Before making Among Wolves, based on the true story of a boy who lived in the mountains of southern Spain in the 1960s, director Gerardo Olivares got the movie's protagonist, Marcos Rodríguez, to tell his story in a series of filmed interviews.
The result is a documentary that in many ways is more satisfying than the motion picture. It is showing weekly until the end of January at Madrid's Matadero arts center.
Olivares says he came across the story of Marcos Rodríguez in January 2007, after reading in a newspaper about a girl who spent 20 years lost in the Cambodian jungle. The article contained the web address for www.feralchildren.com, a website with more accounts of children who grew up with animals. Olivares clicked on the link thinking it might be a good place to find an interesting tale.
Among the hundred or so cases of abandoned children, he came upon a Spanish name, Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja, followed by the location of Sierra Morena, Spain. Sensing that a good story might be hiding behind these details, he clicked over to a page full of information that he soon realized contained the perfect ingredients for a movie script.
The Spanish boy survived thanks to a goatherd and the friendship of wolves
Seeking Rodríguez out was not easy. Olivares found a book by Spanish academic Gabriel Janer Manila, who teaches anthropology and sociology at the University of the Balearic Islands.
A few weeks after meeting Janer, Olivares was sitting in the office of the mayor of Añora, the town where Rodríguez was born. The mayor had never heard the story, and initially had difficulty believing it. Eventually she found Rodríguez's birth certificate, the address of the house where he had been born and even a family member, who told Olivares that the last time she had heard of her cousin had been 13 years earlier.
Olivares worried that perhaps he had reached a dead end in his search - but he was not ready to give up. He was planning to continue his research by visiting Alhaurín when his producer José María Morales suggested hiring a private detective.
The detective discovered that Rodríguez was living in Orense, in Galicia - and gave Olivares his phone number. The director says that he was so thrilled by the news that when he hung up the phone his hands were shaking.
"The phone rang several times before someone with a Galician accent answered. I introduced myself and asked if Marcos, the man who was isolated in the Sierra Morena for 12 years, lived there. The man was silent for a few seconds before answering. 'Yes, he lives here, but what do you want?' I explained in detail that after discovering his story I had spent almost a year looking for him. I told him about Gabriel the anthropologist, about visiting his house in Añora, and that there were family members who wanted to know how he was."
The man told Olivares to call back in 10 minutes.
"I didn't wait even three minutes before calling back, I was so anxious to talk to Marcos. When I heard his voice at last, I choked up. I felt a lump in my throat and could hardly speak. "Hello paisano [compatriot], I've spent nearly a year looking for you ... Finally I've found you."
You have given me back my dignity. Now at last people will believe my story"
Rodríguez agreed to meet, and Olivares traveled up to Galicia the next day.
Ten months had passed since Olivares had first read about the little Spanish boy who found himself alone in the wild and survived thanks to the lessons of a destitute goatherd and the friendship of wolves. Over the next two years Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja cooperated with the director on the filming of his fascinating story. He appears in the final scene of the movie, as himself - happily playing with a wolf on a mountainside.
"He has had a hard life, and life continues to be hard for him," says Olivares. "But when he went to the premiere of Among Wolves in November 2010, he cried like a small child. Afterwards he said to me, 'You have given me back my dignity. Now at last people will believe my story'."