What do urban areas, absent fathers, and the passage of time have in common? A cursory viewing of Manel Cebrian’s short film Barcelona in Black and Ben Gregor’s feature Fatherhood might suggest: simply, not much. Given a closer look, the two films share less obvious threads — among them the painful and liberating qualities of change.
Although Barcelona in Black is shot entirely in black-and-white, each shot feels warm and glittering, so close the viewer feels as though they could breathe the city’s air. The short is Cebrian’s attempt, in his own words, to track the city’s “30-year metamorphosis from an anchored to the past industrial city of the 80’s, through the painful pageantry of its Olympic revival, into its current cosmopolitan modernity.” Though the film itself was not shot over 30 years, Cebrian’s directorial choices suggest a sweeping shift in the city’s landscape: various shots show cranes at work, skyscrapers coming alive with incandescent light, and waves of cars traversing city highways. Aside from three musical compositions that run the length of the eight-minute short, the film is silent, which gives the project a meditative effect.
By contrast, Fatherhood bursts with color, sound, and dialogue. Shot in four different locations—Memphis, Los Angeles, New York, and London — Gregor’s film features dozens of teens and young adults in at-risk youth programs seeking to understand their lives as children of absent fathers. In a synthesis of interviews and composition, the viewer learns how each child has used art, music, and writing to process their feelings of abandonment and loss. The film features original music and the resulting music videos created by each group, all of them a powerful fusion of diverse genres like hip hop, gospel, classical, and spoken word. But the kids aren’t the only ones whose voices are heard—in a bold directorial choice, Gregor’s film utilizes a “call and response” format in which the kids’ “calls” are met with “responses” from reformed absent dads. The second half of the film explores the factors that lead men to abandon their families including gang violence, drug sales, and incarceration. The viewer also learns that just as there are resources for at-risk youth, there are resources for absentee fathers who want to rehabilitate their family lives.
Cebrian and Gregor may have wildly different filmmaking goals and styles, but Barcelona in Black and Fatherhood are a better fit than they appear to be at a surface level. Cebrian’s sprawling, glittering Barcelona can feel simultaneously lonely and inviting, just as the multitalented teen creatives in Gregor’s film are able to convey their powerful hurt and fierce strength all at once. Given enough time, it seems, anything is possible—whether it’s a family’s healing or a city’s rebirth.
Barcelona in Black runs 8 minutes and Fatherhood runs 74 minutes and both will be shown Saturday, April 21 at 6 p.m. at Movie Tavern as part of Thin Line Film Festival. To register for Thin Line Fest or to purchase a premium registration, click here.