The debut film of Xan Gómez and Pablo Cayuela, two young directors from Galicia, Fóra(or, Out) is a documentary telling the story of life in a Galician psychiatric hospital in the final days of the Franco regime. Made after two years of research with a barely adequate public grant of 16,000 euros — which the filmmakers stretched to the maximum — and little more in the way of movie experience than the running of a small film club in Santiago de Compostela, it is likely only to have been seen by the filmmakers’ relatives until now.
But that should change from this week after the film’s successful screening at the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival (CPH: DOX), one of the most important cine-events of its kind in Europe.
“They should put you in Conxo,” was something you occasionally heard Galicians say of people in a fragile mental state. It referred to the Santiago neighborhood where the region’s first mental asylum was opened in 1885.
Nearly a century later, in the mid-1970s, the hospital began profoundly reforming the way it treated patients, driven by a team of Asturian doctors who had little time for the strait-jackets and drug cocktails of conventional methodology. These medics applied an active policy of bringing about patient discharges and improving their nutrition. They experimented with mixing male and female inmates together and even encouraged them to express themselves through art and music — the film shows footage of patients dancing to typical Galician muiñeiras as if they were punk anthems.
That was until the Franco regime uncovered the chaos and decided to dismiss all those responsible in one go. “The funny thing is that the reform was instigated by the Francoist authorities in order to carry out a clean-up in the center, which was earning a very bad reputation for the way it treated patients,” explains Cayuela, 28. “But it ended up getting out of their hands.”
Despite the purge, the reforms at Conxo would form the basis of subsequent psychiatric health reform in Spain. It was no coincidence that some of the doctors at the center signed the chapter relating to psychiatric treatment in the 1986 Health Law, which established a definitive change in the field.
The documentary is no talking heads piece, making use of news clippings, Super 8 films and even extracts from the personal diary of one of the inmates, as well as the testimonies of former doctors and workers at the center.