Andrés Morte (Barcelona, 1958) is one of the most important cultural managers in Spain. He holds bachelor’s degrees in Hispanic studies from the University of Barcelona and in ethnolinguistics from the University of Zurich, was a founder member of the theatre company La Fura dels Baus and directed the Mercat de les Flors theatre in Barcelona. He also founded the Barcelona Plató Film Commission and the Barcelona Film Festivals Platform. He has worked under Robert Redford for the Sundance Institute as a screenwriter and has directed several documentaries and plays performed internationally. Andrés Morte is currently a lecturer at the University School of Cinema and Visual Communication of Catalonia (ESCAC). He is also an advisor to a variety of international cultural programs and vice-president of the Fabbrica Europa Foundation for Contemporary Arts.
On 16 December, Andrés Morte visited the UB’s Faculty of Geography and History to take part in the 10th Spanish Film Tribune, organized by the Film-History Research Centre, which is directed by the lecturer Josep Maria Caparrós. During the event, Morte spoke about Audiovisuales Sin Fronteras (‘Audiovisuals Without Frontiers’, ASF), the non-profit organization of which he is president and for whom he is directing a project to set up documentary creation workshops in countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia.
During your career you have been involved in many cultural projects. In particular, you were a founder member of the theatre company La Fura dels Baus, inaugurated in 1984. How did the initiative arise?
I left Spain to study at the University of Zurich, where I studied ethnolinguistics. In that period I became a bit of a punk, I lived in a huge warehouse and that was where I started to get involved in cultural activities. In the building, where a lot of us were into new wave and punk, we set up a cinema, a rehearsal room… It was in the years 1980-1982 that we opened the warehouse as a cultural space, which was later taken over by the city council. We became promoters of the venue, called the Rote Fabrik, which is now the principal cultural centre in Zurich. So my cultural initiation took place there, at the Rote Fabrik.
I was responsible for organizing the 1st European Festival of Non-Commercial Music, where I met Marcel·lí Antúnez, who fronted the group Error Genético and is one of the founders of La Fura dels Baus. We became friends and he asked me to help him when I went back to Spain that summer, after university. That was when I began working with the group. I took part in the first of their more radical projects, Accions, which helped me rediscover my links to Catalonia. I left Zurich and came back to work with La Fura dels Baus.
This was not your only contact with the theatre world. You were also appointed director of the Mercat de les Flors municipal theatre in 1987 and 2002.
That’s right. During my first period as director, the Mercat de les Flors became one of the most talked-about theatres in the world. At that time I was working with La Fura dels Baus. I knew a lot about the market and helped to get other groups on to the circuit. I wasn’t earning anything, but I felt I was something like a salesman for Catalan culture. Then Ferran Mascarell asked me to direct the Mercat de les Flors cultural centre, which was more than just a theatre. I was also working with some of the biggest names in the theatre scene, and did a lot to encourage production by local artists. I’m a born producer and a director of projects and dreams – the types of dreams that come true, obviously.
You are not only involved in theatre. Your work also takes in other artistic disciplines…
Yes. When I joined the Mercat de les Flors, I received calls from Italy asking me to help set up Fabbrica Europa. It is now the most important dance and arts festival in Tuscany and the whole of Italy. I am the founder and vice-president of the festival, which is held in May.
You are the president and head of programs for Audiovisuales Sin Fronteras (ASF). What led to your involvement in this new project?
I have only ever lived for culture, which for me is about constant transmission. I am not at all elitist. I feel that culture should be universal. Europe and the world as a whole have died because of war, but they have been reborn through culture. And when we talk about Mozart, or when we talk about Polanski or Da Vinci, we are talking about Europe, about the universalization of culture. I wish we lived in a more cultured world, as it would pave the way towards greater democracy. ASF, obviously, was created this philosophy. I leave Barcelona to export and transfer my experience as a cultural manager to other countries. In fact, at the moment I wouldn’t have any qualms about going abroad. Things are not good – culturally we have aged, there is not the same scope for risk that we had in the 1980s and ‘90s. I have some major cultural achievements behind me, but I have no desire to settle into a position of power in the economic structure, so I prefer to carry on with what I’m doing.
What do you think about current cultural policies in Spain?
They are awful. The only thing cultural policies have achieved is to help consolidate huge mausoleums. When I was director of the Mercat de les Flors theatre I never actually directed a play, because we made sure the money went to the groups themselves. I directed after that, once I had left. The money cannot be there for the director of the institution, who then ends up earning two salaries: as director of the theatre and as director of the play. These grand institutions must be dismantled to an extent – not the foundations, but the cultural structures above them.
It is unacceptable, for example, for the Teatre Lliure to have a budget of eight million euros while the creative base across the whole country is penniless. It is unacceptable for a theatre director to spend 300,000 euros when the same budget could fund five documentaries or the production of 25 plays. Simply unacceptable.
You claim that culture gives people a greater capacity for democracy. Is culture the trigger for social change?
Absolutely. As a lecturer, I encourage my students to be proactive. I tell them: “Don’t wait for the chance to make something with a huge budget; tell your own stories, what you experience at home. This is what will build your social network, your social environment. That way you will construct your future in your own way.” I’m in no position to dictate what culture will be like in the future, the students must do that. However, the people currently in charge of our cultural future are old and out of touch, inhabitants of our very own elephants’ graveyard. It simply isn’t right that only groups like the Rolling Stones play here when young musicians don’t have a hope of appearing at any of the venues in Barcelona.
Can this situation change? Could the economic crisis be an opportunity for change?
Perhaps things could change, I don’t know. But perhaps the change will come from the south, and not from the north, as has been the case until now. Maybe it will come from China, from the Philippines, from Chile...
I work with hope, but also with a sense of reality and radicalism. I manage culture to make money so that dreams can become reality, but the dreams of a collective, not my own. Young people are the future, which is why I pass my knowledge on to them, so that they can make use of it. I think this is what a teacher should do.
Is this what the Aulas Factoría documentary creation workshops are for?
The workshops are aimed at feasibility. ASF strives to harness the talent in developing nations, providing the means (the tools and experience) for them to show their worth. This is something that European documentary-makers generally don’t do, taking the tools and talent away with them as well as the rights to what they have seen, which they show in international festivals and win prizes for.
Talent is universal. You would be surprised by the fascinating people we find in these countries and the ideas they have. You simply have to work on the structure and architecture they need to learn and to produce their work, nothing else. My aim is not to implant European culture in their countries, I want to take my experience of cultural management and give them the tools so that different groups can tell their own stories. This is why people without the means to express themselves become so involved and work so hard, because they are carrying out their projects, living their dreams and striving to meet their expectations. The only thing I do is provide the instrumentation and my ability to train, making sure that I do not fall short of their requirements to be able to express themselves. For some people it is also an opportunity to gain experience of audiovisual work, to become professionals and make a living out of it.
As part of this project you have recently been in Mozambique, filming a documentary on social issues. Could you tell us what it is about?
In Mozambique we are making three documentaries. The first is about a woman living in extreme poverty but who is hugely resourceful. She lives in a house with no roof and gets up at six o’clock every day to pick vegetables to sell in the market. Through this story, the three women who filmed the documentary wanted to show that, even in the face of the most abject poverty and total lack of opportunities, there are always people who make sacrifices to earn money and bring it home. If I made the film, as a European, perhaps the only thing I would achieve would be to raise sympathy. The women who filmed it, however, were interested in highlighting how resourceful this person is, despite the difficulties that surround her.
The second documentary is about transport, which is absolutely terrible in Mozambique. People travel in the backs of trucks, standing up – they are thrown into each other and to the floor, and a lot of people die.
We are about to go back to Mozambique with a well-known director to film a seventy-minute documentary that we will show at festivals.
Where can these documentaries be seen? What type of distribution do they have?
ASF began in 2009. In just two years we have made a lot of films in various countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia, which we are now starting to show. We are actually planning something here at the University of Barcelona, scheduled to be held in May, to tell people more about the organization as a whole and what we do through the Aulas Factoría workshops. Through documentaries we aim to support talent and diversity and promote greater awareness and understanding of other cultures.
Finally, what would your message be to the university community?
To expect nothing from the past and to build their own future.