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Jessica Abrams
Movie Reviews
Special Focus

Documentary "La Chana" Celebrates the Eternal Spirit

by Jessica Abrams
April 18, 2018
Sometimes we need a reminder that art, and dance in particular, is not solely reserved for the young and nimble, and that pure artistic expression does not have an expiration date. It is slightly more difficult to get confirmation of this in the youth-obsessed United States; but in places where rich traditions continue to be esteemed, the purveyors of those cultural hallmarks are exalted and deified.

One example of this is Spain and Flamenco dance. Although facing a consistent infusion of young, dynamic voices and styles, the country and the tradition continue to embrace the living legends of the art form as national treasures who (despite the physical obstacles those legends may possess) still breathe life into it.

Antonia Santiago Amador, also known as “La Chana”, is one such legend; and the 2016 documentary film about her life, called simply “La Chana” which screened on Friday, April 13 as part of the Dance Camera West Festival in Santa Monica, California, focuses on a woman whose primal need to dance has outlasted a bum knee, a rigid family structure, and, perhaps most important of all, an abusive husband.

The film, directed by Croatian Lucija Stojevic, offers an intimate glimpse into the life of a woman possessed of a spirit that extends beyond the body that is failing her. Mixing still photos of La Chana in her heyday – she was this close to being lured to Hollywood by Peter Sellers but for said abusive husband who not only forbade her, but left her penniless soon after – with scenes of mundane domesticity, the film shows the duality involved in being a woman and an artist.

At sixty-seven, La Chana allowed the filmmaker full access to her life: as she makes paella with her daughter, as she leans back in her recliner at the end of the day and watches a nature show on television, as she discusses with her second husband the possibility of performing for most likely the last time in Barcelona. Using close-ups to create even more intimacy, Stojevic shows us La Chana’s face, older, yes, but still lively and intensely feminine; and her hands, still soft, still graceful. As La Chana prepares for her performance, she sets up a chair in her bedroom, complete with a wooden floor underneath; and there, in the privacy of her own home, she beats out a rhythm using both feet and arms that in the performance brings the audience to its feet.

Stojevic became interested in her subject by chance; she recorded a video on Flamenco Dance for The Guardian and eventually was introduced to La Chana who herself wanted to make a statement on her life and art before she was unable to do so.

And this is what the film captures: not just one artist’s burning desire to make art, but the raw emotion that transcends any physical impediment. Seated in that chair, waving her arms in front of face —a face gripped with the pain of past loves and losses – the idea of dance itself changes and what is left is a formlessness and an immortality that springs eternal. As we see the banal moments in this woman’s life we also see her free and brazen spirit – a spirit that no abusive husband or bad knee can stymie.


Genre: Documentary
Length: 55′ and 82′
Completion: 2016
Director/producer: Lucija Stojevic
Producer: Deirdre Towers
Delegate producer: Noon Films SL
Co-producers: Greta Olafsdottir and Susan Muska for Bless Bless Productions (Iceland/USA)
Associate producers: Beatriz del Pozo, Guri Scotford
Production Coordinator: Sandra Olsina
Assistant Director and Documentalist: Lucia Sances
Director of Photography: Samuel Navarrete
Editor: Domi Parra
Second Editor: Irene Coll
Composer: Ernesto Briceño
Sound Design: Alejandro Castillo
Motion Graphics: Andrés Bartos
Graphic Design: La Gamba Negra, Anna Bours

In Collaboration with: RTVE, TV3, ICEC, IFC
Fiscal Sponsor: New York Women in Film & Television
International sales (US & Canada): East Village Entertainment
World sales: Cat & Docs


Winner IDFA VPRO Audience Award 2016
Nomination Best European Documentary EFA Awards 2017
Winner Best Documentary Gaudí Awards 2018
Winner Best Documentary FEROZ Awards 2018
Winner Audience Award Budapest International Documentary Festival 2018
Winner SADE Award Dock of the Bay Festival 2018
Winner Audience Award Dock of the Bay Festival 2018
Winner Le Voci dell'Inchiesta Audience Award 2017
Winner Chopin's Nose Award for Best Documentary on Music & Arts DOCSAG 2017
Special Mention Cerdanya International Film Festival 2017
Nomination IDFA AWFJ Award for Best Female-Directed Documentary 2016

Photo © & courtesy of Photographer Unknown

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