Interview: Director José Luis Montesinos and star Lluis Altés talk ‘The Runner’

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After its award-winning festival run throughout Europe, the new short film The Runner is enjoying a second wind after recently playing to appreciative audiences in Palm Springs and Los Angeles. This clever comedy from director José Luis Montesinos follows a chance encounter between a former boss and employee of a company, which brings up unfortunate memories of the financial crisis in Europe. As the men reconnect, surprising revelations unfold through the film’s empathetic social commentary. After enjoying the film myself, I was glad to have a chat with the director José Luis Montesinos and starring actor Lluis Altés about the making of the film and its universal message. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Shane Slater: How did you come up with the concept of the film and getting everyone involved in making it?

José Luis Montesinos: We come from a country (Spain) that 3 years ago, had a hard crisis and a lot of people have lost their jobs these past years. That was the main theme for the story of the film. It’s the same theme and crew I usually work with for my other short films. So it was a perfect shoot because we know each other so well and are happy working together.

SS: Was the story completely original, or was it based on anything that happened in real life?

JLM: This story is based on millions of people who lost their jobs during the crisis in Spain and Europe. We worked on the story with a social foundation called PIMAC. This foundation helps people who lost their jobs to find another way to reinvent themselves. Most of these people are over 50 years old, so it’s very difficult for them and this foundation tries to help them to do it. After a lot of interviews with this foundation and people who had this problem, we wrote the script. It was a drama, but we realized that we needed some comedy in this drama to touch people.

SS: You’ve played the film at several festivals, has anything surprised you about the way the film has been received in various different countries?

JLM: For us, we’ve been grateful for every screening in Europe and now here. We didn’t know that this crisis in Europe would create empathy with people around the world and we’re realizing that now. For us, that’s the most important thing because we can impact people in Italy, Australia, France. Here in Palm Springs, the screening was awesome and everyone was impacted by the story and its interpretations.

Lluis Altés: There’s a very human touch to the film that gives audiences great pleasure to see.

JLM: Cinema is about emotions and if you can deliver these emotions to the audience, it’s perfect. Audiences have this in common around the world.

SS: I noticed in your bio that you’re also an engineer. How did you get involved in filmmaking with that background?

JLM: I started studying engineering because I came from a family with similar jobs in this career. But I was always making cinema in my village, first with Super 8 cameras and then with domestic cameras. I made a short film when I was 17 years old and I presented it at a festival in Catalonia and won the first prize. So, my parents said “Oh, perhaps the boy is useful in that.” [Laughs]. And the prize was a scholarship for a film school and that’s the reason I started studying this awesome profession as a director and writer in Spain. Then we left the Super 8 camera for the 35mm.

SS: Luis, how did you go about developing the character?

LA: The director helped me a lot. We were talking about something sad and we wanted to put some comedy in it. So I had to be very precise and that’s why we worked on it for one month before shooting. Not only me, but all the actors. So we met once a week for a few hours to work on it. We knew we were dealing with something really sad that is happening to our friends and family. It was something really fragile and I am happy with the result.

JLM: Yeah, for sure! [Laughs].

SS: What was the atmosphere like on set during shooting?

JLM: On set, the atmosphere was cold. [Laughs]. We were shooting in February in Spain and the weather was so cold, while we were simulating that it was summer. So imagine the runner character with his shorts and t-shirt and everyone else with coats! [Laughs].

LA: At 5 in the morning, it was below zero and we were simulating summer so it was really, really hard.

JLM: But the emotions and love all around kept us warm.

LA: We knew that we were working on a good project.

SS: So what’s next for the two of you?

JLM: Next I’m working on two scripts for feature films and I’m still on this current adventure. I usually work as a screenwriter in Spain, so I’ll be working on films I could shoot in the future or for other directors.

LA: For me, the next thing I’m going to do is theater. For television I’m preparing a character for a TV movie that we’ll shoot in July. So I’ll be working for TV in July and theater in September, in Barcelona.