Spain is suffering from a crisis of memory and, although there is little consensus as to whether this crisis is one of too much remembrance or too little, what cannot be avoided is the prevalence of the topic in screen media productions since the beginning of the twentieth–century. Documentary production (made for television, cinema and internet release) has not escaped the tendency to re-examine the past, to revivify its emotional import in the present, and, perhaps most significantly, to enable subjective recollection for people whose stories remained silenced and at the margins of official discourse during the 36 years of dictatorship. Formally many of these documentaries utilize talking heads, archive footage (where it is available) and expert interviews as a tool for this remediation and recovery of memory. 30 años de oscuridad/30 Years of Darkness (2012, by Manuel Martín) is different in that it combines the strategies mentioned above with animation as a disruptive aesthetic strategy for investigation of the politicized and disputed subject of memory in contemporary Spain. This documentary recounts the story of los topos, which in Spanish means moles, and refers to Republicans who went into hiding when the dictatorship in Spain was established, specifically the case of Manuel Cortes who remained hidden in his house in Migas (Malaga) for 30 years after he was placed on a wanted list by the fascist regime. If ethical and aesthetic considerations are assumed to be tensions embodied by documentary production, the choice to use in this film a voiceover accompanied by 2D animation – specifically by graphic novel illustrations edited in such a way as to produce movement – distances us from the realism of the interviews with Manuel’s family members, and by extension from the assumed authenticity of first person accounts. This asserts the importance of the imaginative process at work in memory, and that this imaginative work might still be a productive ethical and political strategy for documentary.[1]

This formal strategy serves to focus our attention not only on the recollected events themselves, but also on the way in which they are explicitly denoted as a facet of subjective memory rather than as a deliberate attempt to recuperate (in line with the ideological and aesthetic project of other documentary productions). The otherness of a doubly exiled past, distant in time and space, is rendered through the particular aesthetic of animation in the muted color palette and the other worldliness of these images. Bearing witness to a traumatic past is a complex process and the use of documentary here deliberately avoids sutures between inconsistencies in the text and resists attempts to present a falsely totalizing comprehension of the past. Animation therefore plays an important ethical and aesthetic role, one that adds a new voice to the burgeoning memory media in Spain and an alternative subjective account of repression, trauma and its representation.



Nash, K. (2011) “Documentary-for-the-Other: Relationships, Ethics and (Observational) Documentary.” Journal of Mass Media Ethics 26(3), pp. 224–39.

Stewart, Garrett (2010) “Screen Memory in Waltz with Bashir.” Film Quarterly 63(3), pp. 58–62.

Winston, B. (2000) Lies, Damn Lies and Documentaries. London: BFI Publishing.


Abigail Loxham is a lecturer in Spanish Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester. She has published on Spanish film and television and has a particular interest in documentary, memory and gender politics in Spain.


[1] A similar strategy is observed by Garrett Stewart (2010) in Vals Im Bashir/Waltz with Bashir (2008, by Ari Folman).