The young Cuban filmmaker and screenwriter Vanessa Batista decided to make an emotional documentary about some Catalans who emigrated to Cuba and never returned to their native land, but in the process she came upon some authentic film relics that changed everything.
"Los que Se Quedaron" (Those that Stayed Behind) is being presented Saturday at the Spanish Cultural Center in Miami by the director, who currently lives in Catalonia.
As she said in an interview with EFE, the title and the documentary speak about the emigrants who weren't "Indianos."
"The difference between 'Indianos' and emigrants is that the former returned to Spain very rich, while the latter were trapped" overseas in the Americas and could never return, she said.
Batista said that from the start "she sought to portray the emigrants' emotions, not the didactic or historical aspect of their story, though during the shoot in Cuba she had to revise the structure.
The family of the Catalan Francisco Carulla, whom Batista met in Santiago de Cuba, gave an unexpected twist to the project when he gave Batista some unedited footage almost a century old that shows the Barcelona of 1926 and its surroundings.
"They're 16-millimeter films that a whole generation of this family had never seen. We couldn't find a projector in Cuba, so the family decided to trust me with them so I could review them. They were incredibly well preserved," Batista recalled.
"What I found in that old footage changed the documentary's story," she said.
The director, who before emigrating in the opposite direction, from Cuba to Catalonia, never had any previous relations with that Spanish region, found the work a very emotional experience.
The head of the Carulla family in 1926 at age 30 had the good idea to buy a movie camera to take on the only trip he made in his life.
"He wasn't rich but was doing well in Cuba. On that trip, Francisco installed running water in the house of his relatives" in Catalonia, the director said.
As to what the Caribbean island would have been like if he had invested there all the fortune that he took to Catalonia, Batista preferred "not to judge history from the present day," as he parents taught her, and who were incidentally both historians.
For the documentary, Batista took the poetic license to imagine letters that Francisco Carulla sent from Cuba to his relatives in Spain. "Las Ramblas, thank goodness you've done something worthwhile with the money from Cuba," says the voice-over.
But the saddest character in the documentary is Ramona, an old lady living in a village outside Havana, who was left trapped on the island "the victim of the men in her life."
"I don't even know where I am," Ramona said in an interview in her lonely apartment. The Catalan lost a son in the Angola war and was living in poverty.
"Unfortunately, she has since passed away," Batista said.