“Solidarity isn’t an action. It should be a constant in our lives.”

Inspiring people


Miguel Ángel Tobías (Barakaldo, 1968) is an actor, producer, director and socially committed filmmaker. Thirteen years ago he created Españoles en el Mundo, and six years ago he decided to shoot a social documentary every year. He announced it publicly and has succeeded thus far. His mission: to tell stories that would otherwise never get told. The most recent: Rising Nepal, a film depicting the aftermath of the earthquake that hit the Asian country in April 2015.


You make a social documentary every year, which not only shows solidarity, but benefits charitable causes. When did you decide to take on this challenge?

The moment I set up my production company 13 years ago. That's when I realized that the audiovisual medium is the most powerful engine for social change. We are all receptive to and affected by what we see in the cinema or on TV. If everything we show is negative, society heads in a negative direction, whereas if the messages are positive then our outlook reflects that too. I wanted everything we do to contribute to society and in no way infringe on people's honor, dignity and privacy.


You began with Españoles en el Mundo, and then six years ago you began making social documentaries...

Yes, I wanted to go a step further. Thanks to Españoles en el Mundo, I realized that behind the realities we talk about there are many other, very different, realities. Sadder and harsher realities. I kept thinking “this needs to be told,” and six years ago I finally saw an opportunity to do so.


You even committed yourself publicly...

Yes, because if you don't follow through, you get called a liar. The plan was to tell stories that would otherwise not get told. As I was thinking about what we should do, Haiti was hit by that terrible earthquake. We were all in the office when it happened, and there was no doubt in my mind that this story needed to be told.


What does a story need to be worth telling?

It has to be an issue that involves a human rights violation and which is no longer in the media spotlight. Whenever a disaster happens like in Haiti or Nepal, it makes headlines for the first few weeks. Then as the days go by, the media gradually loses interest in the story until it disappears from the news.


So the goal is that the documentary's release prompts a renewed awareness in people of what happened...

Exactly. Normally the film is released a year after the disaster and serves as a reminder. I want my documentaries to generate social awareness in people. Not only of the issue at hand, but in their everyday lives.


Besides entertainment, do you think cinema provides a good channel for raising collective awareness?

It is the channel. It is the most powerful engine for social change. I'll give you a simple example: we can safely say that of the 47 million Spanish people in this country, ten have never been to New York. All of them, however, know Manhattan and what life is like in the Big Apple thanks to cinema.


How do you finance your documentaries? Is it easier when a film is about a social issue and all proceeds go to charity?

No, no, it's easier to finance a commercial project, because whoever decides to invest expects a financial return. In any case, I accept these hurdles because I decided to do this, and I do well with challenges. Anyway, the approach is very simple and straightforward. First, the money has to be there. We use the profits from our commercial projects.


And from anonymous contributors, right?

Exactly. Most of the projects are international and are very well received around the world, which means I have found people who want to help me. In the case of Rising Nepal, I put up 50% of the film's budget. The rest came from individuals, companies and foundations.


You have been to Haiti and Nepal in the wake of two natural disasters. Has directly experiencing what happened changed you as a person?

Of course. When you're in Haiti or Nepal and you meet a woman or child, you think, this could be my mother or nephew. That's when you realize the importance of what you're doing there. It keeps the despair at bay and allows you to focus on your work. Your heart might be broken, but you have to put it back together to finish what you came to do.


And on a professional level...

Also. I remember being in Haiti with three colleagues, in the middle of a hellish, desperate situation, but deep down we felt happy about being there. As human beings, we tend to be spectators to what happens around us, but in that moment we felt like actors, central to what was happening and responsible for showing the world the reality we were witnessing.


Ideally the people who see these films will also take action...

What I want is to provide information, which inspires reflection that leads to action. That's the moment when you cease to be a spectator and become an actor.


I imagine you've succeeded...

Yes, there are thousands of examples. We showed Sueños de Haiti to 350 students at a medical school. The next day, 11 students asked the dean if the university would help them put together a Haiti mission that summer. In the end, 26 students went. I receive thousands of emails every day from people who want to get actively involved.


Do you believe humans feel solidarity instinctively or do we need encouragement to react?

Both. It's clear as day that in emergency situations, people help each other. It's in our DNA. What we do not have written in our DNA is social justice. Solidarity isn't an action. It should be a constant in our lives.


Do you think the world would be different if we all decided to stop thinking about ourselves so much?

The world would mainly be different for each one of us. The first to benefit is the person helping, because it gives meaning to their life and allows them to look another human being straight in the eye.


Tell us about future projects. How long will this challenge last?

I will keep making social documentaries until I die. My hope is that the projects keep getting bigger.


What social issue comes to mind that you believe deserves to be told?

I thought about bullying and harassment and how it affects children. In October we're releasing the documentary Pringados [Losers]. It's an ugly word, but we've all heard it, and at some point we've probably said it to someone and have been called it ourselves.


Have you always seen yourself as an altruistic person?

I've always been altruistic. There's no before and after.


What does Miguel Ángel Tobías's day to day look like?

There's no day to day. My life and what I do is best described as conscientious anarchy. I decided to live like this.





Do you like wine?

I enjoy the taste of wine.


What is the best moment to enjoy a glass of wine?

Definitely with people you care about or who motivate you.


A song to accompany a good wine.

Any song by Pablo Milanés.


A place to get lost in.

The places I love most on this planet are Ibiza and Formentera.


If you could be reincarnated, who or what would you be?

If I had to be reincarnated as an animal, I'd like to be a condor. It's the only animal that can fly over the Himalayas. Higher than 8000 meters.


What do you do in your free time?

What free time? When I'm on holiday, I shoot social documentaries.


A flaw.

I'll let others figure that out.


A virtue.



What did you want to be when you were small?

Grown up.


And when you're older?

I want to keep my inner child alive.

Categorías: Inspiring people