With a smile, the revolution! : at the heart of the Catalan revolt

In 2017, for a few weeks, Spain lived to the rhythm of the referendum on the independence of Catalonia … A look back at this event which upset Europe.

Plátano Films

AlloCiné: What is the origin of With a smile, the revolution! ?

Alexandre Chartrand: As a French-speaking Canadian born in the federal capital – where French is a minority language – in the heart of the 1970s, certain aspects of my personality were deeply influenced by the political context of my youth, between the referendums of self-determination in Quebec. 1980 and 1995, against the backdrop of constitutional negotiations between Canada and Quebec and the failures of the Meech Lake (1988) and then Charlottetown (1992) accords; political instability and questions of belonging to one nation rather than another have shaped the man I have become. So when the holding of a self-determination referendum was mentioned in Catalonia, I immediately felt called upon. I recognized in Catalonia a context that I felt I knew: a culturally strong region, centered around a vibrant metropolis and speaking a language that is not that of the majority. In addition, I was already fluent in Catalan, a language I studied at the University of Montreal. I felt like I had the sensitivity required to convey to the rest of the world what the Catalans were going to experience. It is on these bases that I went on filming in 2014 and 2015 to film the events that would give rise to a first documentary on the Catalan democratic quest, a film entitled Le Peuple forbidden (2016) (available free online: https : //la-manip.fr/le-peuple-interdit.html). For With a Smile, the Revolution !, the idea was concretely born in November 2016, when I was in Barcelona for screenings of the Forbidden People. It was during a visit to the parliamentary office of Ferran Civit, one of the characters in the first film, that I had the opportunity to meet Lluís Llach, icon of Catalan culture, newly elected deputy and office neighbor of Ferran . When they started talking about having a referendum in 2017, I knew I was going to be back the following fall to witness it. I immediately contacted the Carles Puigdemont team and was able to meet the head of communications of his firm in the following days.

How many hours of rushes did you have before entering the editing room?

We filmed a little over sixty hours of footage between early September and mid-October 2017. The ratio is around 40 to 1. We must also add to this several hours of archives and images that we do not have. did not film ourselves.

Have you censored yourself? Are there any scenes you didn’t want to show?

I had a concern for this project that I had never had before, which was guided by the concern that my film could serve as evidence to indict people who participated in the protests. And I want to be very clear about this: I did not film any assaults or destruction of anything. My team and I spent full days and nights in the midst of the biggest gatherings of September and October 2017 and these all took place with respect (with a smile!) And rather felt like us. find in a big festival. But the absurdity of the charges and arrests that took place as a result of the events, while we were still editing, prompted me to revise each of the plans to make sure I was not giving the Spanish government any opportunity to bring charges against anyone based on what was in my film. So yes, I had this problem, but nothing to hide. In this sense, the most absurd of all this was the detention of Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, from October 15, 2017, on charges of having caused “the violence” of September 20. We have been with the two Jordis throughout this day (from 8 a.m. until the middle of the night – several minutes of which are found in the film), but we have not witnessed any violence whatsoever. it was neither the “incitement to violence” that saw them condemned.

With this film, you question democracy and ask a fascinating question: how can an election be undemocratic and undermine the security of a country?

The right-wing deputy Xavier García Albiol inflicts on us this linguistic swelling from the first minutes of my film: “a self-determination referendum is not admissible because it is undemocratic”. I will respond here with an ironic sentence from my friend and Catalan deputy, Ferran Civit: “to vote is to do something as revolutionary as to put a piece of paper in a box”. And I would add these elements of reflection: From when should a government listen to the popular will? Since the beginning of the 2010s, around 80% of Catalans – regardless of their political orientation – say they are in favor of holding a self-determination referendum. But these figures are the result of polls, which some do not give credibility to because of the limited sampling. So here are other figures based on the result of votes, so on a massive sample:

– On November 9, 2014, nearly two and a half million Catalan citizens (out of a population of 7.5 million of which 5.6 million are registered on the electoral rolls) violate the law and take part in a consultation deemed illegal by Madrid to vote in a ballot which they know to be without legal value.

– In the Catalan election of 2015, two-thirds of democratically elected deputies are in favor of holding a referendum. The election having been called in the form of a plebiscite on the question, people knew that it was one of the central issues of the campaign (the subject is found in The Forbidden People). -In 2017, 90% of democratically elected municipal administrations voted in favor of holding a referendum. From when do we judge that there is a form of democratic legitimacy? Beyond the desire for independence of the Catalans, there is a democratic struggle that has been waged in Spain for many years. On the one hand, there are the Spanishists, who refuse to hear about a referendum because it would be unconstitutional. The second article of the Spanish constitution indeed stipulates that Spain is indivisible. Any attempt to dissolve it is therefore unconstitutional. We can’t even ask the question. On the other, there are the Catalanists, once carried by the dream of a federal Spain, where Catalonia would enjoy the status of a quasi-state, free to make its political decisions. But the Catalanists are now mostly in favor of independence, given that the latest attempts to increase their autonomy to a minimum within Spain ended in 2010 with the withdrawal of several rights yet enshrined in the statute of autonomy of the Spanish region.

What state is Spain in today?

Spain is at an impasse. The central government of Madrid is trying to ignore Catalan demands for the holding of a real referendum of self-determination, recognized by the Spanish authorities. And even if Pedro Sanchez succeeded in having the previous president of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Quim Torra (independentist center-right), on charges of disobedience, the Catalan people re-elected again a government dominated by the separatists, this time led by Pere Aragonès, of the center-left independence party ERC. Pedro Sanchez freed the Catalan political prisoners somewhat unwillingly, at the beginning of the summer of 2021, to catch the European courts by surprise, which were starting to look into their cases and could – by issuing a judgment – have their sentences overturned. I recall that Sanchez pardoned the political prisoners, he did not grant them amnesty, which means that they are still guilty of the acts for which they were condemned to ridiculously heavy sentences (from 9 and a half to 13 and a half years of prison, for the organization of a vote!). But Pedro Sanchez, head of Partido Socialista Obrero Español (center left) pardoned them all the same. What his predecessor, PP leader Mariano Rajoy (right) – in office in the 2017 referendum – probably would not have done. If the right were to return to power in the next legislative elections in Spain (scheduled for 2023), potentially allied with the far-right Vox party – in full rise – the situation could deteriorate again for the Catalans. Sanchez still offered his Catalan counterparts to participate in a “dialogue table”, scheduled for the week of September 13, to try to ease tensions between Barcelona and Madrid. For many, this is a first, since Sanchez’s predecessors had always refused to recognize that Catalan aspirations deserved to be heard. But the dice are loaded, because Sanchez has already announced that he will not grant the Catalans permission to hold a self-determination referendum, which is the main issue of these meetings. So there will probably be another monster demonstration in Barcelona on September 11, 2021, the Catalan national holiday, which has gathered hundreds of thousands of people since 2010. And Madrid will probably continue to say that there were only a few thousand. people …

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