On Thursday, March 2nd, at Olympion theater, Paloma Zapata’s La Singla had its world premiere within the framework of the 25th Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival.
The screening of the film was prefaced by the Festival’s Artistic Director, Orestis Andreadakis, who referred to the unspeakable tragedy that shook the country. "In an ambiance of grief and mourning, the 25th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival started its scheduled screenings, having decided to cancel the scheduled opening ceremony, as well as all the planned festive events and concerts, within the context of the three-day mourning. On behalf of the Board of Directors, the management and all the employees, I would like to express my sincere condolences to the families of the victims. This tragedy was unspeakable, which means exactly that - there are no words to describe it." Mr Andreadakis then referred to the world premiere of the film. "The film you are about to see today is having its world premiere, which means you are the first viewers around the world to see it, along with the cast and crew. It's called La Singla and it proves that cinema can comfort us even in the most dramatic of times."
La Singla unfolds the incredible life of the flamenco dancer Antonia Singla. Despite having lost her hearing at a really young age, Antonia Singla not only did she become a talented dancer, but managed to write her name in the golden pages of flamenco history, during the 60s, before withdrawing from the limelight of celebrity and artistic activity.
The film's director and producer, Paloma Zapata, and co-producer, Nadja Smith, addressed the audience afterwards. "We are delighted to be here today, even under these dire circumstances. We are deeply shocked by what has happened in your country. There are no words." said the director and producer of the film. "Thank you for being here today. We know this is a very dreadful occasion for you and your country, so is the case for us. We will show you the heartbreaking and unknown story of Antonia Singla, a unique and extraordinary artist. You will be the first to meet her on screen" German co-producer Nadja Smith remarked.
The screening was followed by a Q&A, where the audience posed questions to Paloma Zapata and Nadja Smith as well as to the film's leading actress Helena Kaittani who portrays Antonia Singla, the film's music composer Juliane Heinemann, the sound designer Hannes Schulze, and the cinematographer Iñaki Gorraiz. "The biggest challenge was finding a way to tell this wonderful story about this fantastic artist. I wanted to do a mix of fiction and documentary and find the best way to introduce Helena as a professional actress to this very different world. It took us four years to make the film. The pandemic came along, as well. We had to hurry, of course, because the film was about an elderly woman," said Paloma Zapata.
The baton was then passed to Juliane Heinemann. "I grew up in Berlin, but I've been living in Barcelona for the last 20 years. I am a musician. I don't specialize in flamenco, but it's still a really familiar kind of music for me. The music in the film, though, is not traditional flamenco. It could perhaps be described as rock flamenco. The piece at the end was a blend of my own music and the lyrics from a poem by Federico García Lorca. I only made some small adaptations to the lyrics," he explained.
Afterwards, the film's protagonist Helena Kaittani, confessed to the audience that she came into contact with flamenco from a very young age. "I learned to dance long before I became an actress. I started dancing when I was three or four years old in Cordoba, Spain where I grew up. You could say I started dancing as soon as I started walking! I feel lucky because I grew up very close to this kind of music and dance. So, it made me very happy that I was able to combine the two great loves of my life, dancing and acting in this film" she said.
Answering a question from the audience, she also spoke about the experience of working as a professional actress alongside everyday ordinary people. "It was a unique experience for me, as an actress, as a woman and as a human being. It helped me grow. I learned so much from these people. They were so communicative and cooperative when we were shooting together. They are open people with big hearts who freely share what they think and feel. They shared their life story with us so generously. I won't hide from you that I cried while watching the film. It is, after all, the first time I saw it on the big screen in a movie theater."
The audience then wanted to know more about the handling of the painful details concerning Antonia Singla's life. "Decisions change all the time when you're making a film. The truth is that it was important for us to respect that Antonia didn't want to remember the painful moments in her life. When asked about how Antonia was approached, whether she was willing to participate in the film and if she is still unknown in the flamenco dance circles, Paloma Zapata replied: "The film is actually the story of the discovery and search for La Singla. It actually shows my own research. We found Antonia before the shooting. She initially didn't want to participate in the film, but we met two or three times, explained the project to her and she finally agreed to participate. She remains unknown in flamenco circles."
Immediately after, Paloma Zapata spoke about the intersection of flamenco and jazz in the film. “The story of the connection is special. It all started with people in Germany who loved jazz and identified common elements between flamenco and jazz. For example, both genres are a form of improvisation, expressing the desire for freedom. Antonia's life with her father was very difficult, she was extremely isolated from the rest of the world. Therefore, her connection with jazz music was particularly important for her." Finally, the audience wondered if more films had been made about Antonia. "There is a wonderful German film from 1964 that is a mixture of documentary and fantasy. It's mainly about Antonia's attempt to regain her hearing" stated Paloma Zapata, concluding the evening.