‘The Maus’ Director Yayo Herrero Talks About His New Project, ’Los Quinquis’

“The Maus” director Yayo Herrero is preparing a second feature, “Los Quinquis,” a standout at this year’s edition of Madrid’s ECAM film school Incubator program, which he will take to this year’s San Sebastian Festival to pitch in the Meet Them! section for projects.

Apart from its inclusion at ECAM’s Incubator, the film took part in a writing lab organized by Spain’s Sgae authors’ collection society. Herrero himself attended February’s Berlinale Talents.

Himself a twin, Herrero’s project turns on Adan and Lois, twin brothers living on the outskirts of Madrid who share everything. Raised in The Red Tower, a building for rehoused residents controlled by East European organized crime groups, the boys must rely on one another to escapea seemingly endless cycle of crime and poverty.

Herrero discussed the project with Variety ahead of this year’s Meet Me!

In “The Maus,” one could say you explore the legacy of history still weighing on those who lived the events. “Los Quinquis” is about the world of drugs and juvenile delinquency in Spain towards the end of last century, but still feels relevant, urgent. How do you assess the weight of the recent past?

Cinema is a vehicle for revisiting things that strongly inform the way we view life today. Understanding who we were helps us to be what we truly wish to be. That’s why, when I write a story, I like having one foot in the present and the other in the past.  

This project encompasses the collective visual imagination of the 1970s and 1980s and evokes much of the music and rhythms of that era. What can you say about the role music plays in your films?    

Music is the art-form that brings us closest to the world of our memories. Life experiences of the past usually spring to mind whenever we hear a song or any piece of music. They become, in a way, the soundtrack of our memory, rekindling our rawest and most immediate emotions.  I set out, in “Los Quinquis,” to mix sounds inherent to the past with the sounds coming out of our districts today, the aim being to link two worlds that are seemingly very far apart in terms of time. In short, to connect the reality of our districts today with the memories we grew up with in the 1970s and 1980s.

You said that “Los Quinquis” was a project that had to be shot in 16mm. Why’s that?

Take a walk through some of the districts on the outskirts of Madrid today, like San Cristóbal de los Angeles, for instance, and you’ll think time has stood still. Most of those districts were built in the 1960s and 1970s and they’re still almost exactly as they were back then. The sandy parks, the buildings, that retro aesthetic, with those reallocated housing estates, clothes hanging on clothes lines, the scorched vacant lots – all of that takes me back to the districts of my childhood. Given all that, 16mm seemed the right format to me, because of its grainy texture and the natural flickering effect of celluloid. That, I thought, as far as audiences are concerned, could provide a tinge of magic.

In “Los Quinquis,” you talk about your father’s relationship with that generation in Spain. You also say that the film is a tribute to your father. But where did the story of this film come from?

In the 1980s and ‘90s, my twin brother and I lived in Oviedo with my father, who was a prison supervision attorney at Villabona Prison. Many relatives of convicted delinquents would often come to our house, trying to get reduced sentences for their loved ones. It wasn’t until 2013 that I first toyed with the idea of writing a story about them. It came to me during my father’s funeral, when some of those small-time delinquents of my childhood came up to us to offer their condolences. My father had helped many of them through the toughest years of their lives. In a way, the film is a direct tribute not only to my father, but also to all those people – from the present-day point of view of a pair of twin brothers. Because my vision as a director is necessarily informed by the memory of my twin brother.

Saying something is made for global audiences is almost cliché in today’s digital climate. How do you, as a director, deal with this paradigm shift where all of a sudden, films have an expanded reach? Does that affect the creative process?  

For filmmakers, this paradigm-shift entails constant reassessment of how we go about our work. Re-invention is evolution, and that’s good because it forces us to face new challenges all the time. As a filmmaker, I never want to stop learning; I want to enjoy what I do, step out of my comfort zone. Paradoxically, although the digital world offers lots of screens and possibilities, deep down I want “Los Quinquis” to be executed as a traditional movie, shot on film, and screened in movie theaters to large audiences. That, I think, is the biggest challenge for a director in this digital era.

Jamie Lang and John Hopewell contributed to this article.

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