The life of Unai Canela (Barcelona, 18 years old), if it were not true, would seem written for a great movie. Son of the renowned nature photographer Andoni Canela, as a child he began to accompany his father on his trips, and his father soon understood that in addition to being the protagonist of the adventures on camera, he had just found a companion of fatigue. In Una’s journey (2016), shot when he was 10 years old, recorded the 15 months in which the family (Unai, Andoni, Meritxell Margarit, the mother, and Amaia, Unai’s little sister) traveled around the world in search of of seven threatened animals on six different continents. Then came the TV series holy spirit (2017) and the documentary panthers (2021), focused on big cats in danger, and in which Unai was already taking an active part in the production.
So it was the law of life that his filmic independence arrived, and this happened during the confinement of the covid, in a small town in the Catalan Pyrenees -they prefer not to give the name-, when the boy took the camera and filmed the nature that surrounded: thus was born Between mountains, which is screened in the Made in Spain section of the San Sebastián festival, before its commercial premiere at the end of autumn, which has made Unai Canela the youngest feature film director to compete alone in the San Sebastian festival. If one adds up all the audiovisual adventures of the Canelas, an almost Homeric documentary about Unai is formed.
In person, Unai Canela laughs at the possibility that he is the youngest in the history of Zinemaldia, a milestone that could be jeopardized if his sister Amaia throws himself into it. “Well,” he replies, “more than using the camera, which doesn’t appeal to her that much, I’m initiating her, as seen on screen, in the love of nature.” The family, he confirms, cannot complain about the confinement: they spent it in the Pyrenees, in a town of a hundred inhabitants with no cases of coronavirus. “It was the best possible, and with that landscape, that fauna and that flora around me”, she certifies. “That’s why I decided to start recording, to value nature. That’s why we make these movies, that’s why I want to be a director.” And besides, narrator: “I had to tell a story and that’s why I even took charge of the music”. yes in panthers there was no voice in off, in Between mountains Unai Canela takes center stage. “They are different products. It will not always be the same, here I needed it because it is my experience”.
Canela wants to make it clear that she is aware of her fate, that the pandemic means “the reunion with the place” where she grew up, and that she does not name. “Because I want the viewer to think that it could be her hometown, the village where she was born. We can all have a relationship with the forest and the animals”, she underlines. Later, she lived in Banyoles and Olot. “Now it’s been four months since I’ve spent more than a week in the same bed,” she says. That, when she wasn’t traveling around the world. “That’s why these four months, for my next project”, which she prefers not to reveal. She now it’s her turn to defend Between mountains, result of polishing 50 hours of digital recording in 4K.
The creator is resolute and with tables when speaking, direct and forceful. Like when he talks about his generation. “I don’t like the attacks that are made on the youth. We are in a world full of problems, from global warming to the war in Ukraine, as well as other catastrophes. It is a dark future, but at the same time there is a lack of visibility of the potential of youth”, he raises his voice. “There are many of us, the majority, possessors of sensitivity and solidarity. And when we are stimulated by art, culture or ecology, we respond”. He can’t stand some generalizations: “I don’t see so many young people who don’t raise their heads from the computer. And surely many of us are fools, okay. Well, we have to deal with a poisoned environmental heritage from previous generations.
For that traveling childhood, Canela quickly uses an adjective: “Different”. And she explains: “At my age, I have traveled a lot, I have been lucky. Because in the end I have always had the return home, the return to the group of friends. I’ve missed things, it’s obvious. However, I prefer to sacrifice that to the possibility of missing out on what I have enjoyed. For me, it would be… horrible. I just got back from a solo trip and there were days when I missed my family, and days of great enjoyment. I listen to friends who go to the countryside one morning, as something exceptional, and I understand that it is the equivalent in my case of having a drink or going to the disco. And I prefer the mountain.
Before the camera, and before the recorder, the documentary filmmaker underlines the importance of all animals. In Between mountains he delights in his cat, in the amphibians that splash in the streams, in the birds that nest under the roof of his house, in addition to, obviously, taking pictures of deer and foxes, placing cameras at crossroads traveled at night for the most varied fauna: “I am very interested in highlighting the balance of the habitat, so that the viewer understands that all animals have their function and, above all, their relevance”.
Between jokes and truth, Unai Canela defines the human being: “We are selfish. And you have to use that selfishness in raising awareness of caring for nature. Because we want to continue enjoying this world, right? Humanity actually matters little in the cosmos. We will only occupy a few thousand years in the universe. What will happen when we disappear? Any”. And he lengthens his reflection: “However, the planet has to last us, we live on it. Of course, the deforestation of the Amazon is a disaster, but if you do not have an ecological conscience, let me tell you that this catastrophe will affect you directly. And that everyone wants to live spectacular moments that appear in Between mountains”.