A modern day Jungle Book story
unfolding in the heart of Europe.
ENTRE LOBOS is a love story between a young boy and the wild. It is also the story of friendship and loyalty, survival and personal growth.
The day I met Marcos, the man whose story inspired ENTRE LOBOS, he told me that his best years were those spent isolated in the Sierra Morena Mountains with a pack of wolves. There, in the wild, he discovered love and friendship he never found in human society. This was the starting point of a screenplay that was to become the main pillar of ENTRE LOBOS.
How I discovered the story of Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja
On January 13th, 2007, the front page of El País featured a photograph of an Asian girl. The headline read: “LOST IN THE JUNGLE IN CAMBODIA FOR 20 YEARS”. The last paragraph of the article referred to the following link: http://www.feralchildren.com which provides a long list of children who had been brought up among animals or isolated from society.
For those of us who search for stories, the webpage seemed like the perfect place to find them. At least that’s what I thought when I turned on my computer and entered the link. The content was extraordinary, including a list of 137 documented cases of boys and girls who were abandoned by their parents or lost in the wild, and yet managed to survive thanks to their own instincts or with the help of wild animals. The list is in chronological order, the first case dates back to the year 250, when a young Italian boy who was said to have been raised by a goat. The latest case arose a matter of months ago in Russia.
I marvelled, reading each case and discovered such moving stories as the seven-year-old Rumanian boy, Traian Caldarar, who lived in the Transylvanian mountains for three years in a bid to escape domestic violence. A shepherd found him living in a cardboard box. The boy didn’t know how to speak and lay naked next to a dead dog. Another startling story was that of two sisters, Kamala and Amala. In 1920, Reverend Joseph Singh, a missionary who directed an orphanage in northern India, was told of two sisters who were regularly seen accompanied by a pack of wolves close to Midnapore in the Bengali jungle. Partly driven by his own curiosity, partly by the insistance of nearby farmers, the missionary built a hide, just above the wolf den. By the light of the moon the missionary saw a pack of wolves appear from the cave along with two deformed and hunchbacked human figures.
I eventually came to a story from 1965 about a Marcos Pantoja. The location was Sierra Morena, Spain. I felt an immediate tingling moving through my body and a slight tightening of the stomach. Somehow I knew I was about to read a great story. I clicked on the name and a new page appeared. I was, as I had predicted, moved by the amazing story I found: it had all ingredients of a perfect screenplay. I could only clasp my hands together and pray Marcos was still alive. If the details were correct, he would have been 62-years-old.
On the right-hand side of the webpage I saw a small black and white photograph of Marcos. Underneath it, there were some more dates and references in English and Catalan to a book entitled “El Pequeño salvaje de Sierra Morena” (The Wild Boy from Sierra Morena). I clicked on the English version (I don’t speak Catalan) and the name of the writer appeared – Gabriel Janer Manila – as well as the publisher, Prometheus. I found a second-hand copy in Portland, Oregon on Amazon for $6. Later I searched for Marcos Pantoja in Google but found nothing. So I looked up the name of the author of the book I had bought. I discovered that, apart from being a writer and father to Mari Pau Janer (short-listed for the Planeta Prize in 2002), he was also the head of the anthropology department at the University of the Balearic Islands. I sent him an email and requested a meeting. The rest of the day was spent searching for more information about Marcos. The only thing I found was a play called “Marcos” about his reintroduction into society, written by Kevin Lewis. A few days later I received an email from Gabriel suggesting we meet in two weeks at his office at the University in Palma de Mallorca.
The day of the meeting arrived. We spoke for nearly two hours and had lunch before I flew back to Madrid. During my flight I tried to organise my thoughts and couldn’t help but ask myself: How could this amazing story have been forgotten? Who hasn’t heard of Truffaut’s “The Wild Child”? On one hand I was happy because the time I had spent with Gabriel had reinforced my conviction that it was a fabulous story now backed up by his doctoral thesis and book. At the same time I was worried because Gabriel had not heard from Marcos for over 15 years. He could be dead. “Gerardo, Marcos was a very fragile man, who suffered immensely. It would come as no surprise if he has tragically died,” he told me over lunch that day.
Several weeks later I took the A-4, heading to Añora (Cordoba), the village where Marcos was born. On the way I contacted Bartolomé, the local mayor, who I met at the town hall later that day. He seemed sceptical about the story. He had never heard it before. But he gave me a copy of Marcos’s birth certificate. And someone at the town hall also knew a cousin of Marcos’s who lived in the nearby village of Alcaracejos. So after visiting the house where Marcos was born, I went to meet her. She told me the last time she heard from Marcos was 13 years ago, that he lived in a cave in Alhaurín el Grande, in Malaga, that she had been to visit but couldn’t find him. A neighbour told her Marcos used to go to the local bar to drink beer, but also that it was a long time since he’d seen him.
I returned to Madrid and the search for Marcos was put on the back burner. As I started preparing the next trip to Alhaurín with my producer, Jose Maria Morales, we had a stroke of luck. A friend of mine was getting divorced from her husband and she had hired a private detective to find out whether he had a lover. He did. In less than 24 hours he had taken a photograph of the couple kissing at the door of a restaurant. “This guy is incredible,” I thought, “If he could do that, he could just as easily help me figure out if Marcos was still alive.” I phoned him, gave him the information I had and later the same night he called me back:
– Gerardo, I’ve found him. Don’t go to Malaga. He lives in a small village in Orense, write down the number.
When I hung up, my hands were shaking. I had spent the last ten months trying to find him and I now had his number.
I called it. The phone rang a few times and a voice with a strong Galician accent answered. I introduced myself and asked if Marcos lived there. The man on the other end fell silent before finally answering.
– Yes, he lives here. What do you want?
I described my search for Marcos and told him about Gabriel, the anthropologist, about his birthplace in Añora and how I had met several of Marcos’s relatives who also wanted to get back in touch.
– I’m not sure he wants to speak with you but call back in ten minutes.
I could hardly have waited three minutes before calling back. I desperately needed to speak with Marcos.
It was him. As soon as I heard his voice I got excited. A tightening in my throat made it difficult to speak.
– Hello, I’ve been looking for you for a year and at last I’ve found you. [Marcos laughed.]
After some moments of silence, he spoke:
– Well, my life has been hard …
– I know. I want to meet with you, talk to you …
– Well, come on out. I live in … How in the hell did you find me?
– I’ll tell you the whole story in person tomorrow, if you have time …
– Tomorrow? That’s fine, I’ll be here.
I hung up and sat in silence, a smile spreading across my face. I was finally going to meet Marcos.
Children and Wolves
Alfred Hitchcock said you should try to avoid making films with children and animals. The truth behind this statement was, without a doubt, our biggest challenge.
I had decided from almost the beginning that the main character had to be a boy from the Pedroches valley in the north of the Cordoba province, the place where the real Marcos was born. The people there have an accent I particularly like.
With the help of Son de Producción, a production company in Seville, we could choose from over 200 boys between the ages of six and ten. They all came from the small local villages, like Pozoblanco, Cardeña, Dos Torres, Villanueva. The production company sent me footage of each of the villages on DVD. Eleven boys were eventually chosen to meet me at the offices of the Cordoba Film Commission. The moment I walked in, I saw a boy of about eight, with black hair and big green eyes. I knew right away he was my main character. Manuel Camacho had never been in front a camera before but had a special natural talent for acting. What he gave us as a person and as an actor was much more than I could’ve ever have hoped for. Over the following months Mercedes Almarcha worked with him and helped him become one of the best actors of his age group in Spain.
We had the boy. The next challenge was to get the wolves. They couldn’t be just any wolves. They had to be Canis lupus signatus, native to of the Iberian Peninsula, a sub-species of the European wolf. There are very few captive packs in Spain. But through a friend of mine, wildlife director Joaquín Gutiérrez Acha, I had learnt of some which he had used in his documentary “Las Montañas del Lobo”. They lived close to El Escorial on land owned by the José María Blanc Foundation. The person managing the wolves was Pepe España, a biologist and wolf expert. He told me was he would be happy to help but that for safety reasons the boy could never be in the same shot with the wolves. How could I film a movie called ENTRE LOBOS without being able to have the main character close to the wolves? The only solution I could think of was to try and solve the problem by editing shots and reverse shots together, which I thought was quite shoddy. The other inconvenience was that the wolves wouldn’t give birth until the end of spring, which meant we would have to adapt our filming schedule to follow the development of the cubs. This would mean spreading filming across a while year which might mean several changes of crew. Thankfully the heads of the film crew were committed from the beginning which meant the crew was unified and solid. Can you imagine what it would’ve been like to film each stage with a different director of photography?
Never film with goats! I had never imagined they could be so complicated. If I had known sooner, I would’ve used sheep instead. Every time we had to shoot with them it generated panic amongst the crew. The amount of preparation was enormous. Simply filming the young boys with a herd of goats ended up being a nightmare. The whole crew – including drivers, cooks, production assistants – had to form a long, invisible human barrier to keep them together. Richard and Javier, my Assistant Directors, went crazy as they attempted to hit our deadline.
It barely rains in Cordoba province so flooding is rare. This winter, however, was “exaggerated”, as the Cordobans would put it. ENTRE LOBOS was filmed almost entirely outdoors and the only cover we had was a cave, 120 kilometres away from Cardeña. We had to stop and postpone the shoot several times because of the heavy rain. The flooding destroyed the fences built to contain the wolves, as well as roads. Some roads became impassable, others simply disappeared so we couldn’t make it to the location and we had to change the shooting plan. I remember those months of desperation, having to postpone the last stage of the shoot and continual changes to the schedule. By mid-April, the rain finally stopped, the sun made its way between the clouds and spring exploded. The Sierra Morena was covered with intensely-green grass, speckled with flowers. I had never seen that part of Spain look that way. It was spectacular. The long wait was worth it.