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Sixty Spanish Cigarettes

About this film

A man walks across a bleak scenery. Empty vastness, hills to climb. Persistent wind. Mark John Ostrowski’s film “Sixty Spanish Cigarettes” is a minimalist film, an attempt at capturing the consequences of Spain’s socio-economical crisis and its effects on the young, who see no solution but to leave their country. Ostrowski has created a contradictory film, a film which portrays a man’s endless walks, but a film which, at the same time, lives of its stasis. The director uses a carefully positioned static camera, which often sees the protagonist disappear into the distance. Where is he going?

Ostrowski’s greyscale aesthetic, combined with long and extreme long shots, gives way to beautiful portraits of a landscape to traverse. In every scene, contemplation is imminent. Yet Ostrowski plays with our expectations. Harsh cuts interrupt the contemplative mode and ask us to reconsider - reconsider what we have seen, reconsider what we have heard. Start anew, start a new chapter like the director’s protagonist on his way to a better future.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
I would like to know how you approached this film. It doesn’t look as if you had much of a script, but instead let the film develop in its own way, albeit with small limitations.

I arrived by ferry to an island where I was stranded for several days due to bad weather. This set of circumstances dictated how the film was made. There is nothing preconceived in the film; there was no script and no shooting schedule. I was isolated and lonely and I wanted to convey this through the film. This is the only film of mine in which I do not appear on the screen, yet I feel it comes closest to expressing my inner soul.

The methodology was simple: I simply walked all day and stopped when I found something that was interesting. So yes, the film did evolve on its own, organically, as the island slowly revealed itself.

Sixty Spanish Cigarettes is a contemplative film. Your long takes invite us to take our time studying the scenery you show us. But you disrupt our contemplation with cuts, which feel rather harsh, followed by a few seconds of black screen. Why those harsh interruptions?

This film won the award for “Best Editing” at the Moscow International Documentary Film Festival, where it was called “a visually hypnotic existential cinematic poem”. Each segment is a small, self-contained film all by itself: pieces of a puzzle that the viewer must construct for himself. A visually powerful film with little dialogue tends to make the viewer sit back and relax because he does not have to keep up with the plot. So we tried to undermine this with our rigorous camera work and editing. The cuts have varying effects on viewers: some will be forced into an increased state of awareness; others will be reminded that the film is not progressing in strictly linear fashion.

Something I really enjoyed is the juxtaposition of movement and stillness. Your film is about emigration. You show a man walking through beautiful landscapes. And yet, there is this utter stillness in your film, in parts because of your static camera.

The camera does move, but only when strictly necessary. When you are working with a small camera any kind of camera moves will be very evident, and I made every effort so that the camera movements did not draw attention to themselves.

Yes, the protagonist walks incessantly through most of the film, but because the landscape is so vast, the impact of this movement is greatly reduced. He actually disappears completely from the frame at times, leaving behind the extreme stillness of the landscape and the incessant whistling of the wind. The true movement here is that of the wind, which is invisible to the eye but not to the ear.

In several scenes, your character is no more than a dot in a landscape. Nature towers over him. Can I ask you what your relationship to nature is?

In this film, the idea was to show how humans cope with their surroundings, which in this case offer very little sustenance. The landscape is unrelenting and cruel, and completely oblivious to the protagonist’s efforts to survive.

You are a director who seems to prefer greyscale over full colour. In a way, this supports your narrative, but, strangely enough, also the natural environment. I wonder whether it would look as nice in colour, but maybe this is just my preference.

Black and white reduces a scene to its basic elements and in its detachment from colour actually seems to come closer to reality. It allows us to concentrate on light and shadow as well as composition with no other distractions. Stunning colour images of bright, sunny landscapes would be well suited for a TV commercial but in my view they would only detract from the bleak existentialist message of the film.

Finally, where was the film shot? Did it take you long to find this beautiful location, or was the location scouting a lengthy process?

The film was shot on La Graciosa, a small island to the north of Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands. I went alone, during the winter, when the weather was foul and there were very few people around. I knew exactly what conditions were needed in order to portray the savage beauty of the place.

What can we expect from you in future?

My latest film “If I Were a Filmmaker” (https://vimeo.com/167475891) is an autobiographical film that makes use of Super 8 footage. It had its world premiere at the Szczecin European Film Festival (Poland) and won “Best Film” at the Sarmat Independent international Film Festival in Russia. Later this year I hope to release my new film which will again venture into the realm of contemplative cinema.