Arts & Entertainment

Uruguayan filmmaker aims to shield old houses from demolition

By Alejandro Prieto

Montevideo, Oct 4 (EFE).- An Uruguayan filmmaker is taking it upon himself to safeguard an important part of Montevideo’s cultural heritage, promoting a legislative proposal known as the Lala Act that will seek to shield old homes in this capital from demolition.

Martin Sastre, the 45-year-old director of “Nasha Natasha,” “Miss Tacuarembo” and other films, told Efe the idea occurred to him spontaneously during a visit to his family home in Montevideo that his grandmother Lala has preserved “with all its original elements.”

The first time he noticed something special in the mosaic tiles of that large Montevideo house his great-grandmother purchased in 1915 was when he saw identical decorations at Madrid’s Palace of Linares, the seat of the Casa de America cultural center.

“I saw they were exactly the same as those at my grandmother’s house. I thought it was strange … and investigating more I discovered they’re from a Valencia (Spanish autonomous comunity) factory called Nolla,” Sastre said.

He believes they were brought from there to Montevideo and that the factory’s technicians transported and installed them themselves due to the complexity of the work.

Sastre also said the kitchen of the family home has an entire wall covered with hand-painted tiles that were made by an Uruguayan factory that closed down in 1874.

After receiving expressions of support on Instagram, the filmmaker began gathering information about the precariousness of these old houses.

Although it is difficult to estimate how many houses of true historical value have been demolished in Montevideo, Sastre says it is a common practice and that “more than 14,000” have been lost this way over the past decade.

“It’s really a cultural genocide for a city like Montevideo because these types of constructions will never be built again,” he said, insisting on the need to “halt that destruction and start rebuilding what remains.”

That was the genesis of the Lala Act, an initiative that he says is aimed at raising awareness among citizens about the need to preserve their cultural heritage.

The legislative proposal, which he is drafting with the support of architects and attorneys and will introduce shortly, will focus on modifying an existing housing law to offer economic incentives for the restoration of old homes.

“I think the political parties that don’t put (cultural) heritage on their agendas are going to lose votes because there’s now a public outcry and truly our heritage is our history; to not protect it is to not protect our history, our identity and our future,” Sastre said.

The filmmaker, who was raised in Montevideo but has lived much of his life in Madrid and Buenos Aires, began researching the preservation of china, furniture and other ornamental elements that may be hidden treasures after finding some broken mosaic pieces at his family’s home.

That led him to Carina and Rossana Peralta, a team of sisters who have been tasked with restoring those Nolla tiles.

While using baking soda and water (they almost entirely avoid industrial chemicals) to bring back their shine, Carina recalled that some of their past projects have included restoration work at the Solis Theatre, a key Montevideo landmark, and at that capital’s Quinta Vaz Ferreira museum.

“It’s about rescuing part of our country’s history,” she said. “It’s essential to bear witness to history, even more so when these things employ a lot of people and recovering what has heritage value is extremely important.” EFE


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