[Warning: This article contains spoilers from Juanjo Giménez’s short film Timecode.]

What you don’t say out loud can often be expressed more powerfully than words ever could, as evidenced by Juanjo Giménez’s Timecode, one of this year’s Best Live Action Short Oscar finalists.

Co-written by Pere Altimira, the 15-minute short follows Luna (Lali Ayguadé) and Diego (Nicolas Ricchini), two security guards who takes turns monitoring an often vacant parking lot. Their routine is very stern and repetitive: Luna works during the day, and Diego works at night. Neither bothers to utter a word to the other, only communicating through timecodes written on sticky notes. One day, however, while training a new employee, the manager (Vicente Gil) discovers the hidden truth behind the numbers.

Winner of the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film, Timecode is one of the most delightful surprises of this year’s shortlisted contenders. What starts out as seemingly serious film soon takes an unexpected turn, leaving you smiling and laughing long after it fades to black. Giménez, who has already received over 30 awards worldwide for his work on the film, breathes much-needed new life into a genre plagued by convention and shows us that passion can be found in the most unlikely of places.

Ahead of the Oscar nominations announcement, I had a chance to ask the Barcelona-based filmmaker about directing first-time actors, immersing himself into a new subject, and breaking records for Spanish cinema. You can check it out below.

ScreenPicks: At a press conference, you said, “I also like to introduce certain situations in the wrong place, to shock the audience.” And Timecode certainly does that, transforming a mundane job setting into the stage for two passionate dancers. What was your inspiration behind the film?

Giménez: The original idea of Timecode comes from a personal experience. Some years ago, while working for a big company, a colleague discovered a secret that I kept, like Luna discovers Diego’s secret in the movie. On the other hand, I always had my interest in contemporary dance as a spectator. In the mixture of these two ideas, lies the source of the short. I had already worked in previous films with situations out of their expected place; for example, in Indirect Free Kick, a discussion between a goalkeeper and his girlfriend takes place during a soccer match instead of a bar or an apartment, as would be expected.


ScreenPicks: Timecode debuted seven months ago at the Cannes Film Festival, earning the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film and making you the first Spaniard recipient of the prize. Looking back on it, what was that moment like for you?

Giménez: I still have the feeling that it didn’t happen to me. Much importance is given to the fact of being the first Spaniard to win it, but I don’t measure the relevance of the award because of the birthplace of the previous winners. And unlike feature films, the difference in impact between being selected and winning the Palme d’Or is disproportionate. But the most spectacular part of the festival for me was the reaction in the theater during the official screening. It was the first time with an audience, and the reception was something that I will always remember. It was a surprise, and even more memorable than receiving the award.

ScreenPicks: The film is only 15 minutes in length, but it is so concise and manages to deliver a lot with very little dialogue. Did you always have a duration for the film in mind? And was it challenging to meet that goal?

Giménez: The final length of the short was above 18 minutes. I cut three and a half minutes in order to be considered by Cannes, whose limit is 15 minutes including credits. After the selection, these three minutes never returned to the film. The script was born almost with no dialogue, and that remained until its final version. And who’s talking the most in the movie is not the main character.

ScreenPicks: This film stars two renowned Barcelona-based dancers/choreographers. What was it like directing two first-time actors who were also professional dancers?

Giménez: I have worked with veteran actors, with non-actors, with children and with animals. But I hadn’t worked with dancers before, and it has been a very rewarding experience. They have the discipline of the best professional actors, and the freshness of the newcomers. Neither of the two had previous experience in film or theater. I was aware that I was assuming some risk, taking into account that there was no time for rehearsals, and that we shot everything during a weekend. Both Lali and Nico showed me that I was right in choosing them.

ScreenPicks: You’ve previously talked about how films are a way for you to be a student and to learn something new, saying, “I would like to discover things while making films.” How did you immerse yourself into the world of dance?

Giménez: In film schools, teachers will insist that you must start talking about things that you know. But my last documentary films covered topics that I do not know, and that I learned about while making the film, like boxing in Dodge and Hit or photography in Contact Proof. And from some time I wanted to integrate dance in a film, but not in the way of a typical video-dance, or simply shooting a dance show. In Timecode, choreography is all the responsibility of Lali Ayguadé. I stepped in only when dancing implied a narrative intention, and especially in the integration with the space. And every decision was always discussed with the two dancers.


ScreenPicks: I found it interesting to discover that you also work outside of the film industry for a living. How important is it for filmmakers to have those experiences that aren’t related to cinema?

Giménez: My main job is filmmaking since a few years ago, either as producer or director. But I studied economics and I work as a software developer as well. While working in Timecode, I was offered to work in a software project. During the months I worked there, my colleagues were unaware that I was also a filmmaker. This has some similarity to the short.

ScreenPicks: Timecode is one of only two films from Spain that have made it to the Academy’s shortlist, giving you the opportunity to showcase your film to even more audiences around the world. But in terms of the local production and distribution of short films, how would you describe the state of the Spanish filmmaking industry?

Giménez: It’s been a while since I made short films, and there has always been talented and original creators among the Catalan and Spanish short filmmakers. In recent years, there has been six Spaniards nominated for the best short in different categories. For some time the short film festival circuit in Spain grew dramatically. The recent crisis and a certain lack of support has made things more complicated. But the diversity and the quality is now higher than ever, and I say this with knowledge because I have attended a lot of festivals recently. But shorts still need to reach film theater distribution and get slots in the Spanish public and private TV channels.

ScreenPicks: Timecode has screened in over 80 film festivals worldwide, winning over 30 awards. Now it’s in the running for the biggest prize in the industry: the Oscar. What does this achievement mean to you?

Giménez: We make movies to reach the widest audience possible. And finding the audience for a short film is more difficult, because it is usually limited to the festival circuit. The recognition that Timecode is getting somehow is breaking this barrier. My main concern right now is twofold: taking care of the career of Timecode, which still continues, and preparing my next project in the best possible way.


All ten live action short finalists are listed below.

Bon Voyage, Marc Wilkins, director, and Joël Jent, producer (Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduction)

Ennemis Intérieurs, Sélim Azzazi, director (Qualia Films)

Graffiti, Lluís Quílez, director (Participant Media, Euphoria Productions and Ainur Films)

La Femme et le TGV, Timo von Gunten, director (arbel gmbh)

Nocturne in Black, Jimmy Keyrouz, director (Columbia University)

The Rifle, the Jackal, the Wolf and the Boy, Oualid Mouaness, director (Tricycle Logic)

Silent Nights, Aske Bang, director, and Kim Magnusson, producer (M & M Productions)

Sing (Mindenki), Kristof Deák, director (Meteor Filmstudio)

Timecode, Juanjo Giménez, director (Nadir Films)

The Way of Tea (Les Frémissements du Thé), Marc Fouchard, director, and Matthieu Devillers, producer (Existenz, BlackBox and P904)

The nominees for the 89th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 14, 2017.

(All photos are courtesy of Nadir Films SL.)