My Spanish Story: How a remote village in Valencia inspired an award-winning romantic comedy musical

When Jonathan Hall and his wife Cass upped sticks and moved to a remote mountain village in Valencia from London, little did they know it would provide inspiration for an award-winning film.

My Spanish Story: How a remote village in Valencia inspired an award-winning romantic comedy musical
Filmmaker Jonathan Hall involved the whole village in his film, 'Solo'. Photo: JHall.

This is his story:

In 2011, my wife Cass and I moved from London to a remote village in the Valencian mountains called Barx – the opposite of London!  Cass and I had, in fact, met in Spain when we were seventeen, so you could say it was written in the stars.

We weren’t originally looking to start a business when we moved but, in fact, here we are eight years later and we’ve started two – both inspired by our new home.

Within a couple of years, Cass started a scented candle business called La Montaña – all fragrances inspired by places, events, experiences in our new mountain home (hence: First Light, Winter Oranges, Siesta, Alfredo’s Café, etc.) and in the meantime I continued my ‘day job’ as a screenwriter.

Mirroring Cass’s approach, it seemed pretty natural to try to write a film that used our own experience of moving to Spain as its inspiration and theme; a film about an outsider who finds a new home in a warm, welcoming, magical community. 


SOLO! is MAMMA MIA on a tiny scale- an upbeat, PG, romantic comedy musical.  If you liked LA LA LAND and A STAR IS BORN, you’ll love SOLO!

I wanted to make a fun, feel-good film, because those are the films I like to watch.  Again and again.  And there aren’t enough of them being made for grown-ups.  And what an added joy it was to discover that the heart of our new home – the beating, stirring, uplifting heart – is a sixty-strong brass band.  Which meant I got to write a musical!

Throughout the filmmaking experience, we had such amazing support from the village, the villagers, the mayor, the band…  Life-affirming stuff. 

I genuinely thought that they’d be excited for the first week, tolerate us for the second, then hate us by the third!  But they remained generous, engaged, and enthusiastic until the final take (the joyful last scenes of the film).

If you were to watch a film about us making our film, you’d recognize the next section as: ‘gathering the team together’. 

The Heads of Department (Director Nic Cornwall, Camera, Sound, etc.) all came from the UK, as did our two lead actors (Tristam Summers and Candela Gómez), but they were complemented by local talent, including thirteen graduates of the audio-visual faculty of the University of Valencia – fantastic experience for them, and great workers (and translators!) for us. 

We took over an abandoned bar to use as a production office, and set, and canteen, and engaged a wonderful local woman called Conchín to cook for us every day: all fresh, local and seasonal – and, this being Valencia, the best paella imaginable.  Turns out a film crew, like an army, marches on its stomach.

As things worked out, our first day of principle photography happened to fall on the day the result of the Brexit referendum was announced in the UK. 

Whatever your politics, it immediately impacted our production because our funding was in £, so when sterling dropped overnight, we took a hit of 15 percent! 

We eventually had to supplement the budget with a crowdfunding campaign – and, of course, one of the ‘rewards’ we were able to offer was lovely La Montaña candles.

Finishing a film is just as hard – and ten times as long! – as making it in the first place.  We shot in 2016 – sixteen days in Spain and two days in London – and the film was finally edited, colour-graded, sound-mixed, etc. two years later.

And now…  The final task is to find distribution. 

The first step is to submit to festivals, where we’re been lucky to win some really nice awards, including Best Feature Film at several International Film Festivals: Madrid, London, Marbella, Orlando, etc..

However, even having won these prestigious awards, a small independent film like ours still has to compete with the blockbusters and superhero movies that make the multiplexes most of their money, so we have to carve a niche for ourselves (or we could always sue Star Wars for stealing our title!). 

We have sold the finished film in China, and Germany, and the UK, and to some airlines, but it’s a tough process.  But luckily the world is changing, and nowadays it’s quite legitimate also to release on digital platforms like iTunes and Amazon, which is exactly what we’ve done. 

To watch the whole film on iTunes (With optional Spanish subtitles) click HERE or in English without subtitles HERE

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Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.