J.A. Bayona Reflects On Young People Embracing The Netflix Blockbuster Society of the Snow

J.A. Bayona and his producing partners spent years attempting to finance “Society of the Snow.” Despite his track record, no one, no studio, no production company from his native Spain wanted to back it. And, the story of the 45 passengers on that ill-fated 1972 flight from Uruguay to Chile has become a little engine that could. A surprise success story even for Netflix, who eventually financed it. “Society” is not only in the running to win an International Film and Sound category Academy Award, but is a massive hit on the streaming service across the globe.

READ MORE: “Society Of The Snow” Review: J.A. Bayona’s disaster-in-the-mountains drama is a harrowing and soulful story of survival

“[We] found ourselves with the film being watched by a hundred million people in the first 10 days in Spanish with subtitles, and we did half a million admissions in the cinemas and the film is still playing [in Spain] two months after its release,” Bayona says. “We felt like these guys [in the movie], the same way they were abandoned and they were told, ‘You are not going to make it.’ And in spite of that, we’ve been beating all those narratives and here we are celebrating not only the success of the film on Netflix but also in the cinemas, which for me, I’ve always been a huge defender of cinemas. It’s a great thing.”

When Bayona spoke with The Playlist last week, it was just a day after the Oscar luncheon. His mind, however, was still back in Spain, where “Society” won a staggering 12 Goya Awards the day prior.

“We went to the ceremony in Spain, was not in Madrid, it was in Valladolid. That is two hours and a half drive from Madrid,” Bayona says. “The ceremony starts at ten, it finishes at two in the morning. We won all the awards. It was fantastic. It was a night to remember. And then the pickup time to go to the luncheon was at five in the morning, we had to attend the press after the ceremony. We had an hour to celebrate with all our team and take a drive to Madrid and then take a plane and got in time to the luncheon. But it was fantastic. We were so happy.”

Having caught up on sleep, Bayona spent our conversation reflecting on his first Oscar nomination, how young people have embraced “Society,” whether his next movie will be with Netflix, and much more.


The Playlist: Where were you when the Oscar nominations were announced and what was your reaction?

J.A. Bayona: We were in the office in Barcelona. I think it’s at 2:30 in the evening. And we jumped crazily. We were so happy. We are so proud of the film and we really want everyone to watch it and it’s been so great, the response so far, we are overwhelmed. We were super happy. We were extremely happy.

You make a movie for Netflix which has a large platform and millions, billions of people around the world can potentially see it, but that doesn’t happen for every movie, let alone “Maestro” or “May December” or whatever. Plus, your movie is in Spanish and it centers on what many might view as difficult subject matter How shocked have you been that it’s in the top Nielsen’s in the United States? Why do you think it’s struck a chord?

I have my theory. This movie has been so special from the very beginning, not only for the audience but also for us. It’s been a life-changing experience for the whole group. Our relation towards the survivors, the families of the dead, to show them the film and suddenly see how these people, these two groups suddenly came along together. And it’s a movie that talks about that, about defeating odds by coming together and this is how we felt shooting this film. And suddenly you can see how it resonates with the audience. We live in a world with so much conflict that suddenly it feels like a transgression to tell the people, “We together can beat all odds,” especially to young people. The other day, last Friday, we closed 10 cinemas in Spain to show the film to 4,000 kids. They were like 15 to 20 years old.
Most of them had seen the film already. They just wanted to experience a film on the big screen. And the same way we’ve been obsessed with this story for 10 years now we can see how the audience all over the world, not only the Spanish-speaking world, is receiving the film with so much love. To me, these numbers are impossible to process. In the first 10 days, a hundred million people saw the film all over the world. It’s impossible to process it, but it’s so good, especially for the people who went through this story. They needed this film probably even more than me. They needed to change the tale and tell the people that it was a film about compassion. It was a film about love. It was not about cannibalism. It was not about taking but about giving yourself to the other ones. It’s overwhelming. And the other day at the Goya’s, we felt the same love. Suddenly we won everything. And everybody was so happy for that. It’s great.

I don’t know what the politics of voting for the Goya awards are in Spain, but were you worried that they might not embrace it because it wasn’t a Spanish story, that it took place in South America?

Yes, I was worried about that. The fact that it’s a movie from Netflix, some people were telling us that maybe because it’s Netflix [we might not win, but] actually we did great in the cinemas in Spain. The film is still doing great in the cinemas two months after its release. I don’t know exact numbers, but it’s still doing great. We are still in the same number of cinemas from two months ago because the cinemas are full. People want to see this film in the cinema even though it’s on Netflix. I think it’s the movie, the story and what these people went through is so powerful that we were beating all those narratives that were against us and we were the first ones to be surprised last Saturday when we won everything.

You’ve made many films that have gone straight to theaters, you directed “The Lord of the Rings,” which was a streaming series, and now you have a streaming film. I don’t know if you’ve even said publicly what you plan on doing next but is your gut, “I want to go back to movies” or do you want to stick with Netflix? I’m just thinking of Guillermo del Toro or David Fincher, both of whom appear to be making all their new projects with the streamer. Are those thoughts going through your mind about what you do next?

I go always step by step. I never planned to do a show on “The Lord of the Rings,” but suddenly I found myself reading a draft of “Society of The Snow” that I didn’t like and I said, “We need to start from scratch.” It’s not a question of rewriting, it’s a question of starting from the very beginning again. I found myself not shooting for one year and at that exact moment they offered me to do the first two episodes of “Lord of the Rings.” It was supposed to be only nine months of work, and because of COVID, it turned out to be one year and a half. But I used that time to rewrite the script of “Society of the Snow.” I never planned to do a TV show on “Lord of the Rings.” I never planned to do a film for Netflix. But after spending 10 years looking for financing, because absolutely no one, any studio, any production company in Spain wanted to produce a film with this level of ambition in Spanish because they keep telling you that there is no market for that. Suddenly I found ourselves with the film being watched by a hundred million people in the first 10 days in Spanish with subtitles, and we did half a million admissions in the cinemas and the film is still playing two months after its release. We felt like these guys, the same way they were abandoned and they were told, “You are not going to make it.” And in spite of that, we’ve been beating all those narratives and here we are celebrating not only the success of the film on Netflix but also in the cinemas, which for me, I’ve always been a huge defender of cinemas. It’s a great thing.

You were just talking about the Goya wins and did you guys win seven?



It’s the third-biggest win in the history of the Goya’s. I have this Goya for Michael Giacchino here with me that he couldn’t attend the ceremony and I’m going to see him later on and I will give it to him.

Editor’s note: Bayona pulls out the Goya award.

That’s a lot to carry on a plane. [Laughs.]

Very heavy.

Was there one Goya win you were happiest about? That an individual or a specific department won?

Definitely Best Picture because it represents all the effort that we did. And it’s funny that it’s the first time we won Best Picture. With [my]other films, we won a lot of Goya’s. I won the Goya for Best Director award since my very first film, but we never won Best Film. It was something that was resisting. I don’t know why, but I felt the love from my colleagues in Spain. I was very happy.


You’ve been around the business a long time, but was there anyone that you met at the Oscar Luncheon you had never met before that you really wanted to or that you enjoyed running into?

I met Sissy Spacek. I’m a huge fan and when I saw her, I asked her for a picture. That’s the only picture that I asked for.

Do you know what you’re doing next? Or are you keeping it close to the vest?

I think I’m very happy that “Society of the Snow” was coming back to my roots shooting in Spanish in Spain, and in a very different way of producing a film. When you work for a studio, you know that the numbers are so big, the budget is so big that the tension and you feel that everything is very measured. And this was more like a European process of working on a story, like exploring the story as you were telling it. That was very interesting. And we all enjoy that a lot, especially with the actors.
I found my place. I really want to keep working like that. I think I can give my best by working like that. I really want to take some time off and think about what’s going to be next. I am developing projects. I’ve always been. I [was] developing “Society of the Snow” for 10 years, and I remember every time a journalist, a Spanish journalist would ask me, “What’s you going to do next?” I was telling them, “I hope my next project will be in Spanish,” because I was developing this one. I’m developing things, but I still haven’t decided what’s going to be next.

I remember the last time we spoke you talked about how you screened the movie for the crash victim’s families the film before it went to Venice. It’s one thing for them to see it and to re-live the experience. It’s another is then to see it out in the world and to have people coming up to them saying they’ve seen it. Have you gotten any feedback from them about how they’re taking in the reaction to the film and their family stories or their own stories all over the world?

Yeah, they are so happy. The fact that it’s a movie that from the very beginning has this clear idea that they were 45. It’s not only about the 16 that came back, it’s about the 45. When you read those names on the screen, for the families it’s so important to see those names on the screen. Especially, for the brothers or sisters or it’s for the grandsons, or the nephews, the nieces. Suddenly they see the names of these people they have heard all the time at home, but were never in the story. And that was, to me, very important to rescue the memory of these people. It’s a movie that talks about how important was each of them. It’s putting in the center of the story a character that was an extra in the story since then. It’s like a reflection on each of them. I keep receiving messages nonstop from the families saying, “Thank you,” which is a different film. It’s a different story, it’s a different reward. It’s very special.

“Society of the Snow” is available worldwide on Netflix