Another Way of Exerting Censorship: The (Institutional) Limits of Creative Freedom

Sonia García López (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid)

 

In this section, we broaden our approach to concept of censorship within this dossier in order to reflect upon the informal, concealed or blurry practices through which audiovisual and cinematic creativity is limited, for a variety of moral, ideological and political reasons. Specifically, we are approaching how artistic creativity is, at times, quartered in films commissioned by public or private entities, or those designed for their circulation within institutional contexts. For this purpose, we are analyzing Sevilla 2030 (2003), made by architect and experimental filmmaker Juan Sebastián Bollaín, a work that was commissioned by the Gerencia Municipal de Urbanismo de Sevilla and the Oficina del Plan de Sevilla, and was never officially released due to the restrictions that these very institutions exercised over it.

Some Background

The File Room, an artistic project started by Antoni Muntadas in 1994, is a space of reflection and activism on diverse forms of censorship throughout history, from antiquity to our days. The website, managed by the National Coalition Against Censorship (New York, USA) since 2001 contains a database that allows searches using different criteria: date, place, reasons and means through which censorship was applied in a variety of time periods. The File Room, a pioneering project of cyber activism, came into existence after Muntadas’ work, TVE: primer intento (1989) –commissioned by Televisión Española (TVE)– was rejected for broadcast in the cultural program Metrópolis, without any kind of explanation.

Within the context of the limits of creation, it is also worth mentioning Gabinete de crisis, a program made by Arturo Bastón, Kikol Grau and Félix Pérez-Hita for the local television channel Barcelona Televisió (BTV). Manuel Huerga, director of the channel between 1997 and 2003, pushed for a model of creative and innovative television that had achieved international impact, fostering shows that are today considered cult artifacts such as Boing Boing Budda, directed by Huerga himself and Andrés Hispano. However, after the pilot of Gabinete de crisis was censored several times, its creators started distributing it in alternative spaces under the title Gabinete de crisis. Un programa de televisión que no verá en televisión / Gabinete de crisis. A television show that will not be watched on television.

Sevilla 2030 (Juan Sebastián Bollaín, 2003)

Around the same years in which Bastón, Grau and Pérez-Hita were hitting a wall, the Sevillian filmmaker was commissioned Sevilla 2030 by the Gerencia Municipal de Urbanismo of Sevilla in order to promote the 2003 Plan General. Before that, Bollaín had already produced interesting works in the fields of documentary and experimental cinema, such as La Alameda (1978), a medium length film produced by the Seville College of Architects and conceived as an invitation for neighbors, associations, political parties, experts etc. to discuss the future of this part of the Andalusian city.  According to the film’s description in PLAT.tv, the film offers “a great variety of conversations with popular interlocutors, through a noticeable experimentation with the relationship between sound and image, making the film a hasty spectacle, which is far from being a dogmatic lesson on urbanism”. Upon the making of La Alameda, the city of Seville became Bollaín’s cinematic focus, experimenting with genres, languages and formats in a variety of essay films, almost always parodic, tackling Seville’s urban idiosyncrasies. Sevilla 2030 is directly related to C.A.7.9. Un enigma del futuro (1979) –in this case, with Cadis as a protagonist– and the tetralogy Soñar con Sevilla, made in 1979 using Super 8: in Sevilla tuvo que ser, Sevilla rota, Sevilla en tres niveles, Bollaín deploys the codes of fake documentaries, adding a futuristic approach, to offer a critical take on a city undergoing significant transformations during the dictatorship.

Thirty years later, establishing a continuity within the above-mentioned works, Sevilla 2030 appropriates the representational codes of those information discourses that usually function as veracity and objectivity markers in order to weave a futurist-documentary fantasy in which the director places spectators in “a planet falling apart since humans have been unable to solve several long-existing, serious, problems. Only a city—Seville—has been able overcome this challenge, turning into a model to imitate for the remaining urban centers still existing on Earth. From an in-orbit studio, inside a Ugandan artificial satellite, two black presenters host a hallucinating reportage on Seville, while, in the background, through large windows, we see the blue planet’s rattles. Bollaín’s post apocalyptic Seville shows “the wonderful results of the wise decisions that were carried out by local politicians in 2003, following the dictates of the Plan General”. The voice of actor Juan Diego gives a poetic and meditative dimension to the film. At the same time, it acquires an enormously critical potential through its articulation as well as through the use of music in juxtaposition with diverse fragments of television programs, interviews etc., questioning the idyllic tone of the documentary. Bollaín tells us that the script was approved by the urbanism delegate of the Seville city council, and there were preparations to project the film on a gigantic screen attached to the town hall’s building, in Plaza de San Francisco. Nevertheless, a few days before the opening, the council member, after watching the final version of the film, decided “to place it inside a drawer with seven locks”, and stopped the construction of the big screen. The film was subsequently projected in a small office, just for the press, with no publicity. This is the only circulation the film had until the Plataforma de Difusión e Investigación Audiovisual, PLAT.tv, decided to include Juan Sebastian Bollaín’s works, as part of its online archive.

We would like to thank Juan Sebastián Bollaín for allowing us to showcase Sevilla 2030 in this journal and Víctor Berlín, PLAT’s coordinator, for his help to carry out this initiative.

Next, we include a text on Sevilla 2030 written by Juan Sebastián Bollaín. We would like to thank the author for granting his permission for publication in Tecmerin: Journal of Audiovisual Media

Technical Specifications

Sevilla 2030 (Juan Sebastián Bollaín, 2003)

  • Documentary-Fiction Film. Format: Digital S, Betacam SP
  • Production: Producciones Bayona, Gerencia Municipal de Urbanismo de Sevilla (GMU), Oficina del Plan de Sevilla (OPS)
  • Production Management: María Zambrano
  • Script: Juan Sebastián Bollaín con la colaboración de Isabel Rus
  • Voice: Juan Diego

Next, we include a text on Sevilla 2030 written by Juan Sebastián Bollaín. We would like to thank the author for granting his permission for publication in Tecmerin: Journal of Audiovisual Media

Sevilla 2030

Juan Sebastián Bollaín

The Urbanism Delegate, sitting on his chair, reads the script in our presence. We are sitting on a couch nearby, waiting for him to finish to hear his opinion. It is an optimistic wait since some politicians do not really get this kind of proposal. In this case, while reading, he mutters: “Very interesting, very interesting…” I’m only thinking about one thing: “We don’t criticize anybody. On the contrary, we state that everybody is doing great. Facts will act as judges. We do not. 

Indeed. The film’s script was greenlit and we were shooting a few days later. Meanwhile, the Delegate was preparing a massive event on a gigantic screen next to the town hall building, at Plaza San Francisco in Seville. A few days before the screening, the Urbanism Delegate watched the film… Immediately, he put it away in a box, locked. He also picked up the phone and ordered for the gigantic screen’s installation to stop. The images’ hardness triggered his reflection, since he perceived things he didn’t get reading the script. 

In 2030 –this is what he thinks now- I’m sure we won’t see the utopian and wonderful city that the film shows. Yes, I’m sure. And, why not? Simply, we, politicians, are not smart, as the film states…or better, a few of us may be smart but we have other interests, which have nothing to do with creating a wonderful city for its inhabitants. And this film is giving this information away… 

Of course, the Delegate keeps these thoughts to himself. 

So, politicians –he keeps thinking—are either stupid or selfish, there’s no other way. And this is what the film is really saying. 

When he reproaches me, I reply that he should re-read the script, pointing out what new stuff has been added, without his approval. 

Either stupid or selfish: politicians realized—just on time—that the film didn’t make them look good. They withdrew the film so that only a few people have been able to watch it, realizing that to create the city that the film depicts may not be a utopia, after all. In reality, it’s an issue of political will, citizens’ will and participation (now non-existent). Participation has not been invented yet. 

Getting through the motions, there was a press screening in a small office, with no publicity. Different opinions:

 -“Critical, ironic and amusing film, in which some metaphors to illustrate the future will be polemicalEl País

 -“Juan Sebastián Bollaín is not Johann Sebastian Bach. This film has brought to the fore what’s inside him: deception to justify his impotence, his artistic incapacities, his lack of originality. The diagnosis is clear: Seville needs the stem cells from a donor in a better conditionDiario de Sevilla

 -“Bollaín shows what is the real meaning of creating a city. This film stirs our consciousness, shaking up Seville, catalyzing smiles and reflection. No one will walk out of this film with indifferenceABC

 -“An idealized vision of the Seville of the future. Choosing Juan Sebastián Bollaín to make this film was perfect: he has experience, he is an architect and he knows very well the city, and with his ironic and scathing language he fantasizes about the city’s future, inciting the spectator to think about the present. Only the narrow-minded will think this film is offensiveEl Mundo