SineScreen caught up with Juanma Aznárez Rosado, the writer, producer and co-lead of the Spanish documentary “True Smile (La Sonrisa Verdadera)” directed by Juan Rayos. “True Smile” captures the journey of two brothers, Sergio and Juanma, as they travel from their home in central Spain, crossing mountains and deserts on a tandem bicycle, to get to Morocco. The journey, however, is no ordinary one. Not only is Sergio blind, but he is also diagnosed with Autism.
Juanma tells us more about his relationship with Sergio, the effort of the journey, and the wonderful rewards that the film has reaped so far for both brothers.
How did you prepare for the physicality of the journey?
We’re not sportsmen and we’d never travelled by bike – what we used to do was ride around an old tandem bike someone gave us when we were kids.
Sergio has a very good exercise routine that keeps him fit: he swims in the pool, he goes to the gym, he does yoga… that’s why he started the trip better trained than me. I was very concentrated in film pre-production and couldn’t train deeply. The first days were tough as we had knee pain, but little by little we grew fitter!
How did you first pitch the idea of traveling to Morocco to Sergio, and what was his reaction? What other countries has he been to/have you been to together?
The idea of going to Morocco was because Mati, Sergio’s friend, lives there. We decided that it was an attractive destination and a great adventure. Sergio was very excited about it, he loves traveling and taking adventures together with me (his brother). He also likes riding the tandem bike so he was up for it from the start. Sergio came with me to UK when I was living there. It was his first trip without our parents. Although changing routines usually annoys autistic people, Sergio not only managed to adapt, but he loved the stay. We also travelled to Thailand as backpackers and there we realized challenges stimulated him. After the trip to Morocco, we also travelled around France by tandem bike.
How did it feel doing such a personal documentary with your brother? Were you worried about the journey, or were you calm?
I’m so proud to be able to see, as a film, the amazing experience that is living with Sergio, and having him as a brother. Yes, at the beginning I worried a lot because Sergio has a problem with communicating when he feels pain or fatigue, but as time went on I started to relax because I realized that we were well synchronized and Sergio was having fun.
What do you hope that the audience will take from “True Smile”? Is there a particular message?
I hope the audience enjoys it, of course, and I hope they get to know Sergio, who might otherwise be difficult to understand.
How did you feel after filming?
When Juan Rayos, the director, showed me the first cut of the film I loved how he focused the story and how Sergio grew as a character. I loved how we discovered Sergio little by little. I was very happy and proud with the work done.
How do you feel about all the amazing reception that “True Smile” has had?
For me the most important thing regarding the reception of the film is that Sergio is the one who enjoys it the most, going to the different events and festivals as the protagonist, and making great friendships. Through this many people realize that inclusion of all types of people in society is possible. We’re all different and we all have our place to participate. Thanks to this project, Sergio has had access to so many wonderful positive experiences.