The Spanish filmmaker Eugenio Monesma has dedicated his life to capturing the traditions of his homeland and its surrounding areas. He began his career by first taking up a Super-8 camera at age 25 back in the nineteen-seventies, and in the decades since, his mission has taken him to the furthest corners of Spain and beyond in search of ever-older ways to preserve in detail. This places his work in the tradition of the anthropological or ethnographic documentary. But in a still-unconventional move in his field, he’s united the old with the new by creating his own Youtube channel on which to make his documentaries free to watch around the world.
Launched in 2020, Monesma’s channel has become a surprising hit. At the top of the post you can watch its most popular video, his short 1997 documentary on the making of combs from animal horns — which, as of this writing, has racked up nearly 8.5 million views. This happens to be one of the productions that took him beyond Spain’s borders, if only just: to the French village of Lesparrou, specifically, which maintained its small horn comb factories until the end of the twentieth century.
Their process is narrated in the immaculate Spanish diction of Monesma himself, but you can also take your pick of subtitles in more than a dozen other languages. Other of his documentaries that have become popular on Youtube include documentaries on the traditional making of cheese, silk, wine, pottery, honey and wax, knives, and leather.
Many of these videos run under twenty minutes; some reach nearly feature length. All of them satisfy a desire, which now seems widely felt among viewers of Youtube, to witness thoroughly analog processes that have been in use, changing and evolving only gradually, for long stretches of history.
And the fact that the things made so often look delicious certainly doesn’t make Monesma’s work less compelling: take, for example, the artisanal churros of Pamplona’s Churrería de la Mañueta, whose appeal is surely universal. In Korea, where I live, the past decade has a fad for churros elaborately coated and topped with colors and flavors unknown to tradition, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious what Monesma would have to say about it.
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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.
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