Signing off…

When I initially came up with the idea of doing a documentary on bullfighting in 2017, I was unsure of what direction it might go in. I wasn’t sure if it would be in any way interesting to a UK audience either. But my reasoning for carrying out a piece like this was (partly) for that reason. At home, it’s probably the case that people don’t fully understand what happens in a corrida de toros (bullfight). That’s natural, I don’t think anyone (myself included) would have been able to describe the different stages of the bullfight.

Neither could they flag up the varying arguments that are circulating in relation to bulls. I met someone last night who described it as a “hot topic”, and it is. Anyone that I’ve spoken to has some opinion of bullfighting. The intensity of their feelings on the matter changes as much as their opinion, from those who are moderately for, to those who are vehemently against, and vice versa. I hope that the final product will reflect this.

One word that came up constantly in interviews struck me as interesting; “respect.” According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of that word can either be “an act of giving particular attention” or “high or special regard”. I couldn’t help but wonder if “tolerate” would be a more appropriate word. Respect implies some sort of involvement with the activity, whereas tolerate doesn’t. Or at the very least it implies less involvement, and a sort of neutrality. Perhaps it’s a language issue, which is the cross anyone who’s done translations will know all about. That being said, it is at the same time a pressing issue, never mind a language one.

Just a note on the language, while we’re on the subject. It’s been really refreshing to be back and speaking Spanish again after a year break from it. I have to admit, my level of Spanish has probably dropped since I was last here. That’s normal enough, but I’ve really enjoyed using it. Moreover, I’ve enjoyed using it in situations that I’ve never done before. I’ve really enjoyed throwing myself into the world of bullfighting, and getting up to speed with the vocabulary, the specific terms, and the interviews. This leads me to my next point; some of the interviews (for your benefit) are not completely translated. I’m not sure a UK audience will fully grasp the terms, or the significance of some things. They haven’t been left out but the translations have been adapted to help understanding on the part of the listeners.

Whatever your thoughts, or my thoughts, or anyone’s thoughts on bullfighting, it’s clear that this topic remains of interest. It’s interesting on far too many levels to appreciate in a 28-minute radio documentary. It appeals on a human level, a national level, a continental level. It has international implications, it has day-to-day implications. When you look at this all, it’s next to impossible to fit this all into under half an hour. I’ve said previously that, if I’m lucky enough to do this as a job, it’s something I would love to return to. There’s so much I could have talked about, and so many more people I could have spoken to. I guess I’ll just have to come back out one day?..

In terms of a conclusion, I have one. And it’s not what I expected when I was planning this. It’s not wildly off target, but it is slightly different. What I can say is that what I’ve found over the past three weeks has been thought-provoking. The trick is editing all that together into a coherent 28-minute piece. What is the conclusion? Well, you’re just going to have to stay tuned for more news in time. Watch this space.

Un saludo!

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Almost in the can…

The last few days have been some of the most intense and busiest of my time here in Spain. It’s been tough, and it’s meant less sleep than I would have liked, but the truth is that I’m especially happy with what has been recorded over the past 72 hours.

In terms of interviewees I’ve spoken to Alfonso Bañeres, a vet, who is part of the animal rights group AVATMA. I met him just beside the statue of Hemingway at Pamplona’s bullring. It’s quite an imposing statue, I suppose it’s meant to reflect the man himself. On Saturday I had the chance to talk to Javier Marín (see below), a young matador who turned professional at his fight that evening. He claims that he wants to fight bulls like Zinedine Zidane played football. That’s quite the challenge he’s setting himself. Walking around the bullring with him, you could really sense how respected and adored matadors are. Which leads me onto my next point.

Within this world of bullfighting, I’ve been lucky to meet some very warm, genuine, and welcoming people. Anyone I’ve spoken to has been able to help me, or point me in a different direction, or introduce me to someone. Even if I see them in the street I’m greeted with a smile and a handshake. That might seem like a strange thing to write about, but my initial thoughts were that it might be quite an insular world, which was resistant to an outside interest. To an extent that is the case, since matadors can be especially superstitious when approaching a fight. However, I wish to add that the people I’ve met over the past number of weeks have been extremely gracious, and giving with their time. They’ve been very helpful, and I can’t thank them enough for their time and hospitality.

What I’ve witnessed over the past few days has been quite interesting. I was at “recortes” which are competitions in which participants dodge a bull or jump over it. The more risky the better (on one hand) because that’ll get you points. And, of course, points mean monetary prizes. On the other hand, the risks you take might not pay off. This is what happened to one chap who, unfortunately, got gored before my eyes. When these people say you have to respect the bull, they mean it.

I’ve also witnessed more and more anti-bullfighting graffiti. To an extent, it supports my thinking that the debate is getting more extreme. The daubing in question roughly translates to “if you like blood, cut your wrists”. It’s probably the strongest, or most striking, that I’ve seen. Perhaps it is even a little hypocritical, but I will leave that to you to decide.

One experiment I’ve been doing with a few interviewees is showing them a promotional photo of Daniel Luque, a matador who I saw recently, and gauging their reactions. As you can guess, people with different perspectives in life and in their thinking read out different things from the photo (which I attach below). That’ll make the final cut in the documentary of course.

The documentary itself, as an entity, doesn’t exist just yet. I’ve found that with every interview I record, the structure changes because of an interesting link that can be made between interviewees. Or perhaps something isn’t what I was expecting. In terms of translating it, that’s almost done too. Maybe I was biting off more than I can chew but there’s nothing wrong with trying to be like Icarus. Certainly feels like that with the heat here anyway.

And that’s just about it. I’m hoping to get one more thing recorded. In essence, this means this is my penultimate post. The next you hear from me it’ll be to bring together some conclusions, and to update you on what’s happened between now and then.

Un saludo!

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La Corrida de Toros

Yesterday marked my first proper immersion into the world of bullfighting. I’ve seen fights online and I’ve seen the bull runs before but I haven’t ever experienced anything like the corrida before.

It began with a debate/discussion prior to the fight. Topics discussed included the state of bullfighting nowadays (relevant to myself), the physical state of the bulls in the day’s fight, and the anticipated fight of local matador Javier Marin, who will turn professional on his fight this Saturday. It was lively, and at times the discussion got quite heated, as the liberal sprinklings of swear words indicated. But that passion and love for the bulls wasn’t just evident in words. It was time for the fight.

Arriving at our seats just before the commencement of the corrida, I took in my surroundings. There are distinct groupings in the bullring. There are the serious aficionados who assess and criticise every move, every gesture, and every bold flourish. Then there are the casual fans, who are interested but not as dedicated or as intimately involved. This is where I found myself, along with a surprising number of tourists. Then there are the peña sections. Peñas are like clubs or groups that people assign themselves to. They’re basically about socialising. And how they did socialise at the fight. Music, wine, costumes. Most of the time they weren’t aware there was a fight happening before their eyes. There was even a fight in the stands (it was a scuffle, like stags locking horns) during the corrida. There was a fight at the bullfight. It seems strange to say.

I’m not going to dwell on the details of the fights, because they were too intricate and wide-ranging to explain in a few hundred words. However, I will give you a brief taster. The first fighter was Juan Jose Padilla. The man is a legend in bullfighting circles and even outside said circles. He calls himself “The Pirate”. A quick search on Google will reveal why but I do suggest you aren’t eating when you do so. He struggled somewhat with his first bull due to a previous injury it had, but was extremely brave with his second. At one point he was on his knees, in front of the bull, with his back to it. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

The second fighter was another veteran of the bullfighting scene; Manuel Jesús Cid Salas, or as he’s commonly known “El Cid”. My friend explained that he was a very different fighter to Padilla, since he is more classical in his approach. What he showed was a display of mastery and control, culminating in a mesmerising performance. The public shouted for him to be awarded more than he was. A number of gents took this protest right to the umpire’s box and in his face. Passion.

The third fighter was much younger. Daniel Luque was markedly different from the other two in that he revelled in taking risks. One moment that stands out was when he threw his cape and sword away after controlling the bull continuously for close to five minutes. Throwing his equipment away (whether by accident or on purpose) meant that he was totally exposed. He had no protection. He had no tools to control or direct the bull. It was topped by him reaching over and holding the bull by it’s right horn for what seemed an eternity. In reality it was a couple of seconds, but it only takes one for a bull to gore.

Behind this ceremony and spectacle there was an inevitability; the death of six animals. This was what is being outlawed by the Balearic Islands. They’ve decided to adopt blood-free bullfights, why poses the question “is that really a bullfight?” Or at least, it did at the discussion prior to the corrida I saw. This is the crux of the matter; animals are killed as part of a show. It is a show. I don’t think pro or anti- bull supporters can deny that. Neither can they deny that a bull is being killed. Where they depart are the reasons for that. I don’t wish to comment either way. It’s something that Spain is figuring out for itself. What I can comment on are the upcoming interviews I have. I think they’ll prove to be enlightening.

Un saludo!

Progress..

The last few days have been spent trying to compile and gather my thoughts about what I have so far. Bullfighting is certainly interesting, and it’s interesting to many people. It’s just that the way it’s viewed as interesting tends to differ among said people.

One interview has been completed since my last post, with Mapi Jimenez. She organised a protest against bullfighting here in Tudela. It’s good to get all these perspectives. It’s informing my conclusion (I think?). And the two interviews that I have confirmed will certainly top this off. Keeping shtum about what those are. They are going to be incredibly useful.

The sad reality is I don’t know if I’ll have time to do all that I intended to. I know this is a uni project, and I haven’t got the clout that a professional operation has. That hasn’t stopped me trying to push my own boundaries. However, if I’m lucky enough to get into this as a career, this is a topic I will definitely come back to at least once. There’s such a world of information about bullfighting that a 28 minute documentary is certainly going to prove challenging (I’ll come back to this) but what I’m trying to do is set up what the arguments are.

What struck me just before I started recording my latest interview was the bullfighting paraphernalia on show in local shops. As a sneak peak for you, on tape I asked Mapi about the banderillas (skewers used to weaken bull during the fight) being on display in public, essentially. She told me that this is part of the debate on the streets; shops will either advertise themselves as pro-bulls by displaying matador caps, the banderillas, or paintings of bulls, or anti-bulls by not displaying anything. Although, I imagine that by not displaying anything you might also not have any opinion on the matter. Perhaps a case of muddied waters, but it further underlines how public this debate is.

Going back to the issue of it being challenging; it’s quite challenging. I understand this is a topic where people might fall on one side or the other. What’s important for me is providing as much of the picture as possible. What I’m trying to do is come at this debate from as many angles as possible to give as rounded and complete an argument as possible. I’m already starting to draw conclusions, but I’ll keep those as a surprise for the end of the documentary itself. Spoilers. What I’m also aiming to do is ensure this isn’t such a dense piece. I feel that, given the subject matter, it could easily go on for hours before you get a grasp on the situation. That’s why I’m trying to take in as much as possible in 28 minutes. The finished piece (if I’m smart about it) will be as dense as it needs to be. I’m not promising a laugh a minute; it’s a tough topic. But what I am promising is an informed and rational piece that’s as dense as it needs to be in some places. In others, I’ve tried giving it some room to breathe.

In relation to editing, I have the prototype of the first 11 minutes. I reckon I can get that to slightly under 10 in a final cut, but it’s useful going into interviews to know where I’m at in this stage of the game.

Inside 11 minutes I take you on a magical mystery tour of:

  • numerous locations
  • me, breathless, trying to walk uphill and
  • lots of great editing trying to nullify the noise of Spanish people partying

It’s getting there. I’ll make a documentary yet.

Un saludo cordial!

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More interviews..

Today was my first recording in Spanish. I haven’t spoken it in about a year, so I’m rusty but I got there. What it means is just another challenge when it comes to editing. But who doesn’t like a challenge?

This time it was the turn of the (mainly) anti-taurinos; those who are against bullfighting. I spoke to a number of people from the council here in Tudela about their thoughts and ideas about what bullfighting represents, where it’s come from, and where it’s going to.

Tudela is an interesting example, because the council decided to pull funding for bullfights a few years ago, but have since compromised to have 2 fights instead of 6. It’s interesting because it means that, going forward, there may be more villages that feel the same. Or perhaps not. We’ll have to wait and see.

What certainly is the case is that these decisions don’t only have an impact on identity, if you can use that argument. They have economic consequences, for breeders, for promoters, for bullfighting societies. If all goes well, this will form the next segment of interviews. I’m moving from the Pro and Anti crowds to a more personal reflection on bullfighting. How does it affect people’s everyday lives? Or more precisely, how is the supposed distaste towards bullfighting affecting their lives?

What is becoming obvious is that this is a debate that has raged for years, decades even. There may be no end in sight. But what does that mean for people and their opinions?

Un saludo cordial!

Sanfermines

Despite living here 2 out of the last 3 years, I’ve never made it to Pamplona’s fiesta before today. If huge crowds, three different songs playing within as many metres, and genuine hospitality and warmth is what makes you tick, then I do recommend you come visit at least one time.

But, of course, barring the heartlands in the south of Spain, Pamplona is the bullfighting centre of the universe. At least it is to outsiders. A Spaniard would probably point to San Isidro as the main bullfighting festival. That being said, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is probably the reason why this is generally considered the archetypal Spanish fiesta for outsiders.

Talking of Hemingway, I visited one of his old haunts today to meet with my interviewee, Ana Alvarado, bullfighting advocate, journalist and teacher. We met outside Cafe Iruña and made our way upstairs to a quieter area (NB: A relatively quiet area, this is a Spanish fiesta, after all). We chatted about many things, from her first memories of bullfighting, to the topic of inclusivity in bullfighting via arguments for and against. It was a really interesting interview, and I’m of course very glad to have spoken to her. Muchas gracias Ana!

After that I decided it would be only right to take a look at the stretch where the bull run takes place. A mere 841m. The first part is all uphill, which is not the most pleasant in the mid-evening Spanish heat, but I suffer for my art. What I found intriguing is that walls and areas show some damage from the bull run. On a previous occasion I remember seeing a corner that had been worn smooth by decades of encierros (or so my Spanish friend told me after a few beers).

What I noticed was just how prevalent the symbol of the bull is. From the moment I stepped off the bus there was a stall selling pins and t-shirts with bulls on them. Then there are the tourists wearing encierro-inspired gear. And of course, there are the large silhouettes of bulls dotted across the landscape when travelling between towns and cities. The prevalence of such a symbol serves to reinforce the idea that the bull is a proud image for (some) Spaniards, and that the Spanish people continue to revel in it.

But all that could be changed by my next interview. That’s the beauty of making a documentary.

Un saludo cordial!

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Fighting the bulls

Welcome to this blog. My aim is to keep a public log of what I experience whilst recording my documentary; “Fighting the bulls”.

I have long been interested in bullfighting, but not necessarily in relation to the act itself. I think it’s more the fact that we have nothing comparable in the UK, at least not since fox hunting was made illegal. Bullfighting (or tauromaquia) interests me because it seems to have been lifted straight out of the past. Clearly, tradition is of vital importance to the Spanish people; that cannot be denied. But is this link to the past weakening?

Wherever you turn, there seem to be more reports and studies detailing how bullfighting is on the decline, and how people are turning their backs on a once beloved tradition. Why is this the case? Or is this the case?

I intend to pick away at these arguments over the course of about three weeks in Spain. I hope to provide you with some answers, and in the process I hope to uncover some answers to questions I have about bullfighting in general.

This blog and documentary will not advocate one side or the other. What I will be doing is offering level, and informed, arguments from both sides. Setting myself up for one side or the other is setting myself up for a fall, and doing a discredit to any audience who might want a different perspective.

I look forward to writing for you over the course of the next month. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I do preparing it.

Un saludo cordial,

Daniel Bennett