Nacho Solana, Director of Namnala: 2014 Heartland Film Festival

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Nacho Solana directed five short films to date. #7 and On My Mind have received over 90 awards and selections in national and international festivals. Exchanges, which was nominated for Best Short at the Triple Distillation Notodofilmfest, is currently in phase distribution and Skills was recently released. Finally, Namnala starring Alex Angulo and Babou Cham, whose filming took place in Santander in October 2013, is now making the festival circuit.

A Personal Message from Nacho to Heartland Film Festival Fans

HFF: What is your film about, and how did the project come to be?

NS: Namnala is a short film about second chances and leaving the door open to new opportunities, other people and yourself. It is told through the eyes of José (played by one of the greatest Spanish actors, Álex Angulo, known from Pan’s Labyrinth, who sadly passed away this summer), the owner of a technical repair shop who doesn’t believe in his job anymore since [people don’t repair things] in the modern world. One day a customer comes in, he’s an immigrant played by Babou Cham (who you may recall from last year’s Oscar nominated short film Aquel no era yo [“That Wasn’t Me”]). There is tension between José and the customer, because they don’t trust each other, but something will change their point of view.

I took this idea from a short story written by Marcos Díez, who later wrote the screenplay of Namnala. I was looking for an idea so I could do a new comedy or romantic comedy short film, because that was the genre I felt comfortable with. This search led me to read “The Customer,” a very dramatic one-page short story that really moved me, and I thought that if this story had filled my soul with beautiful emotions, maybe I had the chance to make the audience feel the same. Two years and a half and many problems later, we managed to shoot the film and couldn’t be prouder.

HFF: What was your role in the production?

NS: In Namnala I was both director and executive producer. This film is a very independent (as many short films are, I guess) and low budget one, so I had to be involved in production, searching for resources and building a team that could help me make this project feasible. But what I really enjoyed doing with Namnala was the directing process, from my work with the screenwriter, going through the experience with these great actors and the direction of a very professional team to the last stage with the film editor and music composer.

HFF: Why did you submit to the Heartland Film Festival? Have you been to the Festival before?

NS: I have never been to the Heartland Film Festival, but I thought it was the perfect festival for our story. Namnala is a very human (on so many levels) story, and when we read the Festival’s philosophy we thought we should try. When we got the news that you were going to screen our film, it was really amazing.

HFF: This year’s tagline is “Shift Your Perspective” – what lasting effect will your film have on moviegoers?

NS: The soul of Namnala‘s story is a “shift of perspective” of its main character. And the message we want to send to the audience is that they should try to understand other people’s points of view. A “shift of perspective” is exactly what we were trying to give when we shot Namnala.

HFF: What has inspired you to become a filmmaker?

NS: As almost all film directors, I guess, I grew up surrounded by cinema. When I was a child I used to live very close to a theater, and every time I had free afternoons, I went and watched whatever they were showing. When I discovered that these films I loved where made by people who actually did it for a living, I realized that this was what I HAD to do. I guess this obsession is what made me start imagining stories. Even though I thought it was unreachable for me to become a film director, especially living in a small town like Santander, I started doing embarrassing homemade movies, and after many, many years, step by step, I got to do some work I could show to the world.

HFF: What is something that you know about filmmaking now but you weren’t told when you started your career?

NS: In my first [films]I was obsessed with techniques: camera movements, shot sizes, those things. And I took the actors’ performance for granted as if, when everything was prepared, they would do their work without having to explain anything to them. I didn’t know I had to prepare the scene and practice with them. I didn’t know there was an acting direction! I know this is something really obvious, but I just did not realize it as soon as I should have. And ironically, when I discovered acting direction, I started caring less and less about techniques.  And, right now, my favorite moment of a project development is when I am working in the rehearsal room with the actors and the scene begins to make sense.

HFF: What are some of your favorite movies? What’s your favorite worst movie (you know it’s bad, but still love it)?

NS: Even though I am from Spain and people will assume that I should prefer European films, American narrative is the the kind of film-making I love. My favorite movies are the American adventure ones made in the 80s and 90s, the films I grew up with. I also love Hollywood’s Golden Age film directors, all the Alfred Hitchcock films, and, currently, all my favorite film directors work in the USA: Spielberg, Eastwood, Aronofsky, Fincher. . .

My favorite bad movies (well, I don’t think they are that bad!) are the Final Destination movies. I love them. All five movies. I think that their premise is the pure essence of thriller. You know all the characters are going to die, and each death is told through a series of small events that lead to a climax. Well, that’s anticipation, scene preparation and building tension. That is cinema as good as it gets. Seriously, Hitchcock would be proud of these films. Well, I guess you won’t take “Namnala” seriously after reading this. Sorry.

HFF: How many film festivals has your film been a part of? What do you like the most about the festival experience?

NS: “Namnala” is just starting its distribution through festivals.  We are having a very good season in Spain, but for a moment we almost had no screeners overseas. I hope this selection will be the beautiful start of an amazing journey! What I really love about festivals is, besides getting to know filmmakers from around the world, that you get to watch films that wouldn’t be available for you in any other way. And especially the other way around, you get to show your work to people around the world that didn’t know about it. I think what festivals do in that sense is a gift to us filmmakers.

HFF: Heartland Film Festival moviegoers love filmmaker Q&As. Let’s say a Festival attendee wants to earn some brownie points—what is a question that you’d love to answer, but haven’t yet been asked?

NS: I have two of them. First one is: How did you shoot the African scenes in NamnalaOur film is a very low budget one, so we had no chance to go to Senegal to shoot the scenes that appear in the videotape. So I asked a friend of a friend of mine who was travelling to Sierra Leone to do some shots there. And I also took the actors to a small village in Spain, and we decorated the house and garden as if they were in Africa. When the rest of Namnala‘s team saw the tape, they were completely amazed!

The second question is: What does Namnala mean? As the word is said right after the character watches a videotape of his wife, the audience usually assumes “Namnala” is his wife’s name. But it’s not that way. The character actually says nam nala sama khol, Namnala is not even a word! The whole sentence means “I miss you, my love” in Wolof, a language spoken in various African countries like Senegal where the character is supposed to come from. I decided not to translate the word when it is said in the film because the main character doesn’t understand its meaning either. He just realizes in that moment how important the videotape and what he has done are to him. Hearing the word “Namnala” is the reason why he decides to keep on going, even if he didn’t understand what it means. And I thought the audience should have the same information as the main character.


See Namnala in Shorts Program 8: A Touch of Reality at the 2014 Heartland Film Festival:

  • Saturday, Oct. 18 – 6:00 pm at AMC Traders Point Showplace 12
  • Sunday, Oct. 19 – 2:45 pm at AMC Traders Point Showplace 12
  • Monday, Oct. 20 – 2:00 pm at AMC Traders Point Showplace 12
  • Thursday, Oct. 23- 6:30 pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
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