Work / Film

Castells is a gripping short film about the Catalonian tradition of building human towers

Opening on a dramatic sunset over a mountain, London-based production company Autobahn’s new short documentary, Castells, is an emotionally-charged, beautifully shot depiction of a centuries-old Catalonian tradition. “We see films as a carrier of emotion, so many of our choices favour emotion over information,” explains Pedro de la Fuente, the studio’s co-founder. As a result, the film is full of mood and atmosphere, focussing on the breath-taking, nerve-racking spectacle that is a castell.

Castells are human towers, and were first documented in the 18th Century, Pedro explains. “It was a pastime for the people of Catalonia and a way to show off their skills in the main religious celebrations of towns. It is an inherently Catalonian tradition and although there are other countries and regions that make human towers, the Catalonians elevated this to an art.”

Each town in Catalonia has its main colla, or team, and each colla has a headquarters which function almost as a social club. The collas train there three times a week but also meet to socialise. Several times throughout the year, each colla performs against two or three other teams where they attempt to make the tallest, most complex tower. The collas are recognisable thanks to the coloured shirts each member wears, and it’s this factor which forms many of the most visually arresting scenes in Autobahn’s film. Tight crops form a sea of blue, white and red, hinting to a much larger, never-ending crowd.

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Autobahn: Castells. There are around 800 people in one tower’s base.

The camera, throughout the agonising moments where team members seem to climb and climb ever higher, remains close to the action. “We wanted a film that felt truthful and not set up, where you get a feeling of being amongst the castells and what it feels like to be a part of this world,” James Worsley, the other co-founder of Autobahn tells It’s Nice That. “When you first see a tower up close in person, there is a definite real emotional feeling that takes over you, we both honestly teared up. The emotions really are tangible. This is something that we hoped we conveyed in the film.”

Castells emerged as a way for Autobahn to flex its creative muscles and produce work “with no clients attached so we could be free and completely unrestrained in our creativity,” Pedro adds. In early 2018, they had been travelling quite a bit of Barcelona to work on commercial briefs and ended up chatting to their local producer about the project. “Her eyes lit up when we first discussed it with her,” James recalls. “She couldn’t stop talking about it, she knew the right people and was totally onboard if we wanted to go ahead… we obviously had to say yes.”

The result is gripping in its portrayal of the tradition, but for Pedro and James, the castells always represented something much more than a mere tradition. “We felt it somehow carries a metaphor for society itself, almost as if it was a model for interaction, cooperation and societal development in success and in failure,” James concludes. “We connected to that and we were emotionally hit by the sheer beauty of the towers themselves.”

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Autobahn: Castells. The film was shot in Catalunya around the cities of Barcelona, Vila Franca de Penedés and Valls.

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Autobahn: Castells. Everyone gets together to try and give the towers support.

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Autobahn: Castells. At only 11, Mariona is one of the enxanetas, the child that climbs to the top. Usually, this position is filled by the children, some as young as 7.

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Autobahn: Castells. A fatal accident in 2006 led to the requirement of all children participating in Castells to wear helmets.

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Autobahn: Castells. Every two years all the main teams gather in Tarragona on a competition to see who builds the tallest and most complex towers.

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Autobahn: Castells. The highest towers have ten levels.

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Autobahn: Castells. Accidents are common and spectacular.

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Autobahn: Castells. Castells involve the whole community, from young to old, men, women and are central to the Catalan culture.

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Autobahn: Castells.