At just 13 years old, he helped his brother and a neighbour make films in Super 8 format. Their means of storytelling was rudimentary at that time: they would send the material to Germany to be developed and only receive it six weeks later. That was when David decided that he wanted to become independent and create his own narratives.
In 2016, David presented his first feature-length film (having previously only worked on short films). “La punta del iceberg” (“The tip of the iceberg”) paints a picture of workplace harassment and pressure at multinationals within our capitalist system. David speaks out about the dehumanisation that has gripped our society.
The film is based on a play of the same name and events that occurred at Renault and France Telecom, where over 20 people committed suicide. It was this theme in particular that attracted the film’s star-studded cast of actors, including Maribel Verdú.
Despite the fact that this is a stylish piece, with excellent actors and subtle scenes featuring tall buildings and beautiful colours, it was not expensive to make.
When did you realise that you wanted to tell stories through the medium of film?
It was when I decided to study in Madrid. There were no opportunities in Tenerife. I started an English literature course, because that was the subject I liked the most and in which I got the best grades, but I dropped out to move to Madrid to study audio-visual communication.
I used to help my brother and a neighbour make films in Super 8 format. I was 13 or 14 years old when my interest developed. The material was sent to Germany to be developed and it took a month and a half for it to be returned. Then they would edit it. They told the stories they wanted to tell with next to no money. I saw what they were doing and wanted to become independent. I said to myself, “I’m going to make my own films with my friends.” I had a wide range of plotlines, although most of them were horror films and adaptations of Stephen King novels. I tried out using Super 8 for all genres and decided to use it as a vehicle for telling stories. In Madrid, I met a group of students who loved cinema and were turning into filmmakers themselves, such as Alejandro Amenabar, Mateo Gil and Juana Macías. That showed me that I could become a director one day.
Young people believe in their own abilities more today. I don’t know whether that’s because technology and globalisation enable them to believe they can do whatever they want. It wasn’t like that in the past. I never thought I was capable of doing anything until I met those people and saw that I really could do it. After spending many years in television and finally getting my degree at the age of 42, I was able to make my first film. It was a feature-length film that we made in good conditions, with production tailored to the needs of the script and a cast of actors I dreamt of having as a director.
The film is interesting because of its themes of social pressure and workplace suicide. What made you choose to work on them?
The film is based on a play of the same name that is, in turn, based on real events at Renault and France Telecom. I am drawn to shadows – to the slightly darker side of things. And this project involved a very important social reality that had not been explored in such a direct manner on film. It’s a theme that both the media and the public overlook somewhat and don’t want to talk about. The media don’t say anything because of what they’re told by psychologists, which is that if people who are considering suicide see something like this, they’re likely to be more determined to take their own lives. And the public don’t want to talk because we know that it’s something universal that could affect any one of us. It’s a taboo that should be broken and we should discuss the topic, particularly in an educational setting. It’s the second largest cause of death in the world.
All of this inspired me to explore the subject, using the Polanski-esque style of the film: someone with their own personal ambitions, above all others, suddenly finds themselves in this place and lives this experience. I love playing with spaces. For example, if you’re in a room and there’s a dead body in the cupboard and you don’t know, you won’t feel anything, but as soon as you’re told that there’s a dead body in the cupboard, everything changes.
I wanted to apply this idea to Miralles’s office, when there are people in the office and they discover that that’s where the suicide took place. The challenge of the film in terms of the script – something that hasn’t been explored very much and that was a major challenge for me – was the transformation of Sofia Cuevas in a single day. The most important thing was for the film to hang together, and for each scene to fit in with the scenes before and after. Unlike short films, feature films must be compact from start to finish: all the dialogue, the text and everything that happens. It has to be believable. It also had to be about a story that unfolded in a tangible space, in a short space of time and that also involved the transformation of a person in just one day.
Why did you choose this cast? Was it easy to persuade actors with so much experience to work on the film?
I thought Maribel Verdú would be perfect to play the role of a 44-year-old woman who is going through difficult circumstances but is attractive and has a lot of character. She had all the ingredients to be the very best Sofia Cuevas that there could be, and that’s what she was. I had very clear ideas about some of the actors from the beginning, but others were suggested to me by Maribel, such as lead actors like Fernando Cayo and Barbara Goenaga and supporting actors like Jorge Calvo. Maribel thought of them and I’m very glad I took her advice.
The actors were initially drawn in because of the script, the good budget and the producer. With Maribel, we met for a coffee together to look into the type of work she did.
Were there any moments of frustration during the work process?
Yes, but more in terms of distribution – the fear that it would not be shown in all cinemas. Maybe that not as many people would see it as I expected.
The film is the very essence of style: the lead actress, the sets, the imposing modern buildings and more are all influenced by the style of North-American films. Does that mean that the costs were high?
It’s not an expensive film. We had the exact budget to film it as I wanted it to be filmed. The aesthetics, the staging and everything we did was very simple, very direct and very clear. The cinematography, the appearance and everything else flowed from the idea that I had of a block of ice and everything embodying that coldness, except other elements that I decided would have complementary colours.
Next edition: David Canovas Part 2: A ray of hope against dehumanisation
(Translated by Roz Harvey)