A rural school in the Spanish republic of the '30s. A lost world through the eyes of children who are learning to write. The utopia of a teacher truncated by war and dictatorship. A documentary and a collective effort in memory of the victims of Franco's repression.
School year 1934-35. The Ministry of Education of the Spanish Republic appoints Antoni Benaiges as teacher at the rural primary school of Bañuelos de Bureba, a tiny village lost in the boundless countriside in Burgos province.
Few months after taking office, Antoni buys a printing machine for his pupils. His idea, based on the methodology of the French pedagogue Celestine Freinet, is that school should provide the children with all tools for expressing their own natural knowledge and skills, usually underestimated and ignored by traditional education.
The experiment of rural school printing raises great enthusiasm: during the first winter, the school of Bañuelos de Bureba issues the first leaflets thoroughly written and illustrated by the pupils. They describe the day life of a Spanish village of the 30s, with the eyes of children who are learning to write with the printing machine. One of the leaflet was published for the visit of a photographer to the school: the title is The Portraitist.
Bañuelos' leaflets soon spread among Spanish Freinet Schools in Spain, France, Mexico, Cuba. The school booklets survive thanks to their many subscribers: farmers from the village, teachers from other school, up to president of the Spanish Republic, mr. Alcalá Zamora. Antoni Benaiges becomes a reference for school innovation in democratic Spain.
A year passes and the shool issues a new leaflet: The sea: dreams of children who never saw it. Antoni has got a new ambitious project for that summer: he wants to bring his pupils to Barcelona and the sea, some 600 Km away from the village. But it's already July 1936, the outbreak of the Spanish civil war, and Burgos province is on Franco's side in his aggression against the Republic.
Antoni Benaiges, leftwing activist, is immediately purged from office with scores of his collegues. Arrested and tortured in Briviesca, he will be shot dead and buried in La Pedraja mass grave at the end of that month which changed the Spanish history of the XXth century.
76 years later, a catalan photographer comes back to Bañuelos. His black&withes capture the remains of the abandoned school, the portraits of few of those pupils, now in their 90s, the ragged pages of the few leaflets they kept jealously over decades. Few kilometers away, a team of the archeologists and forensic doctors works for exhumating La Pedraja mass grave.
Modern portratist, the photographer searching for clues of Antoni Benaiges will be the thread for a documentary on the Franco's repression of a generation of teachers at the fall of the Spanis Republic, where the voice of Antoni's old pupils will eventually shed new light on forgotten war crimes which are now in danger to be erased forever.
CROWDFUNDING FOR THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN WAR CRIMES
Few week after taking office, the new right-wing Spanish government closed the Office for the Victims of Civil War (see article, in Spanish). Desaparecidos of Franco's repression are approximately 120.000, but the process of exhumation of Spanish mass graves started with the Historical Memory Act in 2007 will be halted by budget cuts and Spanish government's lack of interest.
Nonetheless, the memory of those crimes is still alive in Spain and families and people now working for their country to confront its past, simply don't wont to resign.
Seventy years ago, the dream of Antoni Benaiges became true thanks to the leaflets' many subscribers. Nowadays, the documentary on the project of his progressive rural school will also become true only thanks to contributors like you.
The crowdfunding campaing for The Portraitist is then a chance for making ordinary people the true defenders of a democratic historical memory of Europe at a grass-roots level, namely in a time when it is more and more in danger to be erased from the political agenda.
WHAT WE MADE, WHAT IS LEFT TO DO
The Prortraitist is a project based on the photo exhibition "Digging the silence" by the catalan photographer Sergi Bernal, exposed in Barcelona in 2011.
In the past november we travelled back to La Pedraja Mountains and Bañuelos de Bureba, where we shot the last exhumation of La Pedraja mass grave and we met some of the aged Antoni's former pupils.
What we are now looking for is funds for ending the shooting and starting the editing and postproduction of the documentary.
Any contribution, no matter how big, will add the project the great value of being a collective effort for the memory of democracy in Europe.
Thanks for your help!
Original title: El Retratista
English title: The Portraitist
Direction, editing, cinematography: Alberto Bougleux
Story: Sergi Bernal
The Song Campanades a mort is by Lluís Llach, courtesy of the author.