Skip to main content

Award-winning director Paula Ortiz directs the capsules or cartasvivas, while students from the University of Exeter have translated materials and prepared subtitles led by University of Exeter academic Dr Isabel Santafe. 

New films bring forgotten lives of women in Franco’s Spain to life for a new generation

The lives of remarkable women whose impact on history was curtailed by Spain’s Franco dictatorship will be recreated for a new generation thanks to a major new historical project.

Experts, filmmakers, university students and leading actors have joined forces to produce a series of films about talented females who have been forgotten, often because their work was not favoured by the regime after 1939.

The “filmic capsules” feature the women portrayed by actors reading scripts based on their letters, memoirs, interviews and other writing. They remind people how these women understood discrimination and gender violence, and their struggles to have a voice, as well as their thoughts on their sexuality or motherhood.

The project, Cartasvivas, is the latest effort by University of Exeter expert Professor Nuria Capdevila-Argüelles to remind people in Spain and across the world of the contribution of significant Spanish women.

Award-winning director Paula Ortiz directs the capsules or cartasvivas, while students from the University of Exeter have translated materials and prepared subtitles led by University of Exeter academic Dr Isabel Santafe. Students from the University of Barcelona have been in charge of the work on set and postproduction.

Professor Capdevila-Argüelles, director of the project with Paula Ortiz, said: “We want to recover the memory of these important historical figures. The cartasvivas are visual letters from these women to people watching them today. We are so proud to have amazing actresses who are portraying these women, to show their talent and the struggles they faced in their life. And even prouder of the commitment of students from the two universities involved. They have been outstanding.

“These women were edited out of Spanish cultural and historical life during the Franco era. When he died there was only brief interest in their lives. The project brings back to life their voices helps to show people what life was like in 1930s Spain.”

The films, sponsored by the Santander Foundation, will be shown on a dedicated YouTube channel and more will be made during the next four years. It is hoped they will be used in schools to enhance teaching of this period in Spanish history. They will also be kept on a website which gives more information about the women’s lives.

One film features Hildegart Rodríguez Carballeira, a socialist and sexual activist. Her cartasvivas features her letters to Havelock Ellis written less than a year before she died, asking for advice and for him to mentor her so she could create a Spanish league for sexual reform. Hildegart was shot and killed by her mother, who was later committed to a mental asylum, in 1932 aged just 17.

Other cartasvivas features the author Carmen Laforet. Carmen Laforet is portrayed as saying: “I write articles – which I don’t like writing – to make money, that’s true. I write novels as good as I possibly make them from within the constraints of their form…but remain absolutely convinced that this work of mine does not give or take an ounce of spirituality to or from the world, that it is not important to anyone; and I dedicate myself to it knowing of its many defects, enormous plot-holes, and lack of moral purpose. I give into it all my energy, rage, everything, and this work, whilst I do this, is important to me, because it frees me from so many other things. It serves as an escape from my bad, mixed-up background…and there you go; that’s why I write, even if writing is too an agony for me.”

The films are available at

Date: 12 September 2019

Read more University News