Top of the Docs #36 – Berwick Special: The Year of the Discovery (2020)

Welcome to Top of the Docs, Flip Screen’s hub for all things documentary. This weekly column takes a look at the crème de la crème of non-fiction media. This month takes a look at the best documentaries screening across the UK’s film festival scene, starting with a trip to Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival!

When we think of Spain in 1992, we think of two things. Firstly we think of the Barcelona Olympic Games, a statement event in Spain to present their country as a neoliberal hub akin to other western European states, and distancing themselves from the Franco years. The second event would be the Universal Exposition of Seville, an event marking the fifth centenary of Columbus’ landing onto the American continent which brought about (misguided) pride in the pre-Franco years, and a rose-tinted view of empire. While the focus of the world was on these grand and heavily invested into spectacles, across the Iberian Peninsula all was not well. Luis Lopez Carrasco’s second feature explores this supposedly glorious year in Spanish history through the lens of Cartagena, a Spanish town, which saw its parliament burn down in 1992 after months of unrest.

The Year of the Discovery is a monument to the preservation of forgotten histories. The film goes to great lengths not just to educate us on what happened in Cartagena, but gives us local reactions to it, memories from that time, and the impression those events have on todays generation. Filmed in a café in Cartagena using split-screen, across 200 minutes we listen to a cast of forty-five characters express their views on a whole host of topics, some directly linked to the events of Cartagena, some more generally political observations, and some just general café chat. Lopez Carrasco creates an environment that feels wholly authentic and trusting, rather than taking an imposing or didactic approach, the film’s role first and foremost seems to be that of listening – capturing a complete range of viewpoints and documenting the whole argument.

The story of Cartagena is one not unfamiliar to many of us across Europe. A country pushing for deindustrialisation, a process that completely destroys ways of life and communities built around such workplaces. This leads to economic upheaval in industrial towns, trade union action, and tension between citizens and state. What makes The Year of the Discovery so interesting is the way in which it captures the familiarity of this trauma whilst also never deviating from its focus on the ground in Cartagena.

Despite its somewhat daunting length, The Year of the Discovery is an unmissable insight into the way in which states manage to erase community and memory almost simultaneously. Jingoistic celebrations of empire and showy displays of “investment” (i.e. the Olympic Games) are used in an attempt to cover the wound, leaving Cartagena as a broken warning sign that neoliberalism’s smarmy smile is not to be trusted. The film does this not with a vitriolic attack, but instead through a film that shows solidarity and community through the simple act of listening.

Trailer for The Year of the Discovery

This year’s Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival runs entirely online until the 11th of October 2020! Find out more here.

Header image courtesy of Rotterdam International Festival