This is a film still from THOSE WHO DESIRE by Elena López Riera at Cheap Cuts Doc Fest 2020.

Cheap Cuts Doc Fest 2020 – NEXT STOP: SPAIN I

NEXT STOP is a new strand at Cheap Cuts Doc Fest (29 JUN to 05 JUL) highlighting films & filmmakers from a specific country. This year’s focus is on Spain in two live events that opened the festival’s digital programme. Here’s what we saw… [PART ONE]


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NEXT STOP: SPAIN took place in two parts, each event featuring a number of streamed films followed by discussion with the filmmakers. Introducing the live streams, head programmer and festival co-director Natalia Garay explained the focus would be on “highlighting some of the best short documentaries from Spanish filmmakers and Spanish production companies” featuring a mixture of both “emerging and established filmmakers”. The initiative is supported by the Spanish Embassy in the UK.

This is a film still from FAR FAINT LIGHTS by Paolo Aguilar Boschetti at Cheap Cuts Doc Fest 2020.
FAR FAINT LIGHTS by Paolo Aguilar Boschetti at Cheap Cuts 2020.

So, what did we see? Opening film FAR FAINT LIGHTS (2019, 20mins) by Paolo Aguilar Boschetti represents a fading moment in time when, according to the festival programme notes, “the cycles of nature have changed and the rural towns are abandoned”. The film documents a seemingly remote community where four elderly farmers are stuck looking after their farms and each other (“there’s four of us, hard to know who’s worse off”). It’s a strange, other world, a beautifully framed Endgame preserved forever in amber light, where the subjects occasionally come to speak to the filmmakers over the top of the locked-down camera. This is an eerily quiet place where ”the fields don’t yield” and where there are “no more fat cows”. A quietly inescapable purgatory “where we haven’t done evil or good”, the shepherd appears missing and there is no other witness. The only question seems to be about when – and how – to stop: “When does it expire?”

This is a film still from ANCORA LUCCIOLE by María Elorza at Cheap Cuts 2020.
ANCORA LUCCIOLE by María Elorza at Cheap Cuts 2020.

Next up is a film about the pure poetry of light, María Elorza’s ANCORA LUCCIOLE (aka Still Fireflies / 2018, 14mins). It takes as its starting point a 1972 article by Pier Paolo Pasolini that addresses the mass disappearance of fireflies and focuses our present day attention on the folly of our species (“Why do they have so many missiles?”). Threaded with light, fireflies are replaced with scenes of modern cinema audiences uplit by their phones and a young child playing with a ‘firefly’ in a jar (“My Pet Firefly” a toy, another facsimile like the cell phones… “It doesn’t light up. I’ll switch it on”).

The dreamlike memories of those old enough to remember the fireflies are beautifully realised in near mythic black and white footage of an interview with the filmmaker’s grandmother. Like FAR FAINT LIGHTS, ANCORA LUCCIOLE is about the passing of the light – “the world will end because of man’s foolishness” – but it’s also about how light reveals us in the darkness. In our Anthropocene age, when humans have reached near dominance, old age serves as our only ark, preserving both our passing wisdom and witness.

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This is a film still from ELENA UNIVERSO by Marga Amirall at Cheap Cuts Doc Fest 2020.
ELENA UNIVERSO by Marga Amirall at Cheap Cuts Doc Fest 2020.

“There is a contradiction between what I mentioned about having been born with an artistic talent, which is imposed by nature and which I don’t reject, and other things which are imposed on me but I do reject.”


The next film is ELENA UNIVERSO (2020, 18 mins) by Marga Amirall. An impeccable collage of readings from Amirall’s own grandmother Elena’s intimate notes about her therapy sessions in the 1960s, Super 8mm footage shot by her ex-husband (Amirall’s grandfather) and Elena’s own paintings and drawings. The final shot, as the family – and their maid – dances an energetic twist, reveals a haunting lack of joy on Elena’s face (“I see my body as a machine”).

Throughout, Amirall’s re-edit of the male gaze and the need to give an affirmative voice to Elena’s painful reflections create a thoroughly moving account how a woman’s ambitions were almost entirely subsumed by her place in the world (“I’ve been like a maid without pay”). Readings from divorce papers hint at the struggle behind the scenes, of a marriage that had descended into a “civil war” of violent struggle. Freed by ecclesiastical decree from “bed and board”, Elena reflects on a marriage where “we don’t look for each other” and where ultimately “I had wanted to find love and I failed.” Powerful, uncomfortable, yet proudly uplifting and defiant.

This is a still from THOSE WHO DESIRE by Elena López Riera at Cheap Cuts Doc Fest 2020.
THOSE WHO DESIRE by Elena López Riera at Cheap Cuts 2020.

The final film in this selection is THOSE WHO DESIRE (2018, 24mins) by Elena López Riera. Possibly our favourite of the bunch, it deals with the hyper-masculine pigeon fancying communities of Southern Spain. Riera mostly maintains an observational and uncritical distance from this cross-generational community, her only commentary and contrast coming from a reading of the rulebook which serves as an occasional voice over. We learn that the pigeons don’t compete on speed but on ‘lust’, reared to the point of frenzy where higher scores are awarded for males that seduce and fly with females for the duration of the 140 minute race. Homosexual couplings – consisting of “unequivocal sexual deviance, persistently persecuting other males or being pursued by them” – lead to disqualification.

The painting of birds’ wings in their owner’s colours hails uncomfortably from a different place but creates an unintentionally queer aesthetic, as if Disneytoon’s PLANES had made a gonzo nature documentary about LGBTQ+ inequality. But this is also a film where the stunning soundscape of wings, of the breeze, of storms looming and of pigeons cooing, creates space for Riera’s subtle ideas, reflections and juxtapositions to breathe and take flight. And let’s not forget the near perfect Beat poetry of the radio callout of lost pigeons’ names, a Burroughsian cut up of seemingly meaningless cultural references: “I’m Unemployed”, “Know-It-All”, “Insert Coin”, “Clockwork Orange”, “Plastic Sea” and “Ford Fiesta”. That these are mirrored in the closing sequence of the film with a whispered reading of the pigeon fancier’s own names – “Luis, Ángel, Tomás, Gabriel…” – serves as quietly respectful testimony to powerful bonds and rituals of community.

This is a screen grab from the NEXT STOP: SPAIN livestream showing Natalia Garay & Marga Amirall in conversation at Cheap Cuts Doc Fest 2020.
Natalia Garay & Marga Amirall in conversation at Cheap Cuts Doc Fest 2020.

The only filmmaker to be able to join the festival in this Q&A session was Marga Amirall (ELENA UNIVERSO). Talking with Natalaia Garay about the challenge of giving such intimate details life, Amirall saw her film as “a way of making her [grandmother] dance again” emphasising the details of a voice and life that were “more proud than sad”. Keeping it in the family – the film was mostly a solo project for Amirall, her mother and aunt providing the voiceovers readings – maintains this sense of intimacy and authenticity. Spanning several generations in its making, Amirall’s film stands as a universal “homage to other women of her time”.

Reflecting on her own broader practice as a filmmaker and educator, Amirall recognises that “our way of seeing is built by the images we see”. She hopes that her work inspires filmmakers to feel “more free to tell stories in other ways that are beyond the stereotypes”. Which seems to capture the spirit of Cheap Cuts too.

> Book your #CheapCuts2020 Festival Pass HERE <


FUNDAMENTS by Peter Cerovšek at Cheap Cuts 2020.

RADIANT CIRCUS is delighted to be joining Cheap Cuts Doc Fest 2020 as a judge and award sponsor for this year’s Unconventional Storytelling strand.

> Book your #CheapCuts2020 Festival Pass HERE <

Main featured image: THOSE WHO DESIRE (2018) by Elena López Riera.

This is an image of the poster for the Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival 2020 Edition.

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