Carlos Agulló is the epitome of film and spirit, of putting the two into a cocktail shaker and pouring out memorable stories. A good example of this is his latest documentary (More than Silver), which is based on the week spent in India by the Spanish rhythmic gymnastics Olympic runners-up.
INTERVIEW WITH CARLOS AGULLÓ
"There are much more important things in life than winning medals"
Carlos Agulló is the epitome of film and spirit, of mixing the two into a cocktail shaker and pouring out memorable stories. A good example of this is his latest documentary (Más que plata), which is based on the week spent in India by the Spanish rhythmic gymnastics Olympic runners-up.
Carlos Agulló has spent half his life in the world of film, as both an editor and a director. Complot para la paz (2013), a documentary applauded by festivals across the world, was the turning point of his career. When he is not behind the camera or shut away in an editing room, sports have an overwhelming importance for him. Sport as a physical activity and also as a social project. So much so that, as he himself says, "it saved my life". It was his passion for films and sport that led to Más que plata, El sueño de volar and A ritmo de Río.
Más que plata, his latest collaboration with the Spanish Gymnastics Federation (RFEG), is the story of the trip to Pune, India, by the members of the rhythmic gymnastics team that won the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. It was an experience in which the Spanish women acted as mentors for a group of Indian gymnasts and that taught them, as Carlos noted, that "there are much more important things in life than winning medals."
It was an intense week in which Carlos had no idea what was going to happen. "We had thrown some good ingredients into the pot and we knew that things could happen but we didn't know what, specifically. That was my main concern." But the magic did happen and he was there to capture the moment on film.
If you know how to observe, keep quiet and point the camera at life, things happen
The Spanish gymnasts came away having learned something new, but they were not the only ones. Carlos learned and portrayed the fact that sport is a universal language, that a smile is worth a thousand words and that enthusiasm and effort change lives. "Indian gymnasts may dream of an Olympic medal, but they know they are not going to get one. But they still enjoy themselves along the way." That is the philosophy that permeates Más que plata, 27 minutes of heat and colour by Carlos Agulló.
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INTERVIEW WITH CARLOS AGULLÓ
Más que plata is your third collaboration with the Royal Gymnastics Federation. How did this project come up?
I have a history of collaborating with the Federation. We made El sueño de volar, which was very popular, and then A ritmo de Río, for the Olympic Games. The Federation also had a history of collaborating with Iberdrola and that is why the possibility of doing a social project with the rhythmic gymnasts came up. They included me in the conversation and between us we looked at what the possibilities were.
You are used to filming far from Spain but what was it like to film in Pune?
In Complot para la paz and other documentaries I had filmed in a number of countries, but I had never been to India. I was aware that not all the gymnasts spoke English and that was a risk, but I also knew that at the visual level the country was going to give us a wealth of experiences.
Two cultures, two languages and one passion. Did sport become the universal language during filming?
Absolutely. I arrived a couple of days before the Spanish gymnasts and in truth there was little connection between the assistant director and me and the Indian girls. But, suddenly, the Spanish girls arrived and in an hour they were friends and talking about all the things they had in common.
The week that the gymnasts had together became a time for learning from each other. What lesson did they take away?
Originally, the idea was that the Spanish girls would teach the Indian girls rhythmic gymnastic training techniques, but in the end it was the Indian girls who gave them a lesson on how to have fun with few resources.
And what lesson did you take away?
Well, the way they have over there — I do not know if it is because of the lack of resources — of living in the here and now, that viewpoint of valuing the process more than the results. That is why Más que plata is about how there are things in life that are much more important than winning silver medals.
During this project you spent many hours with the Spanish gymnasts who won silver in Rio. What are they like when you are dealing with them personally?
Very approachable. Just before this, I had filmed a project called Six dreams with elite footballers and, of course, that is a different universe. They live in a kind of bubble, not like these girls, who live a regular life, travel by public transport. They are very normal people.
Torn carpets, concrete floors... What was the reaction of the Spanish gymnasts when they saw the conditions their counterparts train in?
At the beginning they were startled because they are used to a padded floor and the Indian girls train on a torn carpet on concrete floor. But when they started to take out the gifts that they had brought from Spain — toe caps, balls and clubs — the sadness turned to emotion on seeing the faces of the girls.
You left Spain with a script. Did it change much during your stay in Pune when you saw the closeness between the gymnasts?
I was aware that we had thrown some good ingredients into the pot and we knew that things could happen but we didn't know what, specifically. That was my main concern. It was risky because we had five days and we didn't know whether there was going to be any chemistry between the girls. It is also true that if you know how to keep quiet, to observe and point the camera at life, things happen.
Rhythmic gymnastics is one of the most demanding sports there is. Both the Spanish and Indian gymnasts, therefore, share the fact that they make sacrifices. Was that the key factor in the closeness that we talked about before?
Yes, it is true that they are both used to making great sacrifices. Footballers, for example, train for an hour and a half a day, but gymnasts train for seven and they go to school or university as well. Even among them there was a great difference in terms of opportunities. For girls from India to get to the Olympic Games with the resources that they have is impossible, and that is the lesson: Indian gymnasts may dream of an Olympic medal but they know they are not going to get one. But they still enjoy themselves along the way.
The experience was very intense and a friendship grew between the gymnasts. Do you know if they stayed in contact?
Yes, we have a WhatsApp group where we write to each other a lot. A short time ago it was the trainer Savita's birthday and I sent her the documentary with subtitles in English. They loved it!
Speaking of Savita, when you see the documentary, she is the one who most captures your attention. What opinion do you have of her work?
Admiration. She is someone who knows her limitations, who knows that she is not going to get to the Games and yet she still keeps on fighting. She finds funding, she sews the clothes... She spends a lot of time on it with no financial rewards. And it is not only how she carries the team forward but how that affects their lives and those of their families.
What is your personal relationship with sport and how do you view the surge in women's sports?
Sport changed my life. More than that, it saved my life after a tough adolescence. At 18 I began climbing and spent half my life doing that. Then I focused on boxing. I think that sport plays a very important role in society for bringing people together, transmitting values, and getting young people to have healthy habits instead of harmful ones. Also, we are now living in a time of very important steps towards equality between men and women and I believe that women's sports offer a great opportunity to join this movement.
There's a saying that a smile is worth more than a thousand words. How many things did the smiles that they gave you during your stay in India tell you?
Laughter brings people together, especially when you do not have a common language. It is something universal. You see poverty, you see children living in conditions very different from those over here and, at first, you feel sorry for them, but then you see that they are happy and that the communities support each other. That is really nice.
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