[Scene from Rocío]: That gang would take to the jail, every day, night after night, a list to select individuals, take them to the road, and murder them in front of the headlights of a truck.
Isabel: What you are listening to is a fragment of a documentary from 1980. It’s called Rocío. As far as I know, it is the first time that a film in Spain talks about those who disappeared during the Civil War. It is also the first time that the names of the victims and the names of the murderers are stated.
But I don’t know if I can play those scenes.
That film was the first film banned by a judge in democracy, in 1982, when censorship supposedly no longer existed in Spain. And it still is today: as of November 2023, there is a court ruling in force that prohibits the broadcasting of this film if the forbidden fragments are not removed. And not only that: as a result of this censorship, the director never made another film.
In our country we learned very early on that talking about the past was dangerous, that we should not make a statement or stir up the wound… and that, of course, we do not talk about that.
Welcome to the first “we don’t talk about that” in democracy. Today’s episode is about a silence that, perhaps unbeknownst to you, marked the way we talk about our recent past, or not.
Today’s episode is called Rocío and is a genealogy of silence and, hopefully, of how to break it.
I have been obsessed with this film for years and I am not the only one.
Around Rocío and its director, Fernando Ruiz Vergara, and what happened to them, to him and to the film, there is a kind of fraternity, people who came to the film through others, by word of mouth, as if in secret. Some of us see the documentary as a link between the past and the present of our country, what could have been and was not; others as a warning for navigators of the future, a censorship that marked what we could and could not say. And all of us took it upon ourselves to continue that word of mouth, necessary to bring the film and its director out of oblivion. I call us Rociístas. Many of us know each other. This episode is a four-part essay with some of those Rociístas. Together, we try to understand why a simple documentary became so dangerous in the years of Transition and its consequences for us today.
Isabel: Part one. Interior, night. Silencing Rocío.
Concha Barquero and Alejandro Alvarado are two of those Rociístas.
[Conversation between Concha and Alejandro]
Isabel: I went to see them at their house in Málaga.
[Isabel]: If you could introduce yourselves, please.
[Alejandro]: (laughs) This is the most difficult question!
Isabel: They are filmmakers, researchers, film people.
[Alejandro]: Film in general, documentary film.
Isabel: And they always work together.
[Alejandro]: Yes, yes, yes.
[Conversation between Concha and Alejandro in the background].
Isabel: In the years when they studied and started making films, no one had ever talked to them about that director, nor about his film, nor about everything that followed. Me neither. When they discovered it, they became so obsessed with the film that they became experts on it.
[In the background. Concha: But it is true that for us it was very powerful…]
Isabel: They made a short film about Rocío and Alejandro even did his thesis about censorship in the film. They also looked for its director, Fernando Ruiz Vergara. And they found him.
Concha: We arrived early in the afternoon. We went into his house with the blinds down because it was very hot and we stayed there talking for hours. Of course, he did the talking, we were mostly listening.
Isabel: That first visit was in 2010, a year before Vergara died. They were two young film researchers. He was already a cursed director living alone in a small town in Portugal.
Concha: He needed to tell his story. So we arrived and he told us his story. Everything he remembered: his experiences, what happened with Rocío. Point-blank. I mean, that afternoon we didn’t get up from our chairs for about eight hours and suddenly we went to bed and we said:
Alejandro: What is this?
Concha: What is this? (laughs)
Isabel: For them, meeting Vergara was like a revelation. Suddenly they felt that someone had stolen a link in their chain: an Andalusian filmmaker, like them, who made political documentaries, like them, and who nobody had ever mentioned.
Concha: And that they were totally appealing to us as a generation, as citizens, as Andalusians too.
Isabel: But before talking about what happened to Rocío and why nobody talked to us about it, I want to tell you how it was made and what Rocío is about.
Isabel: It was the 70s and Fernando Ruiz Vergara, the director and his partner, Ana Vila, who would be the screenwriter, lived in Portugal during the Carnation Revolution. There they made some money by organizing cycles of forbidden films on the frontier. Spaniards who wanted to see films that were allowed in Portugal, but not in Franco’s Spain, traveled to the border. Vergara and Ana Vila had discovered political cinema there. So when Franco died in 1975, Vergara thought he could finally shoot a film he had been thinking about for a long time.
Those were moments of emergence of documentary filmmaking in Spain.
Alejandro: Logically, because of the freedom before and after the abolition of censorship in 77, filmmakers are eager to talk about the topics vetoed by Franco’s regime. And it is evident in many films…
Isabel: Vergara had grown up in Huelva and had always been interested in the phenomenon of the Rocío, the most important religious event in Spain at that time and still today.
Isabel: If you don’t know it, the Rocío is a pilgrimage that takes place every year in the town of Almonte, in Huelva, when hundreds of thousands of people make a pilgrimage from their villages to venerate the Virgin of the Rocío. Vergara wanted to understand this religious phenomenon that seems incomprehensible to many outsiders. The result was Rocío, his first documentary.
[Music from the documentary Rocío: … And in the date of Rocío from far away I come to see you...]
Isabel: By day, by night, in the documentary you see thousands of people coming to touch the Virgin, people praying, but also people having fun on the journey from their villages to Almonte.
[Music from the documentary Rocío: … from León I come to see you...]
Isabel: Carriages, carts, horses, sevillanas costumes and a lot of dust from the road. The images are beautiful, they are shocking and for me they are above all intimate. They are the images of someone who has gotten into the mud, who really wants to understand. And I think that precisely because of that, because of trying to understand, problems arrived.
[Music from the documentary Rocío: … as a barefoot gentleman, I have prayed. Thinking they were brothers, the same ones who threw me out...]
Isabel: Because Rocío, the documentary, is not only a description of Rocío the pilgrimage. Rocío is about many things, but the main one is the relationship between the Church and power.
Alejandro read me a synopsis written by the authors.
Alejandro: Let me read it to you. This is what Fernando and Ana wrote: We have tried to make an analysis of what the pilgrimage of the Rocío is and what it represents.
Isabel: The film pulls the thread that runs through the great structures behind the pilgrimage.
Alejandro: Where thousands of landless workers live….
Isabel: And it gets to how the Church and the landowners, ally themselves to make their power prevail in an agricultural area like Almonte, with hundreds of thousands of day laborers.
Alejandro: How it has defended its interests against all odds.
Isabel: And so, pulling the thread, the documentary leads to things that were not expected, or maybe they were.
Concha: He bumps into things, he always says he bumps into things, but I don’t know how much he would run into things, because in the end one bumps into what one is looking for, right? With the history of the repression and the fascist murders in Almonte, in the hot summer of 36, right. And then there were some neighbors who spoke to him clearly about the repression.
Isabel: Those scenes in which several neighbors of Almonte talk about the repression at the beginning of the Civil War, would be the ones that would be censored later. And to understand them you have to remember two names: the first one is Pedro Gómez Clavijo.
Pedro Gómez Clavijo was 70 years old when the documentary was filmed. In a close-up, looking at the camera with a deep voice, he gives his testimony. He tells how 100 Republicans were killed in Almonte as soon as the Civil ar began in July of 1936. They were 99 men and one woman, they called them “the 100 of Almonte”.
Pedro Gómez Clavijo also says that the people in power in the town used the Virgin of Rocío as an excuse to commit these murders. And he also says who was the person who ordered the killing of the 100 of Almonte. He says his first and last name. But in the film his voice is muted when he says it.
Isabel: Vergara decided to silence it as a precaution. Several people had warned him not to include those scenes in the documentary, but he said that without them, without explaining the relationship between power and Franco’s repression, the film would not be understood. But he knew those scenes were dangerous. Franco had only recently died, democracy was still arriving in the country and censorship had just been abolished. That’s why Vergara took precautions and self-censored.
Concha: What he does is that while this neighbor of Almonte says the name of this person, he mutes, that is, he silences the soundtrack and places a black rectangle over this person’s eyes, which supposedly makes it difficult to identify him.
Isabel: And it is true that it was dangerous to say his name. That man whose name is silenced, that man who is accused of being responsible for the murder of the 100 of Almonte, had not only been mayor of Almonte, he was also the Elder Brother of the Brotherhood of Jerez de la Frontera. That is, the most important person in one of the most important Brotherhoods of the Rocío.
Isabel: His name was José María Reales and it is important not to forget him in this story.
Despite the precautions, the film had a hard time being released. It was 1980.
Alejandro: The first censorship of Rocío, in fact, was that no exhibitor in Andalucía wanted to show it, let’s say it was an industrial censorship because it touched on a sensitive issue.
Isabel: Actually, it touched on many sensitive issues. It was not easy to give a critical view of the pilgrimage of the Rocío and it was not easy to talk about Franco’s repression when nobody was talking about it in the country, at least in public. That’s why it had to be released first in cinemas outside Andalusia.
Alejandro: It was a bit of a peripheral premiere. Alicante, Vigo, San Sebastián, right?
Isabel: In the end the film made a comeback: its name sounded like one of the candidates to represent Spain at the Venice Festival, then it was selected at the Seville Festival, where it also won the Andalusian Film Award. The chronicles of that day speak of a packed hall, in silence, with a lot of emotion. It was the first time it was screened in Andalusia.
By then Rocío was already a cursed film. The press at the time said things like: “it turns out that we are going to see a film about Rocío and they have given us a political and anticlerical rally”, or, ” why remind us of the cruelties of the Civil War on one side, didn’t they exist on both?” But the press also said: “it is an exceptional document, not only as a documentary, but also in the history of Spanish cinema”.
In February 1981, the big premiere took place in Madrid.
Concha: It also aroused a lot of interest among certain political and intellectual figures of the time. People like Alfonso Guerra and Caballero Bonald went to the premiere of Rocío. You know what I mean. So actually, if what happened hadn’t happened, the film was having an impact.
Isabel: If what happened hadn’t happened, what happened?
Concha: What happened is that, well, in the film…
Isabel: What happened is that the children of José María Reales, the “head of the band of criminals” who was accused in the film, went to the premiere in Madrid to check if the film really talked about their father. They were the ones to go because their father had died a few years before the film was shot. When the sons found out that the film was indeed talking about their father, they went to the Provincial Court of Seville and filed a lawsuit because the film picked on the Virgin of the Rocío and their father. It was, coincidentally, February 23, 1981. While the children of José María Reales were going to court in Seville, Tejero was trying to stage a coup d’état in the Congress of Deputies.
The trial was held a year later, in 1982. In Andalusia, the Socialist Party had just won the regional elections and was only a few months away from an absolute majority in the Spanish Parliament. Spain looked like a new country. These were years of looking forward and forgetting the crimes of the past, as the Amnesty Law of 1977 had established.
The trial was a tough one. Even before it began, the examining magistrate considered that the film did not offend the Catholic religion. And the Church did not denounce the film either. So the trial became exclusively about the testimonies that accused José María Reales of being responsible for the murder of the 100 of Almonte.
Concha: In an attempt to summarize… The first offense seems to me to be slander. In other words, he is accused of slandering Mr. Reales. And then the defense attorney wants to demolish this idea of slander and demonstrate that in fact this is not slander, because it is a historical fact.
Isabel: What Concha says may sound too technical, but I must explain it, because in that difference between slander and libel is what I believe to be the core of the trial and of what was really being judged during that month of June of 1982.
Slander is accusing someone of having committed a crime that they did not commit. And what the defense wanted to do was that: to prove that the testimony given by Pedro Gómez Clavijo in the documentary was true, that in fact, the 100 of Almonte had been killed, that it was a historical fact, and that for that reason, because the truth was being told, the documentary was not slandering Mr. Reales.
But the prosecution did not want to prove whether the repression in Almonte was true or not, in fact, they did not even want to talk about repression. That is why, instead of speaking of slander, they spoke of libel: a libel is a crime that affects a person’s honor, regardless of the truth or not of what is said to have happened. The prosecution and the judges only wanted to prove that the documentary did harm the honor of Reales, not whether he was responsible for the repression in Almonte.
For this reason, the judges accepted almost none of the evidence presented by the defense.
Nor did they accept the testimony of 17 residents of Almonte who showed up in court one day voluntarily, without anyone having summoned them to say that what was said in the film about the repression was true, that the 100 of Almonte had indeed been killed and that they were in mass graves.
Because to judge that, to judge if in fact there had been repression in Almonte, to provide evidence about the crimes committed against civilians during and after the Civil War would have been to open the door to judge the crimes of Francoism. And neither the judges nor the prosecution were interested in that.
Concha: Those who were in power, in political power, in the judicial power, still represented in some way the values of the previous regime, of Franco’s regime. So, perhaps the general political atmosphere was not quite ready to really speak in such a forceful way about Franco’s crimes. That is what we could say explains why the complaint of these sons was admitted and why the right of an individual person prevailed over the right of a collective as huge as 100-odd people murdered in a town in 1936.
Isabel: In the end, Fernando Ruiz Vergara decided to take full responsibility for the film so that only he would be condemned. That is why Pedro Gómez Clavijo, the neighbor from Almonte who had accused Reales in the film, had to say that he had been recorded against his will. That is to say, he had to deny something he had said looking at the camera with total calm. And Ana Vila, who had written the screenplay, had to say that the decision to include those scenes was Vergara’s alone.
In the end, the trial became what most freedom of speech trials are today: a struggle between a person’s right to honor and the right to information and expression.
And the right to honor won.
On July 14, 1982, Fernando Ruiz Vergara was sentenced to two months and one day of major arrest, a fine of 50,000 pesetas and compensation to the Reales family of 10 million pesetas, about 300,000 euros today. The distribution of Rocío was also forbidden in the entire national territory, if the scenes that the judges said “hurt the honor of José María Reales” were not eliminated.
Isabel: Two years later, in 1984, the Supreme Court ratified the sentence. An article of the time summarized the trial and its message for the future as follows: “No sentence can make the elders of Almonte forget, but it can silence them. Intellectuals will continue to write, but they will have one more reason to do so with care and the kidnapped film will become clandestine”.
And like that, Rocío sadly passed into history.
[End of music]
Alejandro: Rocío is the first film to be kidnapped and judicially censored, so to speak, in Spain. Not during the Transition, but in a democracy, a full democratic state.
Isabel: Little has changed since then.
[Music from the TV program on Canal Sur]
Isabel: In the year 95, for example, Vergara participated in a program on Canal Sur where that year’s Elder Brother of the Brotherhood of Almonte was also present. And the talk went like this.
[Eldest Brother of the Brotherhood of Almonte]: And he went to Almonte, effectively, and I say it like this, deceiving people. Because he did not say what he wanted to do, he only wanted to bring his truth to the Rocío, from 30 or 40 years ago, something that people had already forgotten and that we are still forgetting.
Isabel: This was Vergara’s answer with his Portuguese accent.
[Fernando Ruiz Vergara]: It’s clear what’s in question here, because here the only discussions that are held and that are talked about are the same ones that were held back then. I mean, I only did that according to my own curiosity. Then it gave what it gave, but in any case, freedom of expression seems to be in question and that’s it. And this is the result.
Isabel: Vergara never lived in Spain again. And not only that.
Concha: Our summary, in a way, is that the main consequence that Fernando never made a film again and was never again vindicated for many, many years.
Isabel: Part two. Exterior. Day. The Vergaras.
Isabel: When I’m doing an episode I obsessively look for things, threads to pull, people to interview, places where a scene from that story has happened. But sometimes things just show up. While recording the B-side of this episode, which is not about the Rocío, nor about religion, nor about Vergara’s documentary, I met another Rociísta by coincidence. I met him in Paterna del Campo.
Atomi: A small town with a tradition of Rocío.
Isabel: Antonio Miguel or Atomi, as everyone calls him, has been going to the pilgrimage every year for 30 years and it was there that he heard about the film.
Atomi: When I was in the Rocío I heard some comment that there was something censored about the story of Rocío. And since in the Rocío there are moments of rest, of dead time and now cell phones have internet and so on, I started to look and I saw that there was a film, which was the first censored film of democracy. It caught my attention and it was about something that a relative of mine had made, so I was very interested.
Isabel: Atomi’s last name is Vergara, like Fernando Ruiz Vergara, the director. They are not directly related, but he calls him a relative because of a distant relationship. With Atomi I learned two things I didn’t know about the film after years obsessed with it. One is that his town, Paterna, is full of people with the surname Vergara and in fact some of them are direct relatives of Fernando Ruiz Vergara, who I thought had no family left. The other thing I learned is that part of the documentary, part of Rocío, was recorded in the house of the Brotherhood of Paterna del Campo, that is, in the house that the Brotherhood Paterna del Campo has in the Rocío. Atomi showed me those scenes. Those are his favorite ones.
[Music from the documentary Rocío: …Your skin left me…].
Atomi: Look, this is where the people are spending time together in the Rocío waiting for the Virgin’s exit. Dancing sevillanas, eating, having a good time, this is what the Rocío is for us. And there are not many dressed in flamenco, are there? They are dressed up, but not…
[Music from the documentary Rocío]
Atomi: But these are neighbors. I’ve had a lot of good times there, not dancing because I don’t dance, but…
[Music from the documentary Rocío]
Isabel: Why do you like it? Rocío, the film.
Atomi: Because it shows a side that is not the one sold in the stamps and the one the Church tells you about. It is simpler, more humble. These are not people with a lot of money, these are people who want to have a good time.
Isabel: While watching those scenes with Atomi, I knew that I wanted to see the place where the scenes were filmed, but above all I wanted to meet that family that I had no idea existed. To know if and how the documentary and its censorship had also affected them. So this year I went to the Rocío for the first time.
[Voices in the Rocío]: In its presentation… Hurray for the Virgin of El Rocío! Hurray!
Atomi: People come to Rocío to have a good time, not to scratch their heads or to get into debates. Well, they also get into debates, but not political ones.
Isabel: Atomi was my guide there.
Atomi: So, nobody that you ask about Francoism or anything else is going to answer you comfortably.
[Sounds of the Rocío: bells, voices and music]
Isabel: He also warned me about what I could and could not say, but no matter how much he warned me, the mere fact of carrying the recorder generated a lot of conversations.
[Vergara Cousin]: Well, I’m not so clear that the Rocío and politics are not completely….
Isabel: And many of them ended up leading to politics.
[Vergara Cousin]: So much exhibition of the Spanish flag, to tell the truth, calls my attention a lot.
Isabel: And of course, to the documentary.
[Atomi]: Well then you have to watch the documentary cousin of our relative Fernando.
[Vergara Cousin]: I will watch it, I will.
Isabel: While I was there, word was spreading that there was a person asking for “the Vergaras” and they started to show up from everywhere. And these were direct relatives of Fernando Ruiz Vergara, who they called “el tito Fernando”.
[Vergara relatives]: Tito Fernando Ruiz Vergara. Vergara, Vergara (laughs). Relative!
Isabel: And so with the microphone and recorder, surrounded by Vergaras, I realized that I was doing something similar to what Fernando Ruiz Vergara had done 40 years earlier, when he recorded his documentary: to go with them to the Casa Hermandad de Paterna del Campo.
There I spoke with more family members, but above all with the patriarch Fernando Vergara. Among other things he told me that his father had been the Elder Brother of the Brotherhood of Paterna when his cousin Fernando went to record his documentary.
[Background noise from the Rocío].
[Fernando Vergara Sr:] My father was the Elder Brother.
[Fernando Vergara Sr.]: He gave a lot of things to his cousin Fernando, a lot of information and a lot of details. He certainly helped him a lot.
[Isabel]: And you saw the movie, then?
[Fernando Vergara Sr:] I have seen it.
[Isabel]: And what do you think?
[Fernando Vergara Sr:] I don’t think. I don’t think he should have added some things. Because I believe that what has been done fosters more hatred, when the Virgin is not to blame at all. But the gentlemen who screwed up, really screwed up…
Isabel: I asked Fernando if his father had felt bad when he saw the film. At first there was a silence and a gesture as if to say yes, he had a very bad time, but I don’t want to talk. But then he told me.
[Fernando Vergara Sr:] Because my father knew people from Almonte and they were friends of his from Almonte who were involved in the directive of the Virgin, they helped him too. And then they saw that my father had deceived them.
[Isabel]: And they called him, did you know that they called him?
[Fernando Vergara Sr:] They came here looking for my father the people from Almonte the following year for the pilgrimage and my father had a really bad time, very bad.
Isabel: The film had consequences for everyone.
[Fernando Vergara Sr:] My father, come on, he was crushed and he was crushed too. And they crushed him, they crushed him. If my uncle hadn’t made that movie, he wouldn’t have added what he did, I think my uncle was a good film director.
[Isabel]: Because I did not know anything of you, I knew about him and suddenly to arrive and that this is the most rociera family of the town.
[Fernando Vergara Sr.]: Yes.
[Isabel]: And that he made that movie.
[Fernando Vergara Sr.]: He was very loved here and had a lot of friendship, nevertheless that was broken.
Isabel: Maybe you can’t hear well, but he says that they had a lot of friendship and that this almost broke the family. You can’t hear well because there is a person shouting in the back and it is Emilio Vergara, another of Fernando Ruiz Vergara’s relatives. I spoke with him another day with much less noise. He also remembers perfectly well when his uncle Fernando went to film the documentary.
Emilio Vergara: He showed up at the Brotherhood of Paterna saying, “I’m recording a film.” He was looking for that part in which the rich influenced the Rocío of the working class at that time. What happened was that he included a series of things in the film where he implied that a family from Almonte had a great influence on the violence that was unleashed during the Spanish Civil War. There was a family that I am not going to say the name, you know it, who felt very offended. That family had a lot of political influence at that time and had such an impact in the early years of democracy, around the 80s, that they censored part of the film.
Isabel: I asked Emilio what he thought of his uncle’s film.
Emilio Vergara: My uncle pulled gold out of the earth, because he took things from the people there that nobody knew and included it in his film.
Isabel: And if he thought he regretted it.
Emilio Vergara: I believe that my uncle Fernando never, never, never knew how to say “I regret what I have done or I regret what I may have done or offended.” Never. Because as he would say, “I have told nothing but the truth of what happened and it is the truth, no matter who it hurts”. I think that if this film were to be reanalyzed today, that censorship would be removed.
Isabel: And I also asked him if he would do anything to put an end to that censorship.
Emilio Vergara: Of course I would. First, as a democratic citizen and second as a nephew of my uncle Fernando Ruiz Vergara.
Isabel: Well, I will study it well and I will talk to you soon.
Emilio Vergara: (laughs) Thank you very much, Txavela.
Isabel: Thank you, really.
Isabel: Part three. Interior day. The discouragement effect.
Isabel: Since I’m a very good student, I asked a lawyer for help. Not just any lawyer, of course. I went to another Rociísta. His name is Manuel Maroto, he is a professor of criminal law and is also an expert in freedom of expression.
Manuel: I have been looking at all the documentation we have been able to compile on the so-called Rocío case.
Isabel: Since he saw it for the first time, Manu had always found the sentence censoring the film very surprising. To begin with, of course, because censorship had been prohibited in Spain since 1977.
Manu explained to me that with the new law, the one that was already in effect in 1982, when the trial was held, judges could seize publications or prohibit the projection of cinematographic works, but only as a precautionary measure, that means, as a measure taken during a trial. And in fact, that was at the beginning of the prohibition, a precautionary measure. But then… then things get complicated.
Manuel: But once there is a final judgment, and the judge has issued the prohibition as definitive, that is no longer a precautionary measure; it’s something else. What is it? I’m not sure, because it’s not a penalty. If you look at the Penal Code applicable at that time, you won’t find any penalty.
[Manuel’s voice continues in the background]
Isabel: How could it not be a penalty, when it was part of a sentence?
Manuel: Nothing, that it’s…
Isabel: Manu researched a lot. He spoke with colleagues, examined legislations, those things that jurists do when they want to understand something.
What are you trying to tell me without legal terms?
Manuel: What I’m trying to say is that it was by no means clear, even at that time, that this could be done. Permanently prohibiting the screening of a film. If you look for the legal norm that allows this, it’s difficult to find. You have to apply different laws and it doesn’t say anywhere that a film can be prohibited.
Isabel: Hmm… After the trial, both sides appealed to the Supreme Court and the resolution came two years later, in 1984. It had been nine years since Franco’s death. Six since the approval of the Constitution. And the Supreme Court upheld the sentence. And not only did it say yes, that the film had to be prohibited, but it did something more: it showed what was really at stake in those years regarding our collective memory.
Manuel: I’m going to read this paragraph because I think it’s very representative, right. The sentence says: “Considering that in the cinematographic film in question, the purpose of vilification, offense…”
Isabel: What the sentence says in that convoluted legal language is that the film, despite appearing merely documentary,
Manuel: …to the historical, sociological environment…
Isabel: soon begins to recall inopportunely and unhappily what happened during the war.
Manuel: untimely and unhappy recollection of events that occurred before and after the 18th of…
Isabel: And it speaks ill of one of the sides, forgetting
Manuel: Forgetting that civil wars, being fratricidal struggles, leave behind a bloody trail of sometimes heroic and other times reprehensible deeds, which is essential to bury and forget, if one wishes for survivors and subsequent generations of the conflict to coexist peacefully, harmoniously, and conciliatory.
Isabel: So, if we want to turn the page on the Civil War and live in peace, we need to forget. Stay out of politics. Keep the peace.
While producing this episode, I asked many people to listen to it, and there was something that didn’t work. Some people didn’t understand why the film had been censored. I told them about the complaint from Reales’ children, the crime against honor, slander, and insults. But some people still didn’t get it because, of course, what they were asking me was something else. What they were asking was: How is this possible? What am I missing? And the answer, I believe, is in this Supreme Court sentence.
Manuel: It is very clear what concept of honor the Supreme Court is defending in this sentence. And that is, that the attack on Reales’ honor is basically not so much an attack on his personal honor but rather a kind of transgression of the pact of silence that dictates one cannot remember the perpetrators of the atrocities of Francoism, and anything else is seen as reviving old resentments.
Isabel: Thanks to this sentence, it is clear that the crime Rocío commits is fundamentally questioning the limits of memory, what is convenient to remember and what is not, and crossing some lines that should not be crossed.
Manuel: This judge puts in writing in the sentence what may be one of the great testimonies of the imposition of silence on historical memory during the Transition.
[End of music]
Isabel: And so the film has continued without being able to be screened in its entirety since then. In 2005, in Huelva, there was an attempt to project it with the censored scenes, but the Brotherhood of Rocío, the Andalusian Party of Almonte, and the Reales Family appeared at the screening, stating that it was prohibited and damaged the image of Rocío.
Manuel: Of course, but there the police did not intervene, nor was there any court order to prevent the screening. What happened was a group of people asserting that the sentence was still in force.
Isabel: And there Manu told me something that I certainly did not expect. After reading all the sentences and studying it extensively, Manu believes that the censorship today cannot be sustained. First, because it was already a very dubious penalty, but also because the laws have changed.
Manuel: There are reforms in defamation laws, eliminating defamation towards deceased persons. The formula of neutral reporting has been consolidated, where freedom of expression should prevail. Current jurisprudence, both from the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights, would support what was done in Rocío without a doubt.
Isabel: And he says that perhaps the time has come to do something.
Manuel: Because it is unsustainable, I insist, to argue that the film is still censored. Has it been in a factual and social sense? Undoubtedly. Just look at everything Fernando Ruiz Vergara had to go through, how it affected his subsequent career. And all that creates what jurists call “the discouragement effect.” That is, it sends a message discouraging the exercise of certain freedoms and rights, and that is what has happened. Those of us who thought that Rocío was still prohibited were in that discouragement caused by a judicial resolution that was hardly sustainable at the time and is now absolutely unsustainable.
Concha: Part four. Interior, night. Rebuilding the lost link. Restoring memory.
Isabel: Fernando Ruiz Vergara died in 2011 at his home in Portugal. He was 69 years old. His many friends stored his belongings in boxes and kept them among houses in Portugal, Huelva, and Seville. When Alejandro and Concha, the filmmakers from the first part, opened those boxes, they discovered a lot of films that Vergara had left unfinished.
Concha: Films that, directly or indirectly related to the censorship of Rocío, he couldn’t finish, couldn’t carry out. They remained in the form of scripts, statements of intent.
Isabel: Alejandro and Concha knew that they would make a film about them. A film to remake the unfinished films of Fernando Ruiz Vergara and also to repair a kind of link that had been lost with the censorship of Rocío. Because censorship not only had consequences for Fernando Ruiz Vergara and his family, but also for us, for the subsequent generations. With the prohibition of Rocío, all the cinema that was thought to come with Franco’s death was cut off at the root.
Alejandro: Documentary cinema disappears, and political cinema within the documentary as well, but not only because…
Isabel: We are all a bit orphaned by Fernando.
[In the editing room of Alejandro and Concha]
[Alejandro]: Well, we add this next shot…
Isabel: In their editing room in their house in Malaga, Concha and Alejandro tell me that in their research for the film, following Vergara’s legacy, they returned to Almonte, the place where everything began, to understand the trail that the documentary had left there.
[Concha]: This is the way to Almonte
[Alejandro]: This is the way to Almonte…
Isabel: They went to look for the mass graves where the “100 of Almonte” could be, those 99 men and one woman mentioned by Vergara in the film. The information about the grave locations comes from oral sources.
Alejandro: The blueprints made by those who were either witnesses or were told by someone how the executions were carried out and where the graves were, based on what was said from one person to another, and from the ones who carried out the executions would talk about it in a bar.
Isabel: This oral memory, upon which we now create maps of mass graves and know where to conduct exhumations, is not different from the oral memory of Pedro Gómez Clavijo, who in Vergara’s documentary named those responsible for the repression in Almonte. That scene was banned “because it is essential to bury and forget, if one wants survivors and subsequent generations of the conflict to coexist peacefully, harmoniously, and conciliatory,” as the Supreme Court’s sentence stated, which still remains in force today. Or so we believed.
Alejandro: Some may think this was a defeat, but I think he transformed it into a revindication. And I think that scar that the film Rocío and everything that happened to Fernando, is in a way something that pokes the sore of this anomaly that we have in Spain as a democracy.
[Isabel]: Removing the censorship from Rocío is basically what’s missing.
[Concha]: Of course, but that is a process. Honestly, that…
[Isabel]: I mean, symbolically, that’s it.
[Alejandro]: Of course.
Concha: Well, let’s see what some specialist, some jurist tells you because, well, we have consulted, and in fact, once we presented the case in…
Isabel: Coda. Killing the ghosts.
Manuel: The law has the ability to create real ghosts that must be confronted at some point.
Alejandro: I think it would be quite interesting, following this rebellious spirit of Fernando, for the citizens to break this censorship.
Concha: Propose civil disobedience, no. Well, let’s organize a screening of the complete Rocío.
Manuel: Screen it on a large format as an act of homage and gathering of all these Rociístas that have been meeting around the film, which also has something beautiful, a collective declaration, so to speak, without even the need to resort to the courts, that this prohibition no longer exists.
Isabel: That would be like killing the ghosts, right?
Manuel Maroto: That would be, effectively, expelling the ghosts instead of hiding from them.
Isabel: If I put the censored scene at the end of this episode, what would happen? What could happen?
[Pedro Gómez Clavijo]: That gang used to take a list to the jail every day, night after night, to select individuals, take them to the road, and murder them in front of the headlights of a truck.
[Documentary Narrator Rocío]: In Almonte, they killed Frasquita La Charamusca; Diego Cepeda Aragón Azuquita; Manuel and Curro Larios, the twins; José Moreno Bocanegra; Miguel Polea; Francisco Acosta; Antonio Guitar, the nephew; Captain Pedro Guitar; Juan Díaz y Díaz, the Sevillian; Manolo, from Ricardo; Martín Audén Peláez; Guzmán, the tailor; the Coquito; José and Juan, the repatriated; Bartolo Domínguez, from the mojea; José Medina Pamué; Manuel Azú; Juan, from Isidro; Juan, the clam; Francisco Marilia; Fabián Pelayo Villarán; Manuel Pache; José Triguera, the boy from the island; José Perianes; Curro Acevedo Father, the miner; Antonio Reina; Francisco Núñez Cúchares; Diego Escobar; Currito Pecho; Antonio, the cat; el Cojo Zapatero del Cabez; Juan Canito; Curro, the breero; Antonio, from the botinera; José Convento; Antonio, the Rano; Antonio Caliche, the radical; José Botones; Jerónimo, from the bakery; Juan, the Neguito; Andrés Borrero; and several others, making a total of 100 people, 99 men and one woman.
[Pedro Gómez Clavijo]: The leader of this gang of criminals was… (cut off).
[Pedro Gómez Clavijo]: Rest in peace. I would have given him a longer life. When that gentleman organized the targeting of working-class fighters for freedom, bread, and work, he would tell the gang of criminals, “Don’t start yet, leave mine to me.” And riding on a horse with a club, he would beat them to death.
Isabel: A few years ago, José Luis Tirado, another Rociísta, made the documentary “El caso Rocío”, in which he talks to other Rociístas about the film and its prohibition. Tirado also managed to reconstruct a version of Rocío with the censored scenes. If you are interested in the film, that version is available, for example, on YouTube. Strangely enough, a supposedly censored film can be openly available on the Internet. Another wise Rociísta, perhaps the wisest of all, Francisco Espinosa, published, among other books, “Callar al mensajero,” a book about how attempts have been made to silence critical voices in the courts.
This episode is dedicated to all those Rociístas from whom we’ve learned so much: Francisco Espinosa, Ángel del Río, José Luis Tirado and Pedro G. Romero.
The production, script, and editing of this episode were done by me. Editing and production assistance by Paula Morais. Editing support by Goldy Levy. Vanesa Rousselout did the editing. The sound design is mine and Marcos Salso’s, and our sound studio is Isolé División Sonora. Communication by Tais Álvarez. The illustration for this episode is, as always, by Carmen Cáceres, and the music was composed by Sara Muñiz and Paloma Peñarrubia, who provided a song for “Descartes”, the documentary by Concha and Alejandro with the discarded scenes from the film Rocío. Thank you.
Thanks to Izaskún Pérez for her editorial, moral, etc., help when I was in the middle of the German forest. Thanks to Ildefonso Vergara, and thanks to Ana Pinto for the help and support throughout the recording and all the discoveries.
Thanks also to the people who, in collective and individual listening sessions, have helped us make this episode better; we have put your names in the credits on the website. And on that website deesonosehabla.com, you can subscribe to our newsletter, listen to the rest of the episodes, or support our work this season. That’s at deesonosehabla.com/apoyanos. We are also on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. And you know we love to talk. If you liked this episode, recommend it to your friends, cousins, whoever you want, and subscribe to our channels on Apple Podcasts, Podimo, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can even leave us a rating. De eso no se habla is a production of Se Habla Producciones. Thanks, as always, for listening.