January 18, 2021

The Transition in super-8 | Culture

The Transition in super-8 | Culture

Pablo Gómez Sala recalls the spring day of 2018 in which a 71-year-old unknown entered through the door of his workshop, located a few meters from the sea in the port of Vigo. That man brought the Spanish Transition in a box. They were super-8 movies recorded by him since the death of the dictator Francisco Franco until the mid-eighties. There were a couple of thousand meters of unreleased reels: the parties of the newly legalized Communist Party of Spain in the Madrid Casa de Campo in 1978, the first Galician celebration of the Gay Pride in 1981, a tribute to the already nonagenarian Passionflower in 1985. "I knew immediately that something different had arrived", recalls Gómez Sala, founder of the cultural promoter The Cinematographic.

The man, Manoel da Costa (A Coruña, 1947), began to tell his story. During the Franco regime, had militated in hiding in a communist cell, "waiting for the revolutionary general strike that never came." And, after the death of the tyrant bundled up in bed in 1975, Da Costa bought a super-8 camera with his salary as an electrical engineer and – along with his wife, Loli López, and a Seat 127 – he set out to tour the festivities of a left that left the den in which it had been stuck since 1939.

"There were not many people there with super-8 cameras. It was a very expensive hobby ", remembers Manoel da Costa

"There were not many people there with super-8 cameras. It was a very expensive hobby. There were other more professional cameras, but they were going to document other kinds of things, "says Da Costa. In his films, characters like the communist politician Santiago Carrillo, the writer Francisco Umbral and the poets Rafael Alberti and Nicolás Guillén appear, but the magic is in the mundane details: high-heeled shoe markets with the sickle and the hammer, white layers with drawings by Forges, posters announcing "wine from Jumilla with the gold medal of the USSR", the trade unionist Marcelino Camacho speaking before a lemon soft drink. The Transition filmed at street level.

"At the first Gay Pride parties there were five or six proud to be gay. Everyone else was there to support the cause, "laughs Da Costa recalls. That June 26, 1981, his camera filmed families with children sitting in the grass of a park in Vigo, before a stage with musicians and a banner with a string of adjectives: "Marica, mariquiña, mullerengo, maricolas, tortilleira, lesbian , tomboy. "It was a new Spain.

Gómez Sala vindicates the exceptional value of these home movies. Five years ago, his team created the Galician Archive of Domestic Cinema in order to preserve and spread that cultural heritage hidden in many houses. In his opinion, the appearance of super-8 cameras like that of Manoel da Costa meant "the first social self-portrait in the history of cinema".

Manoel da Costa, portrayed this Monday at his home in Vigo with his old super-8 camera.
Manoel da Costa, portrayed this Monday at his home in Vigo with his old super-8 camera.

"No film camera, until then, had come to document the lives of so many people in everyday, intimate contexts, filmed with love and fascination for the life that goes on around people nearby. Entire families self-filmed spontaneously, free, relaxed, without poses, without thinking that those films were going to be projected beyond the living room of their house, with what that means, showing with total sincerity in front of the camera ", reflects Gómez Room. In the super-8 of Da Costa there are demonstrations of May Day and in favor of the Constitution, but there are also carnivals, popular paella and family evenings playing the tambourine in the shadow of a granary.

The appearance of the super-8 supposed "the first social self-portrait of the history of the cinema", according to the cultural manager Pablo Gómez Sala

The electrical engineer remembers that, a few years ago, he requested a budget in a shop in Madrid to scan his films of the Transition. They asked for 9,000 euros. The prohibitive price of digitization is one of the reasons why this cultural heritage remains hidden in the cupboards. However, since 2014, the Galician Domestic Film Archive has scanned all the super-8 reels sent to it free of charge, with the financial support of a local family business, Cafés Candelas. Thanks to this policy, unique filming has arrived at the archive, such as a photographic safari in Swaziland in the 1950s, Galicians traveling around the Soviet Union around 1960 and many scenes of emigration in Argentina.

The Galician archive is one of the nine that make up the Home Cinema Network, a national project that next March 13 will present its common file during the international festival of documentary film Punto de Vista, in Pamplona. With this "tool of collective memory" it will be possible to dive for the films of the Transition of Manoel da Costa. "The personal is political. History is not only built with great speeches. It must also include these family experiences in which we all recognize ourselves in a universal way ", celebrates Galician experimental filmmaker Xisela Franco.

One of the last acts that Da Costa filmed was the tribute to Dolores Ibárruri, Passionflower, for his 90th birthday. More than 15,000 people then packed the Palace of Sports in Madrid to entertain the president of the Communist Party of Spain. Da Costa remembers the musical performances of Rosa León, Ana Belén, Víctor Manuel, Joaquín Sabina and Miguel Ríos. And one of the highlights, when La Pasionaria sang along with José Antonio Labordeta: "There will be a day when everyone, when they look up, we will see a land that sets freedom". It was December 8, 1985. Shortly after, Da Costa abandoned the super-8: "I switched to photography".

The first programmable automata

The engineer Manoel da Costa was employed for half a lifetime in the Guerin company, dedicated to electrical materials. And he also took his camera to work. Da Costa recorded in 1981 the start-up of "one of the first programmable automatons" in Spain, a rudimentary machine with a memory of one kilobyte installed to automate the alarms of the steam boilers of the pulp mill of Ence in the Ría de Pontevedra. The engineer himself, who was for two decades professor of electrical installations at the University of Vigo, appears programming the device in his films in super-8. "They were the first steps of industrial automation," he recalls.


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