A short walk from Plaça Catalunya—a locale marking Barcelona’s pulsing city center—and just next to the stark Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) with its crowds of skateboarders and young onlookers, you’ll find the Centre de Cultural Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB). Tucked inside the front gates, a handsome courtyard offers an open-air cinema to all those who choose to arrive early for seats. This summer (August 3-August 26), as an extension to its current exhibition on Labyrinths, the CCCB has been offering a free film festival entitled Gandules 2010: Lost, Lost, Lost. According to the CCCB website, the purpose of the festival is to present an array of “lost, aimless characters, endless searches, and journeys to the unknown.” In other words, the film selections all represent “the labyrinth” as a conceptual state. I was lucky enough to catch Maya Deren and Alexander Hamid’s renowned short film, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), as well as Ray Ashley and Morris Engel’s The Little Fugitive (1953). The festival also included many other significant works, from Fellini and Godard to David Lynch.
Known as one of the founders of avant-garde American film, Maya Deren gracefully, silently glides across the screen, inviting us into a world of non-linear action and dream-like sequences. She taunts us with repetitions of several objects and tropes—a flower, a key, a knife, a dark hooded figure with a mirrored face. It is a glimpse into a dream within a dream—one that explores the psychological turmoil of our female protagonist. Born in Kiev, Maya Deren emigrated to the United States from the Ukraine in the 1920s, and eventually arrived in New York City. Having graduated from NYU, and later receiving a Masters from Smith College, she soon became a prominent figure in the New York artist scene of the 1940s and 50s. She starred in, wrote, and co-directed her first film, Meshes of the Afternoon, with her then-husband Alexander Hamid, later adding a musical score in 1952 with her next husband, Teiji Ito. Without Deren, we might never have enjoyed David Lynch, whose film Lost Highway (1997)—with its cyclical storyline and similar usage of tropes—pays homage to Meshes of the Afternoon.
On its final night of the summer festival, CCCB whisked us to Coney Island, presenting the classic film Little Fugitive by Ray Ashley and Morris Engle. The CCCB website sites a famous quote from French New Wave director Francois Truffaut, who once asserted: “Our New Wave would never have come into being if it hadn’t been for the young American Morris Engel, who showed us the way to independent production with his fine movie Little Fugitive.” Filmed on a small budget, it is easy to see how Little Fugitive shaped the template of French New Wave cinema. At times, I felt so convinced that I was in the midst of a New Wave film, that I found myself shocked at the Brooklyn-accented dialogue. The action takes place in the course of only a few days, with the plot following the ordinary adventures of a small child runaway, Joey Norton, who is played by amateur actor Richie Andrusco. Like many New Wave films, Little Fugitive transforms the mundane into a golden thread of witty dialogue and action, eventually weaving it into the plot points. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
It is refreshing to find such classics—those usually confined to the film studies classroom—free and open to the public of Barcelona and/or the occasional foreign passerby. This year’s CCCB open air film festival, Gandules 2010: Lost, Lost, Lost, shows an appreciation of important and influential work, while still cleverly connecting them through a common festival theme. Presenting directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Abbas Kiarostami, Chris Marker, and Alain Resnais, the CCCB allowed accessibility to what one could almost view as academic pretension. Nevertheless, a new generation now has the opportunity to enjoy the cornerstones of today’s cinema. Even if you happened to not like the films, there’s nothing greater than free cinema under a summer sky, especially one with a bar stocked with empanadas and mojitos.