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INTERVIEW Sandra Jordan, director of Little Matador

Sandra Jordan behind the camera
Sandra Jordan behind the camera

Little matadors face fears in Jordan’s compelling film

Áine Ryan

YOU don’t need to be a west of Ireland farmer to know that taking on the wrath of a bull is a perilous exercise. So imagine this scene then. An eleven year-old boy – his name is Michelito – has thrust his sword nine times between the eyes of a taurean monster: yet the bull still writhes and grunts menacingly.  His father still cheers him on, while another man eventually extricates the little boy from the bloody amphitheatre.
Michelito is the son of a famous Mexican matador and has already killed 200 bulls.
In the words of his proud father: “Picasso was born to paint, Mozart to make music and Michelito to fight bulls.” Michelito is under enormous pressure to fulfill his father’s – and consequently his – dream to become the best and the youngest matador in history.
Newport native, Sandra Jordan’s feature documentary, ‘Little Matador’ tells the story of three such miniature matadors. Joel is nine and Andrea is 12. But behind the bright colour and drama of their David and Goliath challenges – the mini matador weighs around 29 kilos, the bulls about 350 kilos –  is the story of parental pressures, familial neglect, a quest for approval, attention; there is poverty and a cultural acceptance of an exploitative form of entertainment.
Sandra observes: “Little Matador is not about the rights and wrongs of bullfighting. It is about the relationships of these little fighters with their fathers and mothers. Primarily, this is a psychological film.”
After Sandra Jordan completed her Leaving Cert at the Sacred Heart Secondary School, Westport, in 1987, she pursued an English degree at NUI Galway.  She always wanted to be a writer and tells The Mayo News that her career as a journalist effectively ‘happened by stealth’.
“I started off temping, and once I showed an aptitude for it I began getting assignments. I was working at the Foreign News Desk with the Observer newspaper in London,” she says.
Her promotion to the role of Assistant Foreign Editor, however, ultimately left her desk-bound, which did not suit her journalistic drive.
So she moved to Channel Four and spent some years making documentaries in Latin America.
“Then after 9/11 I started to work more in the Middle East – looking at the Israeli and Palestinian situation. Everyone who goes to Palestine wants to make a significant film; one that will change things and reach a wider audience.
“But I got sick of having to film dead children,” says the mother of a three-month-old baby girl. “In fact, it was pointless and futile and it would wear you down. Especially doing films in Gaza … every time you go back, nothing has changed except it has got worse.”
Three years ago Sandra returned home to her native Mayo and got married. Just months earlier she had begun to develop the concept for Little Matador and was genuinely ‘blown away’ when the Irish Film Board (Bord Scannán na hÉireann) responded positively to her proposal for a feature documentary.
“The concept originated from a newspaper article I had read while in Mexico. There was an image of a small boy fighting a bull and it seemed bizarre to me. It transpired they were like gymnasts or young athletes who work both night and day to perfect their skill. I wanted to know how children do something so extreme and why their parents allowed them.”
While the spectacle can be dazzling, explains Sandra, it is basically blood and gore.
“These children get injured all the time, they get trampled on. Even when they fight the bull calves,  it is dangerous, because they are so nimble.”
Little Matador is not about bullfighting per se. It is essentially about the psychological pressures felt by the children to a backdrop of, sometimes, desperate socio-economic and familial circumstances.
‘Little Matador’ is co-directed by Gabriel Range and was premiered at the Jameson International Film Festival in Dublin last Saturday night. Sandra says there have been initial discussions to show it at the Westport Film Club at a future date. The film will also be shown at a number of upcoming international film festivals. As well as support from the Irish Film Board, the film received support from More4 at Channel Four and the Film Agency of Wales.