Sunday, October 1

The ‘Blackout’ that returned the chaos of the pandemic to Spain

Patricia López Arnáiz in the episode entitled ‘Confrontation’ directed by Isa Campo in the series ‘Blackout’.

Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Isaki Lacuesta, Raúl Arévalo, Isa Campo and Alberto Rodríguez direct a Movistar series in which a solar storm leaves the country without electricity

Oskar Belategui

That cinema and series receive the same treatment at a festival like San Sebastian is no longer a novelty. With the official section finished, this Friday was the day of ‘Blackout’, which Movistar Plus will premiere on September 29. The series is inspired by ‘El gran apagón’, a podcast by Bilbao-born writer and screenwriter José Antonio Pérez Ledo with more than 7 million downloads. His premise: a solar storm that leaves Spain without electricity. It sounds like an apocalyptic story, a catastrophic fantasy. And, indeed, it is, but not in the spectacular sense of Roland Emmerich’s cinema, the author of ‘Independence Day’. The five episodes of approximately fifty minutes of ‘Blackout’, interconnected with each other, stop at the experiences of different characters who try to survive in a country without electricity, water, gasoline or food.


‘Blackout’ trailer.

The ambition of the project does not come so much from the theme, but from the choice of first-rate screenwriters and directors to carry it out. Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Alberto Rodríguez, Isaki Lacuesta, Raúl Arévalo and Isa Campo, the first three with films at the festival, direct five stories in which their protagonists try to adapt to a new reality. In the first chapter, directed by Sorogoyen, entitled ‘Denial’, we experience the arrival of the solar storm and the chaos it unleashes from the skin of the deputy director of the Madrid Civil Protection and Emergencies Unit (Luis Callejo). In the last one, ‘Equilibrio’, signed by Lacuesta, we find her wife (María Vázquez), who has fled to her parents’ country house, where she will live with a group of migrant laborers who collect the olive. Isa Campo stops in one of those residential neighborhoods on the outskirts of big cities, where the paddle tennis court has been converted into a chicken coop. Raúl Arévalo prefers to immerse us in the hell of a hospital, which tries to care for the sick without electricity or hardly any medicine. For his part, Alberto Rodríguez confronts a goat herder with the worst possible predator: man.

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Gathered those responsible for the series in the London Hotel, Isaki Lacuesta points out a disturbing fact. A Lloyd’s Bank report immediately prior to covid stated that the second most likely global catastrophe was a solar storm that, depending on its magnitude, will cause damage worth between one and three trillion dollars with a recovery period of two years. The first most likely catastrophe was a global pandemic caused by a corona virus. “There are people investing pasta in that and they are going to take it away,” discovers the director. He admits that it is inevitable to see ‘Blackout’ through the eyes of the pandemic, which has accustomed us to some of the situations that appear being familiar to us: triage in hospitals to let the oldest patients die, confined adolescents, food rationing… “The scripts were written during the pandemic, but none of us wanted to make a series about it,” explains Lacuesta. “It was a way of talking about the pandemic from another place. You know that when the characters make drastic decisions they still last very little. Like when we said that we were going to come out much better or what we had learned. The next day we were all in the same story.

Alberto Marini, Isaki Lacuesta, Isabel Peña, Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Alberto Rodríguez, Isa Campo and Francisco Araujo in San Sebastián. /


Isa Campo sets her segment in one of those PAUs that work like a bubble for families with children, who play safely in the urbanization without mixing or stepping on the street. “It is a particular ecosystem, with a homogeneous social class. In a blackout situation they are in an ideal situation to unite, but they have to convert the lawn into an orchard. They can survive, not like in cities, which would be chaos. The conflict comes when you do not let outsiders in and you leave your ethics in suspension. Lacuesta recalls how in the IMDB film database, Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Contagion’ went from being classified as science fiction to realistic drama. “There was nothing left of the Spanish flu in the cinema, as soon as it was produced, the Buster Keaton films arrived,” illustrates the winner of two Golden Shells. “We have seen three films with a mask, so I think that in fiction we will continue to fable and trying to forget the trauma.

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Rodrigo Sorogoyen and his usual screenwriter, Isabel Peña, have been faithful to the protocols established in a situation of this nature in the civil protection and emergency services. “It is much more fascinating to tell how they do it than to invent things for you,” says Peña. Of course, the character of Luis Callejo in the series is terribly familiar. Stressed, without stopping smoking, he goes down to eat a pincho de tortilla like any Spanish currela. “The people who deal with emergencies are cracks, but they also say ‘what’s up Manolo!’, like any office worker in our country,” adds Sorogoyen. “We wanted to get away from anything that smelled of Yankee, design offices, stuffy and gorgeous people. This is life, the reaction of normal people to something unforeseen”, defines Isabel Peña. “A mirror of how we have reacted as a society to the pandemic. It is scarier to approach it from naturalism than from the explosion».

Luis Callejo in the first episode of ‘Apagón’, entitled ‘Negación’ and directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen.

‘Blackout’ is a good example of the creativity and risk that Spanish fiction sometimes faces, experiencing a level of production never seen before thanks to the platforms. Sorogoyen, who has presented ‘As bestas’ in the Perlas del Zinemaldia section, assesses whether we are facing a golden age or a bubble. “One thing does not remove the other. There is no doubt that we are in the age of television. I don’t think there has ever been so much work for so many professionals, so many series and movies have never been made with such quality. That the bubble burst will not mean anything apocalyptic, but that someone will cut the tap ». Isabel Peña adds that “you have to take care of what you do, because if you consume a large part of those productions and forget them the next day… We have to be up to the task.” Isaki Lacuesta is more cautious. «When someone says that he is making movies on television there is some deception. You’re doing TV, and we have to find the intersection that interests us. Marketing has made us believe that this is new, but in Spain there have been incredible series since the time of Chicho Ibáñez Serrador. I keep dreaming of a TV that is popular and very bold at the same time. And this is our first attempt to infiltrate.”

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