Pablo Berger is a Spanish film director, screenwriter and producer. He made his debut as a director in 1988 with the short film “Mom” and thanks to the awards that this story wins, he obtains a scholarship to study a Master’s Degree in Film Directing at the Tisch Shool of Arts at New York University.
During his stay he filmed Truthand Beauty, a short film with which he was nominated for an Emmy.
He has taught directing at the New York Film Academy and has taught film courses at Cambridge, Princeton and Yale.
He directed his first film in Spain, “Torremolinos 73”, for which he was nominated in 2004 for the Goya Award for best new director.
In 2012 he directed “Snow White”, his second film, with which he won the Goya for best original screenplay in 2013, being nominated again for this award for Abracadabra, released in 2017.
Now he has made his debut as an animation director with “Robot Dreams”, recently presented in the Special Screenings Section of the 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, where we have spoken with him.
– I feel that your film is very personal and a love letter to New York. Why did you choose that city to tell the story?
I went to New York in 1980 with a scholarship to do a master’s degree in cinema and I lived there until 1999, I returned to Spain to write and shoot Torremolinos 73 and I came back. They were ten key years in my life, I grew up in that city and got married there, so it has been an opportunity to make my film about New York twenty years later than expected. I wanted to tell about a city that no longer exists.
– Do you think the city has changed?
Yes, a lot has changed. The New York I live in now is in the 21st century, not much different from Shanghai, Paris or Berlin. In the eighties it was the center of the world, the economic and, for me, the cultural, the place where if you wanted to know what was happening, you had to be.
– Did you decide to use your experiences to tell a story that reminds you of what that time was like?
I love pop culture and I want viewers to find little surprises and know them when they see them. But I also wanted to make a very realistic film, with real references. We had a great team in the art department, who have done a great job on what the streets, the cars, the doors, the bells were like. To make a real New York we had to contact some of the brands that appear in the film; in a movie with live characters it may seem easier not to, but in an animated movie, if a mark appears, you have to count on it. We wanted to talk about real emotions and real life, about the real city in which the characters live, so the publicity is also there.
– One of the most powerful things in the film is what we say, and this is the second film you have directed in which there is no dialogue after Snow White, and the music is also the protagonist.
My experience with Snow White was very satisfactory in all aspects, I loved doing it and I’m glad it was successful, it was a great experience. My next film, Abracadabra, did have some dialogue, but I wanted to make another film without it. I think what makes cinema special is writing with images. And it has been a great pleasure, if there are no words in a film, the music has to speak.
– How was the selection of songs?
For the music I worked with the same composer of Abracadabra, Alfonso de Villalonga, who is one of the best, he creates amazing melodies and can be very eclectic. For Robot Dreams, we chose a lot of melodic jazz, and for pop music my closest collaborator is Yuko Harami, who is also my wife and one of the film’s producers. She chose pop music and, above all, September. When she was writing the script, she thought what would happen if we could use that theme, because it comes up a lot in the movie. And that’s why it’s her main theme.
– Is it your first time making an animated film?
Yes and now I know a little more about animation than when I started, I had everything to learn. Very good animation is being done in Spain and everyone has supported me a lot. We can talk about Unicorn Wars, Klaus and Fernando Trueba is shooting animation again. There are many interesting projects in this field for the next few years, we definitely have great artists in this genre and it is a good time for animation.
– Have you made this film with the purpose of creating a different story?
I read the graphic novel and when I got to the end I thought that the last pages were a movie, I was very moved, although in the novel the story is very simple, in the movies it is much more complex. I decided to make an animated film, something I had never thought of, luckily I have some producers who encouraged me, as if I were a child being cheered on by their parents. Although it was a difficult time, in the middle of Covid we had to create an adequate team to start filming, but we are here, the film is ready.
Finally, the film is for the whole family and this does not make an author into something minor. And if no one in your family wants to go with you to see the movie, you go alone, because you are a movie buff. I like the idea of cinema as a popular art, it is for all audiences, for all races, all ages, it is sharing together. Although not all movies are happy, with rosy stories, there has to be reality in them. And this film can cause sadness and if parents and children see it together, it will mark them forever.
– The film is amazing, was that your idea from the beginning?
As a director I never work with a plan, I work with the subconscious, since I want to create emotions and I feel closer to musicians than film writers, I am not a novelist, I work with images and I can arrange their order. The author of this graphic novel, Sarah Barron, shows no gender and New York is a jungle of all races, all religions. When I first came to the city, it was on another level about sex, sexual identities, various tattoos, it was an open city, you didn’t bother anyone and nobody bothered you and that’s how this story is told. A city where everyone takes the subway, those who go to Wall Street, the bums, we are all in the same place. At the same time, we love New York, where many people live in a community, and it also seems like shit to us, with small apartments, full of cockroaches, but there is something that tells you that anything is possible in that city.