When it comes to filming a scene, it's not just about visual effects, it's about setting a tone, a rhythm, about the mood, which can catch the viewer. The films of Octavi Royo do just that. His short movies are interwoven visual and sonic tapestries of texture, sound, and moments, raising important and critical questions. Octavio grew up in Barcelona and has always had a strong affinity for documentary films, and has recently made a name for himself as a travel and documentary filmmaker. Currently his professional portfolio includes more than 15 short documentary films, which he has shot during his travels through India, Sri Lanka, and Colombia. His documentaries uncover and explore not just stories, but moments in time that are so emotionally driven that we cannot help but fall in love with the nature and people revealed in them. Traveling the world with a camera, filming exotic locales and meeting interesting people sounds great. But what is the reality of documentary filmmaking?
How did you start to think seriously about filmmaking?
When I was a kid I went to the cinema to watch films with my mom. She is a huge fan! It was not always commercial movies. And when I watched it I always thought, “This is not difficult to do! I can do this!” By that time I was already very interested in reality, in documentary films. I always had a lot of stories to tell people and understood that a movie is a good platform to explain a lot of things, to share my thoughts with other people. I always wrote stories when I was a teenager and even won an award in school as a writer. But alongside my passion for cinema, I have chosen a real profession: I’m a teacher of history and have a history degree.
How did you come up with the idea for your first movie?
It was during my trip to Italy, to Siena, where I studied. We had to work a lot with underground art films. And my first movie there was about the light. A very simple thing. It was a beautiful film shot with a bad camera, but with amazing scenery and a great team!
And since then you’re moving up in the world…
No! Of course no! After that came cinema school, two years at the same time as my University studies. It’s kind of a school about programs and television. But I had a real goal: I wanted to know how to edit my own films, because I needed technical knowledge. So I did not delve into the lectures, and paid attention only to the technical part of the training. It was a filter. After the school I went to Mallorca with my dog (I have always tried to travel with my dog Nanu, he is my main partner), with my camera and with my music in order to find interesting material for a new movie. And beginner’s luck! I met a travelling circus. I came up with a great idea and said to them: “I will shoot a documentary film about your lives if you will pay for my food and give me a place to sleep”. It was too brave on my part, but I was willing to take the risk. In the end it was great because they were happy about that. So after Mallorca I went to Columbia with 20 people: musicians, clowns, gymnasts, etc. Every week – a new community. It was super dangerous and super nice at the same time. We did a lot of workshops, performances with children, and of course I made a documentary. An unforgettable experiment!
What is your proudest film ever?
Ten years ago we shot a movie in Colombia, in a little village in the mountains. About the lives of these poor people, who live absolutely without money. Thus they live using the natural exchange of products and things. This is a real system: I will teach you how to do this and after that you will teach me something else, or maybe my kids. A most extraordinary thing, in the modern world! I lived inside the community 20 days for food and a place to sleep. My main goal was to get some money from the government to improve the living standards in this village by showing them my video. My camera is my best weapon, and a documentary can help a lot in a case like this! It has never earned money for me, it’s an opportunity to help people. And two years ago I went to Colombia to show this movie in a motion picture theatre on a big screen to a large audience. It was a big day for them, like attending the Academy Awards. I’m not kidding! Each of the main characters in the film came in a suit and tie. They were smiling and crying and smiling again! I looked at them and was immensely happy. And proud.
Stop! It took you ten years to finish the film? Why so long?
Movie making is a long process. Music, effects… Making a decent quality film is like engineering – a blend of art and technology and dreams and… money. And the process becomes longer and more complicated without investors. But you will never make a lot of money filming a documentary here, in Barcelona. Maybe in Hollywood…
What is the process required to create a fragment of a movie?
I like not only documentary films, but also fiction. I was looking at that village story not like a documentary, but like a fiction movie with real people and real situations. I always have an idea from the beginning to the end. And I always hold in my head the people who can act as I want. I never tell people about a scene like, “You should to say this, this and that”! No, I give them a situation and they have to act it in the way that they want. The situation is created by me for them.
Tell us about your team
Normally I work alone. It’s a bit complicated, because usually a team is 4-5 people. But! But I don’t like big teams like 25 people, because I prefer naturalness and untrained people, not actors. I think that with the help of ordinary people, the viewer can feel more and understand the purpose of the film better. And I can realize my vision only with the help of ordinary people and their votes and actions. So I like a friendly, intimate atmosphere on the set. It is impossible, if the process involves simultaneously 25 people. I have to have special contact with the person in the frame. I like video cameras in this way. If I ever have to do a big movie I don’t think I will enjoy it. I’m always interested in the experience. I want my movie to be an experience for me and an interesting experience for other people.
I know that your portfolio includes a wonderful film about elephants. What was the inspiration behind this movie?
I did it in Sri Lanka. It was the same scheme: they paid me for food and gave me a place to sleep and I shot the video. But I decided to shoot this movie the way I wanted, with my own approach. And I can explain why: the worst discovery that I made while working on the film is that elephants are a business. A business aimed at entertaining tourists. It’s terrible and monstrous treatment of these beautiful animals! And I wanted to tell the truth. I think this is the goal of a documentary in general. And I am very happy with the result: the film came out slow, just like elephants themselves, with a special rhythm. In this story I delicately told about the relationship between elephant and man, about life out of the wild … I know that raised a very important question. But senior officials banned the movie. And the reasons are clear… Unfortunately!
What advice would you give to students looking to follow a similar career path to yourself?
Never stop dreaming, be strong, and brave, and go ahead!
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