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The Chair of Life – by Carlos Valle

The short film awarded with the First Prize at Ca' Foscari Short Film Festival 2016: a touching reflection about old age

2016 | 5 - 10 | Documentary | Family | Observational | Spain

What holds two sisters-in-law together over a lifetime? Carmen and María are two old ladies who support each other in their daily lives despite being alone. Instead of a walking stick, Carmen uses an old wooden chair to get about. This is the suggestion that drove Carlos Valle to direct The Chair of Life, a touching reflection about old age, enhanced by a magical and lyrical style. Produced by one of the most important cinema schools in Spain – the Digital Television Film School Madrid Septima Ars, the short was awarded with the First Prize of the International Competition at Ca’ Foscari Short Film Festival 2016, the first film festival in Europe entirely organized and conceived by a university.

Born in Toledo in 1990, Carlos studied Fine Arts at Castilla – La Mancha university and cinema and TV editing and postproduction at Septima Ars school in Madrid. In 2015, he created Auntie Films along with his brother Roberto, cinema and TV screenwriter. The Chair of Life is his first short film: available in exclusive for 7 days until March 24 on Good Short Films, this poignant documentary – selected at over twenty film festivals around the world – is an ode to the beauty and the sadness of life, as Carlos Valle told us.

How did you know Carmen and María and when you thought of making their story into a film?
My aunt Carmen never married, so she lived her whole life with her brother Juan, my grandpa, and his wife María, my grandma. That is, Carmen and Maria are sisters-in-law. When my grandfather Juan died, more than 20 years ago, the two supported each other. Besides, since my aunt Carmen could not walk, she used a small wooden chair to lean on, which was very fascinating.

How did they react to the idea of a documentary about them?
They acted as if there were no cameras, like those National Geographic documentaries on animals in which the filmmakers locate the camera and wait patiently for “magical moments.” It was normal for them.

You wanted to give dignity and importance to the elderly with your film. 
With this short documentary, our intention is to dignify old age, to show how our elders come to the last stage of life. It is a homage to old age and the passage of time.

The documentary mixes fiction and reality, ending in a very poetic and “magical” way. Why this choice?
I studied Fine Arts, and as an artist that I am, I must use all the tools that are within my reach to tell a story. If I used this mixture of fiction and reality was because I wanted to show that the chair was part of the old woman, and that is an element that she was supportive. To convey this concept, he had to animate the chair, and establish a metaphor. I think it’s risky, but magical realism is a very interesting concept in film.

You realized this short with your brother Roberto: are cohabitation and emotional ties the center of your work?
Maybe it is, yes. I’m a very familiar person, as are my parents, my brother, my grandparents… So far, all the stories we are telling talk about families. It’s possible that if we search in the depths of my emotions, and also in those of my brother Roberto, we find stories that speak of union and overcoming. The union makes us stronger and maybe that’s what our stories tell us.

What are your stylistic references? Nanook of the North by Robert Flaherty and Wrinkles by Paco Roca immediately come to mind…
As a film lover, I love each and every one of the various types of cinematographic style. At the time of shooting The Chair of Life, I felt deeply influenced by Nanook and Wrinkles; Nanook for the narrative style and Wrinkles for the theme and the background. Many people told me that The Chair of Life also looked like a film by Almodóvar, but the truth is when I started shooting the short, in 2012, I still had not seen anything from Almodóvar…

Is cinema the only act of resistance against death?
Yes. Thanks to art we understand history. Through art we understand the human being, and although he dies, art survives, art is eternal. I can die one day, but only physically, because as long as my art lives, I will also be alive.

What are the next steps in your future?
The projects we are working on are several: First, we are in film festivals with our second short film already finished, Segundito, a 3D animated short directed by my brother Roberto who is surpassing the success of The Chair of Life. He is getting selections at the Stuttgart Animated Film Festival, Go Short, Animac… all of them pre-selectors of the Oscars and Goya awards. Second, we are writing the script for a new 2D animated short film in the style of The Red Turtle by Michaël Dudok de Wit. We hope Segundito will attract enough funding to produce it, although people can collaborate right here. Finally, we are producing a documentary about the history of orphaned children who suffered a terrible flood in our town, Consuegra, on September 11, 1891. It is a touching story that continues the path of The Chair of Life. People can join this story at this link.

Alessandro Zoppo

Alessandro Zoppo

Editor-in-Chief @ Good Short Films

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