Screenwriter, movie producer and director, and soul of the Aladina Foundation
«The gift I would have liked to possess is the ability to cure»
TEXT: RAMÓN OLIVER IMAGES: LAURA MARTÍNEZ LOMBARDÍA
Paco Arango (Mexico City, 1966) is a screenwriter, movie producer and director. Between 2000 and 2004 he directed the popular Spanish TV sitcom ¡Ala… Dina!, a success that served as inspiration when naming the foundation he created in 2005. Since then, the Aladina Foundation has helped make happier and improve the lives of over 1,500 children and adolescents with cancer, and their families. This work warranted the Fundación MAPFRE Award for the Best Social Action Initiative in the year 2016. Through his film projects, Arango has managed to combine his two passions: cinema and solidarity actions. Part of the proceeds from his latest film, The Rodríguez and the Far Side, premiered in October 2019, will also be devoted to the fight against childhood cancer.
Research projects, psychological support, physical exercise programs, dog therapy in hospitals, summer camps, creation of playrooms, conditioning of facilities… You never stop.
We simply cannot stop, as childhood cancer is a fierce enemy and waits for no one. And there is so much to do… We are now immersed in several projects such as the renovation of the Pediatric Oncohematology Unit of the Virgen del Rocío Hospital in Seville. We’ve also just completed the decoration of the pediatric unit at the Centr al University Hospital of Asturias in Oviedo.
A great many – often groundbreaking – projects. Lo que de verdad importa [The Healer] was the first movie in history to donate all profits to a charitable cause.
I went way over the top with that movie (laughs), but the fact is that everything about that venture was amazing. We were number one in 16 countries, generating over three million euros for the fight against childhood cancer. What’s more, the money raised in each country went straight to local foundations there, helping them grow as institutions. But, aside from the financial aspect, the truly great thing was seeing the way in which the general public was mobilized around a movie. It was like a wonderful virus spreading out. So many extraordinary things happened… They called us from the Vatican to offer them a private showing and I remember how, as I left the theater, the biggest rainbow I’ve ever seen in my life crossed the sky. I can assure you that, when you work with children with cancer, rainbows appear all the time.
What did people say to you?
There were all kinds of reactions. There were those who went to theaters to see the mo vie and then found out about the other dimension of the pr oject, while others went to see it precisely because they knew about the charitable side. The best thing was the word of mouth it generated. There were also some who (affectionately) called me crazy, given that it’s hard enough to make a movie and yet, on top of it all, I w as trying to plant a flag on the moon. I now believe there should be more crazy people like me, because that madness worked. In addition, I was moved by a greater force: the need to tell the story of someone who had the power to cure, which is the gift I would’ve liked to possess.
Two of your great passions are your artistic activity and the work you do with children. How did you think of combining them?
It all started with Maktub, my first movie. One day, talking to one of the kids w e worked with in the foundation, I told him that I w as going to start making movies, as I wanted to tell the world how extraordinary it was working with children with cancer. That same day we made a pact that, if the movie went well, part of the money would go to finance a research center at the hospital where he was a patient. That was how the Maktub Center for bone marrow transplants was created at the Infant Jesus Hospital in Madrid.
How difficult is it to fit them both in?
Normally, when I make a movie, I distance myself from the hospitals and children. It’s a way to escape. But combining these facets is also a w ay to give them both meaning and to help, not just financially, but also by raising awareness. It’s a way to make society realize that childhood cancer is a reality we must learn to live with, and how important it is that we all strive to help, within the limits of our possibilities.
And you are now premiering The Rodríguez and the Far Side. A comedy with Edu Soto, Santiago Segura, Rossy de Palma, Macarena Gómez, Geraldine Chaplin…
Yes, my first comedy, which is really my genre. It’s much more difficult to make ‘dramedy’, a halfway house between drama and comedy in which some scenes pull at the audience’s heartstrings, as they start to comprehend a harsh reality. Not the case here. In this project, I went off the rails somewhat, doing something crazy together with a wonderful team and cast. This is not a mo vie for parents to fall asleep, while the kids have a great time. At one showing in Valencia, I thought two couples in front of me were going to have a fit, as they couldn’ t stop laughing. The Rodríguez and the Far Side is a family comedy in which, above all, I wanted there to be a lot of magic. And I called m y foundation Aladina [Aladdin] precisely because I wanted to bring magic into the hospitals.
“Thanks to Fundación MAPFRE, Aladina will be able to provide and implement greater aid in its persistent fight against childhood cancer. Heartfelt thanks on behalf of the children, and the Aladina Foundation.” Paco Arango. Presentation ceremony of the 2016 Fundación MAPFRE Awards
Should we all be helping others?
My philosophy is that we have to leave this world better than we found it. And this can be applied to any person and whatever cause you want. I chose children with cancer, but it could be any other one. It’s perfectly compatible to set aside some time in your life for sharing and giving a piece of y ourself, although at first you may feel a bit incompetent, just like I did. But time will provide you with the tools to make you feel really useful. And I’d bet all the money in the world that anyone who tries it will be much happier. Because, even though I know it’s a bit schmaltzy and that w e’ve heard it so often, the saying that ‘you get back a great deal more than you give’ couldn’t be truer.
How did you start working with children with cancer?
I’m a person with great faith and I realized that life had been really good to me. I had a wonderful family, had a healthy financial situation, had achieved my professional dreams… I was overwhelmed by the fact that I had been so lucky, while others were suffering from wars, displacement, diseases… I came to the conclusion that I hadn’t received all those gifts just to have fun, but rather to use them for good. So I ask ed a friend to help me find something I could do to get my hands dirty. That did not merely involve giving money to some cause, but rather would be tough, something difficult. And he told me later: tomorrow you start working with children with cancer.
What is the part of Aladina you feel most proud of ?
They are all very important, but I’d single out two. The first is to be with childr en – that is paramount. My volunteers form part of the core family unit. Because, when the going gets tough, the children only accept their friends, and we are part of that close cir cle. I usually don’t talk about the second. Childhood cancer is cur ed in 80 percent of cases, but unfortunately there remain 20 that are not. And that is where Aladina is most effective. We accompany that 20 percent in a very special way. And even when the child dies, we look after the parents for a whole year, helping them to achieve closure and move on. This is a part not often discussed, something that is only logical. But, it is in those moments that I feel I’m a firefighting hero.