2010

Duration: 60 minutes

Man walking

UPDATE (May 2013): The documentary is no longer available on BBC iPlayer, but you can now watch it on Youtube here.

Through Ciné-ressources, the catalogue of film archives and film libraries in France, I have found several digitised books written by Muybridge that are worth taken a look at:


Documentary about Eadweard Muybridge

Did anyone of you had the opportunity to visit the magnificent Muybridge exhibition at Tate Britain?

Muybridge’s innovative work in capturing motion through a series of photographs was a milestone on the road to motion pictures. In fact, he is often called the Father of the Motion Picture.

Tonight there’s a documentary on the BBC about his life and achievements.

10.35pm Tuesday 30 November on BBC ONE: Imagine – The Weird World Of Eadweard Muybridge


First Spanish sound film dating from 1923!

The popular perception is that the history of sound cinema begins with Warner Brother’s The Jazz Singer (1927). Nevertheless, efforts to synchronize recorded sound and film began much earlier (see, for instance, the Dickson Experimental Sound Film). What The Jazz Singer actually represents is the beginning of commercial acceptance of transition to sound films.

The Spanish newspaper El País informed yesterday that the first Spanish sound film (dating from 1923!) has been discovered at the Library of Congress. It is a 11min musical film in Spanish and Portuguese titled “From Far Seville”, directed by Lee de Forest in his Phonofilm sound-on-film process, and protagonized by Spanish dancer and singer Concha Piquer. It was shown at the Rivoli Theater in New York City on April 15, 1923, with 17 other short films.

HERE is a fragment of the documentary made about the discovery.

Read the article from El País HERE (in Spanish).

2004 interview with editor Walter Murch in which he discusses what is provisionally known by archivists as the Dickson Experimental Sound Film


Is crowd-funding the future for documentaries?

Check this interesting article about crowd-funding for documentaries.

Found at FilmContact.