It may sound strange but one of the giants of film history was born in a town in Madrid called Chinchón, in 1937, during the Civil War. His name is José Sacristán, everyone calls him Pepe, and this year he receives the Luis Buñuel Prize from the Huesca Festival. He is 80 years old but he is amazing. Consecrated as an absolute legend of Spanish culture, he maintains an astounding activity holding on as one of the best of ours.

His father Venancio was a communist whom he met in prison when he was a child. Pepe was one of the many Spaniards who suffered hunger, calamities and chilblains. He shared a space with his parents, his sister and two other relatives in a small room in Madrid with a share kitchen. He admits that he has the palate of a poor: everything tastes good to him, perhaps because he grew up with the feeling that any food that he ate was a luxury.

For years he worked in a mechanical workshop but, as soon as he could, he concentrated all his energies on achieving his great dream: to be a film artist, like those who had made him dream in the first films he saw in the front of the amphitheatre of Chinchón

Pepe represents all the different circumstances the Spanish cinema, theatre and television of Spain over the last 50 years, Pepe was on the front row of its entire vicissitudes.

In the early 60s, he played at the theatre Caligula, with José María Rodero, who, in a scene of the show, had to eat a chicken drumstick. The truth, however, is that in every session Rodero acted as if he was eating it but he actually kept it for Pepe whose chicken leg was the only food he would have that day. Pepe knew it was all about priority and he will always recall what his uncle told him once:” The first is before.” And in those days, for Pepe the nº1 priority was to survive. Pepe was a communist but almost all the directors who gave him a job were on Franco’s side: Lazaga, Ozores, Sáenz de Heredia. Pepe is a very grateful person and has a good memory: he would never let anyone speak badly of those who helped him then… Pepe also feels a sting every time he sees a book from the Círculo de Lectores: he was one of the first home sellers of that company; a job that made him read many books and allowed him to survive. Pepe always carried with him the small notebook where, at the end of the 50s, he wrote sentences he read in a book in which Stanislavski detailed his method of interpretation. From time to time, he rereads them, not to forget where he wanted to go when he was still “nobody”.

He survived the Civil War, the post-war period, the misery, the Franco regime, the “destape” (film with sensual/sexual content), the Transition, the cult cinema and crappy films. It has also survived oblivion. Nowadays young filmmakers, theatre and television series directors all want him in their cast. However the cinema turned its back on him during a long period: between 1995 and 2001 it did not make any film and between 2004 and 2011, neither. He didn’t receive any decent cinema offer in 13 years! Finally, he was nominated for a Goya in 2013, and won it. He took this nonsense with a lot of humour: “I was somewhat surprised I haven´t been nominated for a Goya but I assumed it was because since they exist I was mainly dedicated to theatre, but then I realized I hadn´t been nominated for any theatre prize either”. Singing copla (traditional Spanish song) is not attractive: “I am a frustrated tonadillera (singer of old traditional song)”. Chinchón, is continuously on his mind as is a huge actor who he has always admired: “I’m feel like a second Fernán-Gómez”.

He has reached that point where anything he touches seems blessed. The expression “He is going through his best moment” has been said about him for a long time. His life has become an astonishing succession of best moments.

I get the feeling that, for him, a cinema devotee who watches Luis Buñuel’s movies with a prayer stool, the Huesca Festival award will not be just another prize. I have no doubt he will keep it in a place of honour.

The story of Pepe Sacristán is that of a guy from Chinchón who has managed to go further than many of the film artists who, also had dreams, though passion, work and talent,

Luis Alegre