San Sebastian competition title ‘Suro’ by Mikel Gurrea Bows in San Sebastian

Contest for the highest gold shell at the 70thth Basque native Mikel Gurrea’s debut film at the San Sebastian Film Festival, Suro, stems from Gurrea’s experience working in the cork oak forests north of Catalonia. He had just finished his studies and was at a loss when his then-girlfriend’s parents suggested he work in the woods removing cork from the trees. “I discovered a fascinating world that stayed with me; The work is hard, but you’re in the middle of nature,” he said. “It was a good workout too!” he added.

Suro is about a young couple, Helena and Ivan, who decide to leave Barcelona and start anew on the land Helena inherited. Ivan joins the workers and learns how to debark the cork oak trees they now own. But their opposing viewpoints will jeopardize their future as a couple as the film expands its arc to examine modern capitalism and private property rights.

Before directing the tight drama, Gurrea had made a number of short films, and in all of them, including Suro, he explores a recurring theme about identity “in all its forms” and the ideas that end up shaping them.

He wanted to pursue a film career and continued studying at the London Film School. Fellow students included “Alcarràs” director Clara Simon.

“More than anything, LFS taught me how to feel at home,” Gurrea recalls, adding that he’s known since childhood that he wanted to direct. “My parents are film fans and living in San Sebastian, where the festival takes over the city year after year, was a huge influence on my childhood.”

He then delved deeper into the development of his feature film with Ikusmira Berriak in San Sebastián, where he participated in the six-week residency. Here he began workshops with his lead actor in “Suro”, Pol Lopez, an old friend. It came about with a treatment that he continued to develop with his producers and with the help of co-writer Francisco Kosterlitz, who helped him refine the script and make it more coherent.

Delayed by a year due to the pandemic, filming finally took place in the summer of 2021, where Gurrea worked with a mix of actors and non-professionals, including actual cork forest workers. The pair is played by Lopez (“The Replacement”) and Vicky Luengo (“Riot Police”). “We shot on location for 24 days in midsummer, so the sweat is real,” he remarked. To prepare his cast, he worked on three levels, first with his actors who were given the script to edit. With his Moroccan non-pro playing a new immigrant, Gurrea helped him create a memory by improvising without a script. “With the cork workers, we tapped into the physicality of their work while improvising the dialogue,” explained Gurrea.

Gurrea is now developing several projects simultaneously. “Let’s see who answers first,” he mused.

“Suro” has its world premiere on September 19th in San Sebastian and will be released across Spain on December 2nd by A Contracorriente. UK-based Reason8 Films handles international distribution. San Sebastian competition title ‘Suro’ by Mikel Gurrea Bows in San Sebastian

Charles Jones

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