Ciutat Morta (Xavier Artigas and Xapo Ortega, 2014)


Ciutat Morta, directed by Xavier Artigas and Xapo Ortega (2014).

Score: The worst thing is I can’t say I’m surprised if it’s all true.

Sometimes the powers-that-be act incredibly stupid. The events examined by this documentary have been quite obscure and systematically ignored by mass media, until now. It was awarded the prize for best documentary in Festival de Málaga and very few people actually knew that TV3 (Catalonia’s local TV station) declined to buy it, despite the topic being events that happened in Barcelona. The campaigning from David Fernández’s part (MP in Catalan Parliament for CUP) helped bring it to light but its popularity actually exploded when a judge ordered that 5 minutes be cut from the television broadcast of the documentary. The word “censorship” had a huge social echo to the point that another judge decided that the documentary should be aired in its full length, when it obtained the highest rating for the territory where it was aired: 20% of Catalan viewers were watchingCiutat Morta on a Saturday night.

The night of the 4th of February 2006 the Guardia Urbana (the Police Department of the city of Barcelona) was summoned to dissolve a party in an abandoned old theatre occupied by squatters. One of the agents was hit in the head by an unknown object and has been in a coma ever since. His colleagues apprehended several people and in the end five people were convicted, including two people who were arrested in the ER of Hospital del Mar after a bicycle accident and who could not be proven to have been in the place of the events, Patricia and Alfredo. If you’re already interested in the documentary, go watch it because I don’t really want to spoil the rest of the content of the documentary for you.

***SPOILERS, sort of***

The documentary is mostly centered on three of the people who were arrested near the occupied theatre, Rodrigo, Juan and Alex, and the two who were arrested at the hospital, even though more people were arrested and convicted. Two of the arrested people near the theater, Rodrigo and Alex, describe how they were beaten and tortured by Guardia Urbana agents and then taken to hospital, where doctors nearly refused to look at them in the eye. Later they were taken to a Juzgado de Instrucción (roughly a Magistrate’s Court) where they describe the judge completely ignored their presumption of innocence. After a very long legal battle, during which they were imprisoned for two whole years awaiting trial, they were finally sentenced to four to five years for having injured a Guardia Urbana agent by throwing a stone at him and hitting him in the head. The same thing happened to Patricia Heras, who also served two years while awaiting to be trialed and was sentenced to three years of prison for having tossed a fence at the law enforcement agents.

The coroner declared and maintains that it’s impossible that the injuries that the agent presented were caused by a stone tossed by a human being, and it’s much more plausible that the injuries were caused by a blunt object dropped from a big distance. The former mayor also declared that he has given a report that supported this hypothesis and later denied it. In the end, five people were convicted based solely in the testimony of two police agents, who were later found guilty of torture and libel in a separate case. Who, by the way, are not in jail, but retired prematurely and enjoying a pension of about 1600 euro monthly (see the sources). It is also mentioned that the people who had occupied and held parties at the vacant theatre had little to do with the civilised branch of the squatter movement and were more like mobsters. It is suggested that they were used as a tool for gentrification by the city hall, coercing neighbours into accepting expropriations. Also, the building is owned by the city hall, so they were in need of a scapegoat if they didn’t want to have any responsibilities.

The interviewees also reflect on prejudices, racism and corruption in law enforcement bodies, as well as the gentrification Barcelona has been suffering for the past decade. Patricia Heras committed suicide during a prison leave and the documentary is dedicated to her memory, featuring multiple passages that delve into her persona.

The documentary has been very frequently accused of being biased or only showing one side of the story. The directors justify it by saying that none of the members of the “other side” agreed to appear on the documentary, and anyway that side had been widely supported by the law and the mass media, therefore they preferred to show the side of those who have been severely underrepresented in this conflict. On a TV intervention just this week one of them invited “the other side”, namely, law enforcement and justice departments, to showcase their versions of the facts. We’re still waiting. Some people claim that they never contacted those people, they’re just saying it to pretend they tried to be impartial, but I can believe they refused to appear in the documentary, because that’s what they always do. Any time they perceive they’re going to be interviewed by someone they consider their political enemy, they refuse to cooperate and excuse themselves by saying the journalist or filmmaker is going to manipulate their words.

The interviewees also claim a lot of things that can simply not be proven anymore. But the thing is we all sort of believe them. In this climate of hopelessness, political corruption and poverty, we are quite receptive to hear that Spanish police agents torture people. Because it’s consistent with the rest of the situation. Because a lot of people have suffered from abuse or mistreatment from the powerful, including the police. Because Amnesty International has some reports about it. What makes people nervous about Ciutat Morta is that this sort of prejudices and violence are so random and senseless that it could happen to anyone. It could happen to you. I want to underline that I feel great respect for the vast majority of law enforcement agents, who devote their lives to making the rest of us safe. But there is a minority of them who are conflictive and abusive. Maybe they believe they can be a real-life Dirty Harry, maybe they just take advantage of their job to vent their violent impulses. But we need to get rid of them in our police bodies, and the management is no doing anything about that, on the contrary, they’re protecting them.

Most people who watched this keep saying they were really disappointed and couldn’t sleep afterwards. It looks like I’m the only one cynical enough to not be surprised when they tell us something that we already knew was going on.


Watch the documentary

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