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Inma de Reyes On Working Class Filmmaking and Spanish Culture Following ‘The Boy and the Suit of Lights’ Premiere at DocFest

by Josie Reaney

“I was trying to come into the film without judgement... I had to see the world through him, not through me.” 

Sheffield DocFest took over the city from the 12th to the 17th of June, with Friday night screening ‘The Boy and the Suit of Lights.’ 


It was a moving and thought-provoking debut feature length documentary by director Inma De Reyes, who won the Grand Jury Award for the festival’s International First Feature Competition. 


The film follows Borja, a young boy from the Spanish town of Castellón, navigating his adolescence against the backdrop of his culture. 


Alongside acting as a father figure to his little brother, he supports his mother with their daily financial challenges. Already a moving narrative, the documentary shows Borja’s family enrol him in their local Bullfighting School - aiming for fame and a safer future. 


Growing up in Spain’s bullfighting capital sets the foundations of Borjas coming of age years. The bullring is the pulse of the town and seems to dictate the dreams of Castellón’s young men. 


It explores political, financial, and social complexities surrounding this controversial tradition. Aiming to fulfil his family's aspiration that he will debut as a bullfighter at 16, where he’ll wear the titular "suit of lights,” Borja dedicates himself to training.


De Reyes displays the beauty of the mundane and the joy and sadness found in all moments. It captures the layers of life in this sleepy Spanish town.



Sitting down with De Reyes following the premiere, the first question on my lips was how it felt to finally see The Boy and the Suit of Lights on the big screen. 


“It was nerve wracking to watch with an audience,” De Reyes admitted. “I could feel my heart beat over the film but it was great to feel the reactions and I felt calmer as it went on. When you put it on the big screen, every shot you’ve chosen becomes more powerful so for me, it was a very moving experience - best day of my life!”


With filming having spanned over 5 years, De Reyes watched Borja grow into a young man but the end of shooting, she revealed, “didn’t feel like an ending.” 


Of course, the family are still there and living in my hometown. It feels more like an end to this episode of my life. It’s bittersweet.”



‘The Boy and the Suit of Lights’ explores Borjas relationship with his grandfather, Matias, reflecting a generational pressure on men to peruse the bullfighting ambitions - something which his grandfather failed to achieve. 


A raw scene shows Borja looking directly into the lens, the camera capturing every-micro expression and every flinch and twitch of the muscles around his eyes. His face tells hundreds of stories and raises even more questions. 


How can we balance tradition and heritage in a society that won’t accept it? How can generational expectation impact a life’s whole trajectory? How can working class experience enliven an existence as much as it can restrict it? 



The film brings up interesting points about the value of heritage and tradition in conflict with the modern world. We can’t let tradition die for the sake of political correctness, nor can we allow certain traditions to continue unchanged. 


When it comes to navigating this in society today, De Reyes believes “it’s down to the people who live in these traditions and understanding that they should be looked at with complexity.” 


She adds, “It seems you’re either a big fan and you defend it or you’re a protestor who is against it. It would be good if people could find a middle ground. 



To make this documentary a reality, De Reyes collaborated with organisations like Chicken and Egg and Screen Scotland, which aim to expand opportunities for female and working-class filmmakers.


She shares her insights on equality in the industry, noting, “It’s very much not equal but funders like Chicken and Egg and Screen Scotland do such a good job in understanding representation and supporting the person behind the camera.”


Then recounting an empowering anecdote: “We had workshops where we encouraged to say to ourselves ‘I am a film director.’ It seems silly but it took a long time to accept that we were valid but we were being told by these other amazing women that we are - we have a space and a voice in this industry, go out and change it.” 


Formal interview over, De Reyes shared her sweets over the table. We continued to speak about the space for women in the creative sector, the art of documentary making, and just how pretty Sheffield Botanical Gardens is this time of year. Watching her film was a joy, and our conversation will stay with me for a long time.


Edited by Emily Duff

 

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