The Nanovic Institute for European Studies maintains one of the closest working partnerships with the Browning Cinema. We collaborate on four screenings each semester with one semester devoted to classic films and the other to new and emerging arthouse productions. The Fall 2017 semester highlighted newer fare (so be on the lookout for the neat classics we’ll be showing next term). After screenings of Frantz, Stalker (a remastered version of Tarkovsky’s classic so a new release in its own right), and The Forgotten Army, the semester’s final screening came Friday, November 10, with a screening of Donkeyote and a visit from the film’s young director, Chico Pereira.
Originally from a small mining town in southern Spain, Chico studied both the hard sciences and filmmaking in Scotland before heading to the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he is currently a Ph.D. student and deftly juggling arcane comprehensive exams with an intercontinental tour of the film, having premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) and the True/False Film Fest in Missouri before hitting the circuit (and the Browning Cinema). His academic work focuses in part on performance theory in documentaries, which aligns perfectly with our Executive Director Ted Barron’s own expertise/research and led to a great geek-out session over dinner prior to the film and then over a second dinner after the film. His interest in neorealism in rural areas (think: Rossellini’s Stromboli) guides both his research and his filmmaking, and Donkeyote situates itself in a fascinating way within that canon. In fact, if one were looking to double-bill, Lost and Beautiful (Bella e perduta) from Italy, which we screened in partnership with the Nanovic Institute last year, is a fellow traveler with Donkeyote in many ways with each offering unique takes on centuries-old fables.
Donkeyote has a deeply personal touch you don’t always find in that library of films, though—and not simply because Chico focuses the film on a relative, here his uncle Manolo’s quixotic attempt to bring his beloved donkey from Spain to the U.S.A. to ride the 2200-mile Trail of Tears. There’s a warmth there one doesn’t always find in me-search (or from directors bridging academic interests and film), which radiates both between characters onscreen (e.g., Manolo and his beloved donkey Gorrión) and from Chico when discussing his past and proposed films and writing. While fielding questions after the film, Chico discussed how he watched urban development build out a new section of his town, seeing new parks guide people to community. He realized film could offer similar maps, similar reasons to join together. Chico’s very anthropological approach begets useful art, particularly in terms of organizing folks, with value both in the act of filmmaking and as a film, which colored both the screening and the discussion of his work with solid lessons for approaching personal histories, storytelling, and building community.