Friday, December 3

‘Sanctuary’: How a futuristic dystopia has become the ‘podcast’ of the summer | Culture | ICON

They are two restless creators, not only because of the exceptional nature of the stories they write, but also because of their interest in exploration. So much Manuel Bartual (Valencia, 42 years old) as Carmen Pacheco placeholder image (Almería, 40 years old) have developed a good part of their artistic careers in young narrative supports. In the case of the former, Astiberri editor, novelist, screenwriter and cartoonist who gained popularity for his work in Thursday, The great leap in his career was marked in 2017 by a fictional story developed on social networks: his celebrated Twitter thread telling how, apparently, a double of his was chasing him during his vacations had a massive following, for which his name became first trending topic (“Trend” on the platform) worldwide. Three years earlier, he had directed All your secrets, a feature film set entirely in video call format.

The writer, screenwriter and publicist Carmen Pacheco has been sending the newsletter summer wave and, since 2019, Arrow, which has more than 5,000 subscribers. Both of a cultural and transmedia nature, they are part of the broad creative universe of the author, who has also published columns, children’s books, a novel (Everything possible, Ed. Planeta, 2016) and several comics with his sister, the illustrator Laura Pacheco. His first job with Bartual, with whom he has a long friendship, is sanctuary, a sound fiction released this summer on Audible, a platform for audiobooks and podcasts from Amazon that landed in Spain at the end of last year. In this case, the format may be easy to describe for those less familiar with modern narratives: the sound fiction is an update of the old radio soap operas, albeit with various nuances. “It has some of that, but in terms of structure or sound design, it still looks more like a television series,” says Manuel Bartual. Pacheco, who, like Bartual, responds to ICON by video call, agrees: “Many people when talking about radio soap operas think of something theatrical, with actors declaiming. We were thinking of making a series that could be seen without the images, which is what many people who use Netflix in the background already do ”.

Divided into 12 episodes of approximately 20 minutes, sanctuary it’s a thriller science fiction that begins with Pilar (voice of actress Aura Garrido), a pregnant woman who goes to an isolated enclosure protected by a dome to give birth to her child, since pollution and the consequences of climate devastation are adversely affecting the development of babies. The strange behavior of some of the inmates, close to the atmosphere of the old Falange Feminine Section –as literally described in the series–, makes Pilar doubt whether the idyllic space is actually something very different. The ecological crisis, the pressure on pregnant bodies, the gap between social classes or even the questioning and degradation of democracies are some of the themes present in history, a dystopia with important socio-political keys in which its creators, nevertheless, they reserve a space for hope and optimism.

Recording session of the Santuario podcast with Rocío León and Aura Garrido.
Recording session of the Santuario podcast with Rocío León and Aura Garrido.

“Valle [personaje interpretado por Melina Matthews] she is an idealist and there are some characters who believe in people. It is hard for me to imagine a future where we have managed to get rid of certain powers that are crushing us, but it is easy for me to write stories that bet on the goodness of people ”, Carmen Pacheco tells ICON. Bartual emphasizes, in this sense, that the most sinister elements of the series are not the fictitious ones, but the real ones: “When you write about the future you have to take into account the world in which you live, and the world in which we live has a climate crisis. It is not a future problem, it is now and we must pay attention to it ”, emphasizes the co-writer and director of the series, whose cast has also included interpreters such as Manolo Solo, Rocío León, Dani Perez Prada, Marta Flich or Lorena Iglesias.

Both creators have handled a wide range of references when conceiving sanctuary. For the reproductive theme, a film that is easily remembered and that Pacheco and Bartual confirm as inspiration is Sons of men (2006), by the Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, which is set in a future where humanity has been left sterile. Until the first big plot twist, it’s also almost inevitable not to think about the book and series The Handmaid’s Tale (2017, still in broadcast). “We knew that many would keep it in mind, because there are not too many dystopias that have to do with pregnancy, although afterwards things recede. For me, Margaret Atwood [autora de la novela de 1985] is a benchmark of science fiction, so it is normal that I remember her “, says Carmen Pacheco, who also points out the weight that the reading of The empty belly (Ed. Capitán Swing, 2019), essay by journalist Noemí López Trujillo that made her reflect on “the delay in gestation age by women who want to be mothers but have to wait, or cannot, due to lack of stability economic ”.

Manuel Bartual quotes another sound fiction, Homecoming, which in 2016 made the leap to television thanks to Amazon Prime, with Julia Roberts as the protagonist. “It has a dirty and realistic point that helps to get into history, that has been our model for sanctuary. We wanted the sound to accompany the story in that way, to also darken as it progressed ”, he says. Bartual is a great consumer of sound fiction, which he became hooked on as a result of his work as a cartoonist: “Sound fiction allowed me to be attentive to something while drawing. I was very interested in the ability to suggest that it had, it can be something very immersive. Many of the best moments that I have lived these years consuming fiction have not been with a movie, a novel or a series, but with sound fiction. Some have made my hair stand on end ”.

Manolo Solo and Manuel Bartual in a recording of 'Santuario'.
Manolo Solo and Manuel Bartual in a recording of ‘Santuario’.

In the United States, the format of sound fiction has been consolidated for years. The first great phenomenon was Serial, podcast belonging to the subgenus true crime (about actual murders) whose chapters, in 2018, had been downloaded more than 340 million times worldwide. In the 2021 report The Infinite Dial, pollsters Edison Research and Triton Digital showed that 41% of Americans listen podcasts —Of any type— monthly, a figure that rises to 56% in the age group between 12 and 34 years old. The study also indicates that the number of people in the US who consume them weekly is higher than the number who have an account on Netflix. Among the Spanish, according to the Podimo platform, 40% have ever heard a podcast, with a listener profile between 25 and 45 years old. In fiction, Podium Podcast, from Prisa Radio, has produced and premiered some of the most outstanding series, such as War 3, starring Adriana Ugarte, Welcome to the dangerous life, created by Arturo Pérez-Reverte and Guillermo Arriaga, or Black and criminal, a mystery and horror series that is now experiencing a new stage in Audible under the name of Do you speak fear?, even with the unmistakable narratives of Mona León Siminiani. Spotify has also signed up for original productions: theirs are documentary series XRey (on the life of King Emeritus Juan Carlos) or The King of Cachopo (around the hotelier César Román, convicted of murder).

Manuel Bartual and Carmen Pacheco highlight to ICON how satisfactory they have found, among the reviews of Audible (where it has an average score of 4.9 out of 5 and overwhelmingly enthusiastic user reviews, from “Wonderful in every way” to “Haunting and realistic” to “Masterpiece”), to people who are discovering the sound fiction thanks to sanctuary, which, in fact, was originally a Bartual proposal made two years ago to the platform to support its launch in Spain. “Despite being a complex story, it shows that it is being understood well, that it was something that worried us about the changes of scenery,” admits Pacheco, who remembers with laughter having received comments from “people who are listening to him on the street and It almost fell off because it was very involved in the plot ”.

Poster for the Santuario podcast on Audible, Amazon's audiobook and podcast platform that landed in Spain at the end of last year.
Poster for the Santuario podcast on Audible, Amazon’s audiobook and podcast platform that landed in Spain at the end of last original

The co-creator points out that, narratively, they tried to avoid the voice-over to get away from the dramatizations read —except for specific moments, although always integrated into the story and justified— and that the experience resembled hearing real conversations and actions. Bartual also prepared some documents for the sound technician with information about the futuristic world of sanctuary to help build the atmosphere.

The two screenwriters consider that the story of sanctuary It is complete, although they do not rule out continuing to explore their universe or their characters. For now, what Manuel Bartual has needed to return to after the constant tension of this story is humor: last year, during confinement and with the production of sanctuary frozen, wrote and recorded from his home another sound fiction, Biotopy, also set in the future but with a fairly significant comic load. “For me, it was like a refuge in that moment of uncertainty and with everything that was happening. Like a happy world. When I was recording remotely with Nikki [García, actriz de doblaje y colaboradora habitual de El Mundo Today]It was like going to therapy ”, Bartual tells ICON. Structured as newsletters, from a fictional city where a series of telluric anomalies has allowed all kinds of scientific and technological ideas to materialize, the series will have a second season, with a premiere, as confirmed by its creator to ICON, scheduled for the last quarter 2021. Beyond thinking about better or worse futures, Bartual does not hesitate to claim, in any case, the power of fiction: “It can be a recipe for happiness to imagine stories that move away from the world we are in.”

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