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"The Gil phenomenon says a great deal about our fragility as a society"

Enric Bach, during the presentation of the series.
Enric Bach, during the presentation of the series. / SUR
  • Enric Bach, director of the HBO series El Pionero says the story of the former mayor of Marbella provides many keys to understanding the present

Enric Bach is the director of 'El Pionero', the recently-released HBO series about Jesús Gil. In this interview he explains why he decided to feature the life of the former mayor of Marbella, and the unusual narrative technique he chose to use for it.

'El Pionero' is presented as a series, but viewers might consider it a work of journalism. How would you describe it?

This is not like a journalistic report. This is a non-fiction narrative series, and it's probably a format we are not used to because it tells a true story but uses techniques and elements from fiction. It doesn't follow the rules for news reports because it is trying to do something different, to tell a story. It does that through the main character, Jesús Gil, who tries to give his point of view. The most complicated part of this project is that it features two main types of voice: the critical ones, like the prosecutor Carlos Castresana, but especially those of Gil's family and the people close to him, who obviously praise the figure of their father and want to justify what he did. I believe viewers are intelligent, and when they hear something they also identify who is saying it, because what is said is just as important as the person who is saying it.

The series has been made for an audience that can understand these nuances, then?

The documentary requires a critical and intelligent view from the people who watch it. That is what I have tried to do, place the viewer in front of something which at times is disagreeable and will make them uncomfortable and indignant. I don't decide on what is said, I just show it so the person watching can come to their own conclusions.

Do the voices chosen to tell the story portray themselves in some way, as well as the character of Gil?

Of course, they define themselves. It would be a mistake to think that as a director I subscribe to each and every affirmation made in the series. What I do is display it so that each viewer draws their own conclusions. I know it is uncomfortable and provocative in a way, for example having to listen to how the family justifies Jesús Gil's lack of responsibility in the San Rafael tragedy. I didn't dream up that defence, it is the way the family defends it. What I do is give the viewers the elements so they can draw their own conclusions not only about the tragedy but also how the relatives see that tragedy. In a way, that's what makes this project unusual, because we are not used to facing up in such a stark and direct way to the portrayal of a person as amoral and complex as Jesús Gil.

Does the series includes all the voices that need to be there?

No, of course not. They're not all there, partly by my choice and partly because I haven't been able to access them. I wanted to use just a few voices to tell the story, because in this format, as it is about characters, the more people there are the more complicated the story becomes. You have to understand that the series is designed for an international audience and many people who could have appeared in it are unknown abroad and by people under the age of 30. What I have done is simplify the story in favour of the narrative and that is why many names aren't there. There are others, like Pedro Román and Julián Muñoz, who aren't there because I wan't able to gain access to them.

Why was there a need for a documentary about Gil in 2019?

When we started to think about this project four years ago, I could see there was a populist emergency in Spain and many other places in Europe. In Spain there was nobody who could be compared with Jesús Gil, a businessman who made the leap into politics, but in some places in Europe there had been people who had financial power and then came into political power by challenging the establishment. Then, two years after we began to develop this project, Donald Trump arrived. What I wanted to reflect with this series is that a story from the past, such as that of Jesús Gil, can give us many keys to understanding the present. Principally on the subject of populism, but also corruption. In the past ten years in Spain we have learned a lot about this, but we still need to understand how a situation like that happens.

Had people already forgotten what Gil was like?

The image which had remained about Jesús Gil was a caricature. It was Jesús Gil in the jacuzzi saying stupid things, although people don't remember the awful things he said, and punching the manager of the Compostela football team. And Marbella, Julián Muñoz, the Malaya case... everyone knew he was enveloped in corruption and ignoring the law, but in some way the image that people have been left with is a caricature. There was a much deeper story behind it and it was interesting to tell it with a contemporary view, as way to understanding the present.

People always associate Gil with Marbella and with football, but the series reminds us that the rest of Spain laughed at him.

Yes, and that says a lot about our fragility as a society. Why do we admire, sympathise with and vote for someone when we know they ignore the laws? Why don't we have critical mechanisms or reflection which stops us experiencing this fascination? This was happening on two levels. He was a person with such a large audience, was given so much airtime on the major TV channels and influential media coverage that in some way he seduced and scared people at the same time. Many people don't care what may lie behind someone like that, and that says a lot about us as a society. I'm not saying they're the majority, because many people did fight it or look into it, but others looked the other way or just laughed. I have tried to show part of that, and in some way make the viewer experience those doubts.

People also forget there was complicity about Gil in the fields of politics, the judiciary and the media, and the series reminds us of that as well.

I probably haven't shown the whole range of support Jesús Gil had, including in the judicial system. You also have to ask yourself why the Junta de Andalucía left it so long before doing anything about his illegal town planning. You also have to think about other things, like the official pardon granted to Jesús Gil in 1994. And the media support didn't come free. Gil's financial links with certain media chiefs are not shown in the documentary, but journalists have pointed them out many times.

Are you satisfied with the result of your work?

I'm never satisfied with what I do. I think I have fulfilled my aim, but I always think I could have done better with a bit more time. You have to remember that this is not trying to be the definitive work on the life of Gil or to tell everything. It would need 20 or 30 more chapters for that.

Are you comfortable with the way the series has been promoted?

It is HBO's first original production in Spain so there was a major marketing campaign. It wasn't totally in line with the documentary and may have affected people's view of it, but they need to see the whole series and form their own opinion.