Ramon Balcells: "...as I get older I’ve learned to leave the projects as they are when I finish them. It’s always tempting to go back and do re-editing, but the film process is also about learning and making mistakes."
Five young people gather in the woods to remember an absent friend. The camera observes them from afar, careful not to intrude on their privacy.
Hi Ramon thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times?
Certainly, ‘strange times’ would be the perfect definition. Personally, I’m fine and trying to deal with the uncertainty.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?
Actually, yes. I edited ‘Picnic’ during the lockdown. The shooting of the short film was six years ago, but since then I hadn’t found the way to express the concept I had in mind.
You're no stranger to L'Alternativa having screened both El vacío & Transilvània at the festival, what was the experience like attending the festival for the first time with one of your films?
It was a real pleasure. ‘El vacío’ was my first short film, a homemade film shot with my parents, so I was very excited to watch it on a big screen. The team of L’Alternativa treated me so well both times I attended the festival. They are very kind, brave and professional.
Picnic is selected for this year's L'Alternativa Film Festival, how does it feel to be back at the festival and in the company of such amazing films?
Thrilled and honoured. I am really looking forward to watching some of this year’s films. Specially, ‘El año del descubrimiento’ (‘The year of discovery’) by Luis López Carrasco. I’m a big fan of his, he’s such an amazing director.
"Since I ended college, I’ve been combining advertising, teaching and filmmaking."
Can you tell me a little bit about how Picnic, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
As I was saying, I shot this short film some years ago with my college friends (from Universitat Pompeu Fabra). Actually, none of us come from cinema studies, but we like to do film projects on our own.
The idea of the film was simple: a group of friends meet in the forest to remember an absent colleague. My intention was to talk about an abstract concept like absence through the language itself, emptying the film of narrative elements and expressing the story through silence, distance and off-camera. But in the editing process, I decided to go a step further by silencing all the dialogues and only leaving the sounds of nature. The absence, this way, would be even more present. And also, the audience would become “the absent person” who watches the scenes from afar.
Looking back, is there anything you would do differently on this film?
Probably yes, but as I get older I’ve learned to leave the projects as they are when I finish them. It’s always tempting to go back and do re-editing, but the film process is also about learning and making mistakes.
As well as writing, directing and managing the DOP responsibility on Picnic you also produced and edited your short film, how did you manage all these roles on a project like this?
Like in my other projects, I worked with nearly zero budget, so everyone did a bit of everything. For instance, some members of the cast also did production tasks, as it can be seen in film scenes that show what happens behind the camera.
As a self taught filmmaker what have been some of the challenges you faced when you started your filmmaking journey?
Before going to college I wondered whether to study at a cinema school or doing a communication degree. Finally, I decided to study Advertising. It helped me a lot to conceptualize ideas and to have a wider vision of the audiovisual panorama. Since I ended college, I’ve been combining advertising, teaching and filmmaking. And to be honest, the most challenging thing I am facing is my old computer. It’s about to explode…
Since setting up your own production company Cortado Films how much has your style and approach to your films changed?
Cortado Films is the name I use to sign my film projects and art installations. A kind of a nickname. At the moment, it works more like a personal brand than an institutionalized production company.
Concerning style: each project, each concept, demands a specific formal approach. I try not to overthink so much and let things flow.
Do you think filmmakers should push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
Filmmakers should do whatever is necessary for their project. Every film is a universe unto itself. Sometimes it needs to be pushed to radicalism. Others, not, and that's okay.
As a lecturer at Pompeu Fabra University do you have any tips or advice you offer your students?
Carlos, a friend of mine once told me some very nice advice: "don’t listen to other’ advice."
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Picnic?
I hope they enjoy it, but if they don’t, it is great. 11 minutes can be exciting or exhausting, it depends on everyone’s taste.