Quiet is requested in the room. The commotion that reigned less than a minute ago in the great hall of the old San Lorenzo cinema in Colmenar Viejo (Madrid), converted into a cabaret, stops with this order. When all devices are in position, the show can begin. And he does it in a big way. About twenty performers and dancers marvel at a dreamlike cabaret performance on stage. Above their heads a sign reading Tindaya. This is not a real performance, and the spectators become extras, transformed into citizens of another time, who are as much a part of the action as the performers on stage. This is the shooting of Las Noche de Tefía, the new series born from the creative mind of director and screenwriter Miguel del Arco, produced by Buendía Estudios with the participation of Atresmedia. Del Arco, one of the great voices of current Spanish theater as a director and playwright and one of the founders of the late Pavón Kamikaze Theater, winner of the 2017 National Theater Prize, returns to television with this project.
The story of this fiction is inspired by a historical reality. Between 1954 and 1966 there was a place in Fuerteventura that was called the Agricultural Colony of the Tefía Penitentiary. This euphemistic name hid the harsh reality of what was once a concentration camp where convicts were sent under the law of vagrants and thugs. Passed by Congress in 1933 during the Second Republic, this ordinance was intended to punish groups considered antisocial, such as vagrants and pimps, and, after a reform of the regime in 1954, homosexuals as well. The story’s fictional protagonist, Airam Betancor, who went through the concentration camp, is interviewed by a documentary filmmaker in 2004 to uncover the reality of this place. Betancor recalls his harrowing experience as a prisoner but also mixes in memories of an imaginary space, the Tindaya, where the convicts could be free in a fantasy cabaret.
Del Arco had long been behind the idea of a series about the Francoist concentration camps. “In the early 1960s, with the advent of tourism and so on, the regime is said to open up to the world. But deep down it was still exactly the same, and there is very little information from those areas. The Franco regime tried to cover every trace,” explains the director, fresh from the recording of one of the shots. Del Arco admits that when he submitted the first script for his story he thought “it would never get produced” as he feels that “talking about these things is terrifying,” but he was pleasantly surprised when they asked for a second and third version. Now his fiction is practically a reality, and filming, which began on April 25, will wrap up this August.
Director Miguel del Arco (left) directs Patrick Criado. Yes Fornes
Two other names have assisted Del Arco in handling the narrative: Antonio Rojano (screenplay) and Rómulo Aguillaume (director). The second emphasizes the good treatment the production has received and coincides with the series creator’s pleasant surprise at being able to tell the story as they intended. “I think it’s fundamental that they gave us complete creative freedom. They don’t have a manual or one, but nothing. That also gives you the responsibility to correctly convey a story that basically serves to nurture our democracy,” he summarizes. In terms of perceptions audiences might have of a series that deals with a time that still hurts sensibilities in the present, Del Arco sees no reason to worry. “I always think the audience is me. The one who needs to be upset is me, because if I’m not upset, how can I pretend to tell this story? Then there will be those in the public eye who marvel at it and others who think it’s “another fag”. For my part, I am very satisfied,” he concludes.
To make Las Noches de Tefía a reality, the series crew had to assemble a talented cast that could do justice to the complexity of each character. This fiction has the peculiarity that many of its protagonists, especially the prisoners, split into two versions of the same person: the suffering prisoner in the concentration camp and the free man who can be as he pleases in the imaginary Tindaya. These actors and actresses, clearly excited about the project, go from here to there on set, in some cases almost unrecognizable thanks to the meticulous work of the characterization teams. Filmed in the old Colmenar cinema, the star of the musical number is Patrick Criado (La casa de papel) in the role of a prisoner who takes the nickname La Vespa in cabaret.
“I had never had to sing and dance, so it scared me a lot at first because fears and insecurities come up and you don’t feel like you can do it,” says Criado honestly, lying on a sofa in a historic dressing room, which is also part of the sets. He assures that he had the support of his colleagues and also of Miguel del Arco to address these concerns. “At no point did I see him doubting me.” The actor speaks almost entirely in a Cadiz accent, as a result of his almost methodical morphing into the character. And it’s not the only thing that demands of him. “I love his talk of freedom and approach to face life with heart and face. if that [el rodaje] It’s over, I’m gonna cry. I will go through a greater grief than in other projects,” he comments touched.
A moment from filming The Nights of Tefía Jau Fornés
In a different register, calmer but with an equally obvious illusion, Marcos Ruiz (The Border Laws), who plays the young Airam Betancor, takes a seat in one of the audience seats. Unlike Criado, he didn’t have to go on stage to sweat the succession of dances, which has his explanation. “Airam plays the stylist, and she has a scene where she explains that dancing isn’t her thing, even in her imagination. He makes others look good,” says Ruiz. What he appreciates about filming is that he shot the concentration camp and cabaret scenes separately and that he was able to work in Tenerife [donde se rodaron las secuencias de la cárcel]. “The fact that we’re all a bit more isolated from our real lives here in Madrid makes it easier for us to put ourselves in the shoes of what the characters are experiencing,” he argues.
In addition to Ruiz and Criado, the list of actors also includes names such as Miquel Fernández, Raúl Prieto, Luifer Rodríguez, Javier Ruesga and Carolina Yuste. The latter, winner of a Goya Prize for her role in Carmen y Lola, is one of the few female voices in a story that, due to the context, is predominantly male. “I think the character of Nisa represents the most revolutionary women of the time: unionists, republicans and feminists. It’s very punky,” summarizes the actress. Unlike many of her peers, she does not appear in the prison scenes, as does Javier Ruesga’s character La Sissi, a transgender woman. “What concerned me the most was treating this role with a lot of respect and properly documenting myself as a cisgender man. It’s an interpretation I make out of humanity and affection that I think people will see on screen,” explains the interpreter.
Miguel del Arco with Miquel Fernández (centre) and Raúl Prieto (right) shooting in Jau Fornés
A quick peek inside costume designer Sandra Espinosa’s clothing store, which set up production just a few steps from the set, reveals the care that went into finding inspiration for the various suits and dresses. Series Executive Producer and Buendía Estudios Editor-in-Chief Sonia Martínez highlights another factor. “We worked with one of the best art teams in this country. They located this old cinema, with a structure that allowed us to intervene relatively little, but which they conditioned perfectly with dressing rooms and everything, “he says. For them, the great value of this particular production is the direction of Miguel del Arco, which she considers “a privilege” The general public will be able to connect in equal parts with this feeling and with this world of rawness and illusion with the arrival of Las Noche de Tefía on the Atresplayer Premium platform.
You can follow EL PAÍS TELEVISION on Twitter or sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.
Receive the TV newsletter
All the news from channels and platforms, with interviews, news and analysis, as well as recommendations and criticism from our journalists