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Luminarias Documents A Spanish Festival Where Horses Jump Through Raging Fire

Tom Haines’ film Luminarias, featuring a soundtrack by UNKLE, shows the intense spectacle of villagers in Spain riding horses through flames.

LUMINARIAS - Dir. Tom Haines from Tom Haines on Vimeo.

Leaping over a raging fire while on horseback isn’t your usual festival experience, but then the Luminarias fiesta in San Bartolomé de Pinares—a small village in central Spain—is not your usual festival. The event is a celebration of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of animals, and in a cleansing ritual that dates back centuries, the people of the village ride horses through roaring flames to purify themselves and the animals. It might seem crazy to us, but it comes from having a deep respect for the horses and has its origins in the Black Death pandemic that swept Europe 500 years ago.


The apocalyptic and intense scenes that accompany this tradition were captured by filmmaker Tom Haines using grainy 16mm film in his poetic short Luminarias. The film features a soundtrack by James Lavelle-fronted group UNKLE, interspersed with the reading of a poem in Spanish, Rafael Alberti’s “Galope.” The effect is a dramatic and haunting film which documents the scenes in an expressionistic, abstracted manner while conveying the strangeness and beauty of the event.

We fired off a few questions to Haines to find out how this otherworldly film came about.

The Creators Project: What were your motivations behind doing the piece?
Tom Haines: I had seen images of the ritual and knew it was near Madrid, where I’ve spent some time over the past few years, so felt like I could connect to it. It just looked so dramatic and intense I wanted to go there and be a part of it. I found myself coming back to it again and again until the film crystallised in my head and I took the plunge to go there with a film crew. It was risky, there wasn’t that much information on it online in English or Spanish, so we weren’t sure what we were getting into, but sometimes those risks yield the best results.

What made you want to use Rafael Alberti’s poem “Galope” as part of the soundtrack?
I was looking for some spoken word and I’d actually recorded a bunch of field interviews with the villagers with a view to making a sound collage with them, but for some reason they earthed the piece, making it feel too ordinary and prosaic. Having started my research at a more obvious point of entry with Federico García Lorca, I began to look at his contemporaries and came across Alberti. I think I found the song that Paco Ibañez made of the poem first and then came across the reading and it just felt perfect. It brought a whole new meaning to the piece, gave it the gravitas I was looking for and it relates to the civil war in spain—it’s a lament for the persecuted people of Spain, which is sadly so relevant now.

Why did you choose to shoot on 16mm rather than digital?
I’ve shot quite a bit of work on film, I really love it as a medium—the grain, the organic feel—it has an immediacy when you see it for the first time back from the labs that excites me. It’s such a shame it’s dying out as a medium. Film is still incredibly versatile, much more so than digital, and shooting something like fire would be a lot more forgiving on film—you could really play with the textures and subtleties within the fire, the embers, the smoke.