Sometimes, impulse decisions can lead to life-changing experiences, often where and when we least expect them. For Abid Khan, director of the film ‘Granada Nights’, such an impulse came on a wet summer’s day in 2005, as he watched the rain pour down outside his London bedsit window.
One week later, Abid was sitting at a cafe in sunny Granada, struggling to order breakfast in Spanish.
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“I’d arrived that morning and wandered into Plaza Nueva for breakfast,” Abid told Culture Trip. “I noticed a guy sitting alone who looked as though he might speak English, so I approached him and offered him a drink in exchange for a cigarette. It turned out he was English, and so we talked about Andalucian culture, which caught the attention of an elderly Spanish couple nearby. They invited us to join them on a tapas tour, which led to us meeting many locals who were keen to tell us all about their city.
“What started as a friendly drink turned into 11 hours of socialising; meeting so many warm and welcoming people, I felt almost instantly at home in this foreign city, despite barely understanding a word of Spanish. Of course, I overslept and arrived late for my first Spanish class but I had no idea that this was just the start of what was to come.”
Abid would stay in Granada for eight months, embracing every opportunity to meet new people and listen to their stories. People from all over Europe, Pakistan, Morocco, the USA and Spain – whether he did or didn’t know it at the time, these encounters would heavily influence his adult life, and his debut work as a filmmaker.
Granada Nights (2021) tells the story of Ben (Antonio Aakeel), a young British tourist who winds up in Granada on the trail of his girlfriend. When he discovers their relationship is over, Ben crashes into the hedonistic lifestyle of the international student scene. As his personal journey and struggle to find closure unfold, a new sense of self and belonging slowly prevails.
For Abid, it was important to capture the beauty of the city in places the average visitor may not expect to find it. This meant avoiding the Alhambra palace – undeniably one of the most mesmerising buildings in Spain – and focusing on the locations that shaped his own experience of Granada.
In Granada for the Spanish premiere, Culture Trip met with Abid and close friend Oscar – who inspired the character of the same name – to get the inside scoop on these locations and why they made the final cut.
Set in a Moorish house right by the Botanical Gardens and just 100 yd (90m) from Granada Cathedral, Hospedaje Almohada is the sort of place any weary backpacker would love to call home for a few days.
For Abid, a few days turned into a few months, as he began to turn the pages of his own Granada story.
Abid: “I hadn’t ever stayed in hostels much really, but my stay at Almohada really shaped my experience. I wouldn’t have met half as many people if I’d stayed in a hotel. Every day I’d meet new people and hear their stories about what they’d done in the city – stories about real places, cool stuff you don’t read about in the guidebook. Every day felt like an adventure.
“During filming, we all stayed in that same hostel – even though the hostel scenes in the film were actually shot at Granada Inn. At first, the cast and crew weren’t so sure about sharing bathrooms, but after a few days they loved being together under one roof, cooking together and bonding like one big family.
“In this little corner of Granada, you’ve got the beautiful Botanical Gardens. And the translation faculty is also nearby, so there’s a great international buzz about the place. It feels like my home in Granada.”
A narrow street leads from Plaza Nueva before bending uphill towards the Albaicín neighbourhood. Take a right before you get to the top and pretty soon you’ll emerge in Sacromonte, an area of Granada famous for its Gipsy culture – and an unlikely setting for one of the most popular student nightclubs in Granada.
Overlooking the Alhambra in all its resplendent glory, El Camborio is the scene of a turning point in Granada Nights, when Ben realises he can finally move on from his ex. For Abid and Oscar, it would prove to be a unique place for other reasons.
Oscar: “That walk up to El Camborio is really special. Not just because of the incredible views but the conversations it brings out of people. At that time in your life, you don’t have huge responsibilities so all that matters to you is the now – and the club was the best place to really embrace that. You really appreciated where you were, what you were doing and who you were with.”
Abid: “Yes, that walk to or from Camborio was always a special experience. Particularly when walking back in the early hours, because often there would be an amazing sunrise over the Alhambra, and that would stimulate all sorts of discussions around religion and philosophy. We were the only ones walking down as dawn broke and it felt like a secret. Not like during the day, when Sacromonte would be busy with tourists. We felt that the city was ours, we owned it or it owned us; either way we knew it didn’t get any better than that moment.”
The caves are grouped around ravines, forming a network of roads where you can find gift shops and flamenco venues – including the one seen in Granada Nights – and the route along which the Cristo de los Gitanos procession takes place on the Wednesday of Semana Santa (Holy Week).
Early in the film, we see Ben emerge from an alleyway into the midst of this procession – just in time to see the heavy Gipsy Christ float, carried by men known as costaleros, lurch past. Captivated by the sight, Ben follows the procession into Sacromonte where he mingles with locals, while others serenade the float from low balconies – actual footage recorded by the crew on a handheld camera.
Abid: “We would have followed the float higher into Sacromonte, but there was hardly any light left to shoot. The flamenco cave used in the film was featured on the Anthony Bourdain show and is partly a museum. All around the cave there are photos of the owner’s family and other Gypsies who first arrived in Granada. Much like the city itself, it’s a treasure trove of history and stories. Nowadays the owner doesn’t like to bring film or TV cameras into the cave as it disturbs the tranquility of the place, but we were able to persuade him that we would respect that by bringing a small crew and authentically capturing the intimacy of the place.”
Impossible to ignore in Granada are the kaleidoscopic shops and fragrant tea cafes that line the narrow “teahouse streets” leading steeply from Calle Elvira to the Albaicín. Here, North African and Middle Eastern communities thrive and collide fantastically to forge a unique aspect of Granada’s identity.
In the film, it’s also where Ben meets a man selling roses in the street, who invites him for some tea in his tetería.
Abid: “There was a tetería I used to go to with a book and a sketchpad and draw the everyday scenes unfolding outside. The guy who ran it was a Moroccan immigrant whose wife had sadly passed away. She kept a rose garden, and he opened the tetería in her honour.
“But that character in the film was based on two people I met in Granada. The other was a Pakistani rose seller, who recognised my Pakistani features and started talking to me. You find a lot of Muslims in Granada and it doesn’t matter which country they’re from, there is always a warmth and an instant connection with the art, the architecture and the people living in the city. It’s like a brotherhood: people greet you and they are very kind to you.
“In the film, the character sold roses to pay homage to his late wife, because he didn’t want to lose the feeling of love he’d known. And in a way that’s what this film is about: finding love in the connections between others. However, even though the rose seller I met felt a sense of belonging to the city, he had also experienced discrimination and so that message was important to get across in this scene as well.”
Oscar: “We were here when we were very young, like 19 years old. And at that time in your life you don’t notice it; you know it’s a very culturally diverse place but you don’t see the value in that environment and how it will shape you as a person.
“There’s a saying in Norway that if someone speaks to you on the bus, it must be a psychopath, an alcoholic or an American. And that’s funny, but it’s also a very closed-minded thing to say. Once you go abroad, experience new environments and meet people from all over the world, you realise that is the wrong way to look at things.”
Football fans, find some place else. Despite the name, you won’t catch El Clásico here – although you can enter a lottery for tickets to watch Granada CF play at their home stadium. Dating from 1903, Café Fútbol is more about what’s on the menu – whether it’s morning, noon or night.
During a montage sequence in the film, we see the main characters sharing an ice cream here, and Ben making an effort to learn Spanish.
Abid: “Café Fútbol is a very old-school-glamour kind of a place, which is great from an aesthetic point of view – and I wanted to capture that era of Granada on camera. Sometimes we used to go there for breakfast after a night out, either still drunk or hungover, and dunk churros into warm chocolate sauce. It was a very gluttonous reward after a night out!”
The most prestigious language academy in Granada feels more like a palace than a school. The central courtyard has a beautiful fountain, around which international students gather and gossip between classes, in any given tongue – sometimes a mishmash of several at once.
The Centro de Lenguas Modernas makes its first appearance in the film when Ben asks Oscar (Julius Fleischanderl) and Sylvia (Laura Frederico) if he can move into their spare room. Later, we see him stand up in front of his new classmates and awkwardly introduce himself in Spanish.
Abid: “I studied at the CLM every day. It’s a special place, because there are no boundaries to language and culture there – it just flows seamlessly – and it’s where I met the people who became really important in my own journey. Everyone’s on equal terms. You study together and then, after class, you share new adventures and experiences.
“I’ll always remember sitting with my classmates in a local tapas bar, trying my best to order in Spanish. There was a real mix of nationalities, so no common tongue, and situations like that accelerate your learning. It’s nothing like learning a language in high school – it’s much, much more immersive and rewarding than that.”
Today, the great façade provides the backdrop for casual tapas diners seated in the adjacent square, drawing people in like a giant magnet to the heart of the city. It’s also where Ben and his newfound friends encounter a wise, guitar-strumming Gipsy after a night out early in the film.
Abid:“My appreciation of the cathedral square and steps grew the longer I stayed in Granada. When I arrived, it was a meeting point for many because of its central location: you get locals, students, tourists and musicians mingling there every day. The steps are almost an invitation to stop, sit and take everything in. At night, it’s really special, because there is a stillness and peacefulness that make it a perfect place for reflection or a romantic spot for couples.
“The square also reflects Granada’s turbulent past. Previously there had been a mosque that was destroyed, and the cathedral was built in its place. During dark times, books of higher learning were even burnt in this square. Today, it’s as if the stone has absorbed all that dark history and now gives you a sense of peace and positivity. This is what we tried to capture in the film.
“On my last night in Granada, I sat on these steps once again as dawn was breaking. I felt at peace that I had fulfilled my promise of making this film to my friends, and also to Granada itself.”
You can now stream Granada Nights on Google, Apple TV, Amazon Prime and YouTube.
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