Referendum Fatigue, Messi tax and an ‘international’ film festival …

Just to make this clear from the very start: I believe Catalonia should at least be allowed the right to have a referendum for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on whether they would like to be an independent state (or country, or whatever it is they want) – pretty much like Scotland were allowed to – and for whatever reason they think they might gain by achieving it – but (and it’s a very big but), in the event of it being a ‘yes’, for it to then be considered and debated logically and democratically from there on, over and over again, with a clear timescale, and with every single consequence taken into account. That doesn’t make me a pro-Catalan or anti-Madrileño, or pro- or anti- anything. I just think they should be allowed to vote. And one way or another, I just wish they’d bloody well get on with it and stop all the squabbling. Then we can move on with other important issues: fighting ISIS, fighting Ebola, fighting cancer, fighting crime, fighting racism … or taking nude selfies and tweeting jokes about Kim Jong-un’s haircut.

You might ask: who am I to talk – a guiri, a foreigner in Spain? Well, I know a bit about Madrid and Barcelona. I’ve got great friends in both cities. I have children who were born or grew up in both cities. I’ve commuted between the two, on and off, for 17 years. I’ve launched many magazines and newspaper supplements in both Spanish and Catalan. I love Madrid. I lived and worked in Madrid for 10 years (so I’ve been there, done that, wrote a book about it, tried to make a film about it, got the T-shirt, blah-blah-blah). I love Barcelona, too. I’ve now lived and worked in (and near) Barcelona for 7 years (have just completed a book about it, am in the process of producing a film set in Barcelona, and will get the T-shirt eventually, blah-blah-blah). So, yeah, I think I can talk. And here are just a few things that I have very clear in my mind about this whole debate:

Both cities, Madrid and Barcelona, have handled this ‘crisis’ badly, and continue to do so. Madrid doesn’t understand Barcelona – and by that, I mean the central government in Madrid doesn’t understand the Catalan government. And vice versa … Barcelona doesn’t understand Madrid … and ditto. I don’t think they ever will. Both cities, too, totally and utterly fail to understand what the international community (those who live in Spain and those who don’t) think or ‘feel’ about the issue – and perhaps they don’t care (but just for the record, guys, the Catalan independence debate is not really a priority or big news internationally. Sorry about that … there’s a bit of Referendum Fatigue happening right now … plus some other distracting stuff going on in Hong Kong and the Middle East – oh, and now Messi’s alleged tax evasion, which is now going to grab the world’s ‘Barcelona headlines’ for all the wrong reasons). Some of you won’t want to read or hear this, either, but there’s also that big language barrier … Catalan.

There. I’ve said it. Someone had to.

I don’t want to stir things, but at least in the Scotland and England debate they all argued in the same language, even if it was with strong dialects or ‘effing Tory’ accents (David Cameron’s phrase). Sure, the Barcelona ‘brand’ has marketed itself very well internationally, thanks also to Gaudi, Miró, Dalí, Messi (again), Mango, Torres, one or two chefs and even Freddie Mercury, but not Catalonia and certainly not ‘Catalan’. And that’s despite the millions they’ve spent trying to do so.

But before you attack me: yes, I have had some Catalan lessons and I can understand most of it but I can’t speak it. Nor can millions, billions of others.

On Monday of this week, the Catalan Government finally launched a Twitter feed in English [@catalangov]. Within minutes they had 200 followers, and now have well over 4,000. By the time you’ve read this, they might have over 5,000.

The website of the ‘Cambra de Comerç de Barcelona’, which is the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce (international commerce, gettit?) doesn’t even have an English version. I walked past their office the other day and there’s this big, boasting ‘Doing Business’ English slogan plastered on their window display. Alas, every single brochure inside was in Catalan.

My film is an English-language film, set in Barcelona, and it is a UK-Spain co-production, which means we are working with film boards in both the UK and Spain. I’ve so far been very impressed with the help and multi-lingual efficiency of the Barcelona Film Commission and Catalan Films & TV institutions.

However, I’ve just come back from a long queue at the accreditation desk for the ‘Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantastic de Catalonia’, a famous film festival which is held in Sitges every year (it is their 47th year), specialising in horror, thriller, sci-fi and fantasy films. International and Catalonia are the key words here. There are films competing from … all over the world. Film professionals (including distributors, agents, producers, directors, actors) visit from … all over the world. Tourists and film-goers from all over the world visit Sitges to take in the zombie walks, the ambience and to see the films.

There’s a pocket-sized guidebook that gives all the information on how to go to the screenings. It details all the times, prices, discounts, disability access, where to queue and collect tickets, and map details of each venue. It even gives a brief description of each film, as well as all the parallel events taking place – seminars, lectures, masterclasses, you name it. It’s a great little guidebook, actually … er, if you speak Catalan. It’s only in Catalan. It’s not even in Spanish, let alone English … and this is an international film festival. True, there’s some screening information online in English, but if you want to download the ‘hand programme’, it’s only in Catalan. I have some colleagues from London here with their film, which was also recently screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. At the moment they look lost.

Barcelona’s postal address is ‘Barcelona, Spain.’ I’ve been saying for years (but no-one ever listens to me) that they should simply change it to, ‘Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain’. No referendum needed. Now there’s a thought …

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