Lluís Benejam Buhigas (Figueres, 1954) owns a huge amount of material related to the film industry that he keeps at his home in Capmany. His archive-collection that bears his name is a reference source for many cinephiles and film scholars. Lluís does not make any profit from his collection and about 70,000 images have been uploaded to his website, www.archivocine.com, which currently gets about 5,200 visits a month. Yet this is just part of the activities related to his collection and he says he has put so many hours into it that he has lost count.
Only a true passion can explain such dedication.
I’ve spent countless hours on it. I became interested in collecting film programmes when I was 17 but it really took hold of me in 1995, during the celebrations of the centenary of the birth of cinema, which is when I noticed that many cinemas were closing. It was then that I started devoting myself to collecting forgotten material.
Where did you find it?
Going from cinema to cinema, keeping in touch with the owners, such as the misters Agustí of Ocine (formerly Oscar), Giralt in Blanes, Camprubí in Figueres, Gubau of the Modern in Girona, and so on. Back then, cinemas were large and kept hold of a lot of material in case they had to screen the film again. Yet in those cases the distributor would send new material and so the previous posters were never used again and just piled up in boxes. When the Ultònia cinema closed, I was told I could take everything I thought important; it came to two van loads. The next day they began demolishing the building. The material would have been lost otherwise.
Is it an obsession?
It came to me through my work. We had a printing company and I was obsessive about working, even weekends, which is what it is to be self-employed. I became depressed and the doctor told me that I needed to find a hobby that would take me away from my work. I went to an exhibition of film programmes at l’Escala and was horrified by how clumsily it was done. You have to respect the people who come to an exhibition, I thought. When I mentioned this to Albert Estrada i Vilarrasa, the owner of the Ausa publishing house, who at the time was the president of the Fine Arts School in Sabadell, he asked me to prepare an exhibition to celebrate the centenary of cinema with the material he knew I had. And that was how I made my debut exhibiting items from my collection. Since I didn’t have enough material from the 1980s onwards, I began to search and a number of cinema entrepreneurs opened their doors to me.
Where did you keep so much material?
First I kept it at the company and at home, in Figueres. I started putting posters under the sofa and it kept getting higher and higher! [He laughs]. When I moved to Capmany, I had more space.
Have you counted what you have?
I stopped counting when I got to about 28,000 posters. For the website I must have scanned about 70,000 images, but there’s no more space and I have to pay more to expand it. At the same time, things are different now. It’s been a while since printed guides and posters have been sent to cinemas. All this material has passed into history.
Collecting is not about buying and selling; it’s about creating memory.
Yes, because there are people who go to auctions or shops and can spend 50,000 euros to buy a good collection. But that person will not have the same love I have, like when in one cinema I came across an original poster of ’Gone with the Wind’ and I started dancing with joy! My joy was immense because it was the last thing I expected. Someone who buys collections cannot experience this level of joy.
And in addition to creating memory, there’s the component of spreading it.
My purpose has always been to provide the material if someone asks me for it. I have worked many times with the Cervantes Institute in Madrid. For example, a scholar from Mexico was preparing a book of Mexican films released in Spain and they gave him my contact information. The first thing he asked me was how much he would have to pay. Every day I scanned material for him, so you can imagine how happy he was. We ended up becoming friends and he has even stayed at my home. I like this. It’s different from doing a transaction with a client.
How much is your collection worth?
If we evaluate it by item, the posters and film programmes from the twenties are probably the most valuable. But I think the most important thing is the collection as a whole, which allows you to find relationships, links with other titles, even unknown films.
But not everything is on the website.
No, there’s so much material still to document! And what I’ve poured into the web will only last until I stop paying, which makes continuity important, when I am no longer here to do it.
Who is usually interested in the material in your collection.
Academics studying a specific subject or actor, people who preparing an exhibition, like the of Fernando Rey in Oviedo, or one at CaixaForum on Cinema and Emotions.
In the digital age, is there still a need to maintain a physical and tangible archive like yours?
I think so because you can’t find everything online. Take ’Cabezas cortadas’, which was shot in Sant Pere de Rodes. I have photos of Fages de Climent, who was the producer. Or the film that Vicente Aranda shot in Figueres hospital, ’Cambio de sexo’, of which I have guides, stills and the poster. Journalist Ramon Barnils asked me for the photographs to illustrate an article and I provided them. We held an exhibition of ’El caballero del dragón’ in Figueres to celebrate the 25th anniversary of shooting the film.
What do you hope for the collection?
If I had the money, I’d love to set up a library for people to consult the material, a bar to have a drink while talking and listening to music, an exhibi hall and a small cinema.
Are you afraid that all this work will be lost one day?
Yes, I’m a little worried about continuity. There’s no rush but I’m ready to give away the archive-collection in some form and with some conditions. I’m willing to talk about it with people who can take care of it.
Under what conditions would you be willing to give it up?
The best thing would be to find an association or group of people who love the subject and to reach an agreement on its transfer.
And might there be a public institution interested?
As far as I can see, no. Perhaps they believe that it would give them too much work. I’m sure that if I gave it to them, they would accept it, but the problem is that there would be no guarantee that the collection would stay together. For my family’s memory I would like it if there was a space where my name was kept, so that my grandchildren would know about the work that their grandfather did. There are people interested in Madrid, and I also know other collectors in the same situation. Maybe we could come together and make a joint donation. There’s a critic I know who has a huge number of books and magazines, reviews and articles, from all eras, but who knows that when he’s gone it will all end up in the bin!
How sad. You see it as a type of treasure.
For me, yes. For someone else it will be cava plates or Scalextric. It all started with a hobby and I ended up putting a lot of effort into it. What I have are not important items of great value but I have the history of cinema in print. That’s why I would be sorry if, after years of gathering so much material and information, it had all been for nothing.