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Top documentaries. Bach in Madrid by Jose del Rio. Interview by American director Ken Rodgers

Top documentaries. Bach in Madrid by Jose del Rio. Interview by American director Ken Rodgers
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Bach in Madrid by Jose del Rio

On March 14 2014, the iconic Filmoteca in Madrid (8 pm) will release the documentary ‘Bach en Madrid’ by Spanish film director Jose del Rio. Today, American director Ken Rodgers, interviews Jose del Rio on Yareah magazine.

On attendance: Pedro Joaquín del Rey (‘Amigos de la Filmoteca’ president), Javier Tolentino (director of ‘El Séptimo Vicio’ in Radio3), Oscar Gershensohn (director of La Capilla Real de Madrid), Andrés Ruíz Tarazona (musicologist) and Jose del Rio (‘Bach en Madrid’ director.)

K.R.- Hello, Jose. I like the way your trailer for BACH IN MADRID grabs me, so to speak, by the front of the shirt and drags me into the action. I want to watch the whole documentary!

What first got you interested in film and how did you get interested in filming BACH IN MADRID? Were you approached by someone else or is this film your creation from idea to finished product?

J.R.- “Bach in Madrid” was born by chance. In 2009, a mutual friend put me in touch with Oscar Gershensohn, director of the Royal Chapel in Madrid and artistic director of Johann Sebastian Bach cycle. Oscar explained me that they were playing the integral of the sacred music by JS Bach. At that time, they had spent six and half years working and hopefully, the cycle would end on Christmas 2012.

Two hundred Cantatas, two Passions, Motets, Masses, and Oratorios. We’re talking about a cycle of enormous dimensions. Interpreted in an only city is quite exceptional. In Spain had never happened, and very few times internationally. The first thing that shocked me was that an event of this importance was not being recorded in any audiovisual format. To me it was unthinkable not to leave documentary evidence that, at a time and in a place, musicians were struggling to get a musical milestone in the Spanish musical history.

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Bach in Madrid by Jose del Rio. Interview by American director Ken Rodgers

K.R.- I wonder if you could tell us how the process of making BACH IN MADRID unfolded. How did you conceive the idea, how did you finance it, how did you film and edit it, how did you, or how do you propose, to distribute it?

J.R.- The biggest challenge was to condense nine years of work in the 90 minutes of a film. From the beginning we took some decisions to bring unity to the project. I did not want that music dominates the documentary. I thought it was a common mistake. Our approach was that image was so important as music. It was a really difficult task, because we were in front of the best music maybe ever written, but this was the objective. Furthermore, I did not want to make a film to recreate Bach’s life with wigs and this kind of stuff. I wanted to make a documentary in present time, explaining the problems of musicians who have a very difficult professional work, and they also have their own day to day, with all the difficulties, routines and advantages of living in a big city like Madrid . Finally, I also wanted to show the feelings of the audience, which is always the final judge.

We started looking for the visual aspect to present the documentary. “Bach in Madrid” is a film about the sacred music of Bach, once written to communicate with God. I thought I had to give the impression of something big and majestic. Fortunately, most of the churches were very generous and provided us their rooms, libraries, and places to shoot the film. Of all of them, I would like to highlight the Parish of “Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro”, apart from having a gorgeous building, they provided us with many of the locations that appear in “Bach in Madrid.”

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Bach in Madrid by Jose del Rio. Church of N S del Perpetuo Socorro en Madrid (interior)

We shot a lot of material. Over 100 hours: performances, interviews, concerts, etc… Firstly, we made a diagram on a whiteboard about how we thought it had to be the movie, with its three acts, conflicts, climax… and where to develop every thematic block. We were editing at the same time. I did not want hang out with all the material and start from nothing. When we had edited twenty minutes, we let a few months, adding thematic blocks. Then there was the forty minutes. Then, we start again until we reach sixty minutes. Entering new sequences, recuperating discarded material sometimes. And finally attacked ninety-minute piece.

K.R.- Betty and I love “foreign films” and watch them all the time. Of course over here, American movies dominate the viewing venues and foreign films are usually initially available in “art house” theaters. I wonder how you, as a European filmmaker, feel about mainstream American films?

J.R.- It is a double problem. Firstly, an “artistic” problem, because USA has an incredible filmography, with many of the top titles and filmmakers in history. Movies I’m looking forward to seeing, because they are made by people I admire or who have served me as reference. The second is “industrial.” Large film distributors dominate the market and impose their conditions in Spanish cinemas. Moreover, the number of movie theaters is finite, and if the success of the year appears on Christmas season with a circulation of 500 copies ( or whatever) and other film for children also opens with a similar issue, we found that two American movies monopolize the 40, 50 or 60 percent of the theaters in the country. In Spain most of the films are dubbing, which leads to the following formula: an American movie has more money production, more time of shooting, more ads and if off, to make it more comfortable, it’s in Spanish. And you have to fight in those conditions for our films, or independent films from other countries (including USA). I think it’s unfair.

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Ken Rodgers is a writer, teacher and filmmaker who lives in Boise, Idaho along with his wife, Betty. Ken has Master of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing from the University of San Francisco. His short fiction, essays and poems have been published in a variety of fine literary magazines. Along with his wife, Betty, Ken is in the final stages of producing and distributing a documentary film about his company of United States Marines at the Siege of Khe Sanh, Vietnam, in 1968. To find out more about the film, titled Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, visit http://www.bravotheproject.com

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