Never predict, especially about the future, Sam Goldwyn is said to have said. But, as one of the most anticipated Spanish titles of the year –Alberto Rodriguez’s Marshland– world premieres today at San Sebastian, Variety, un-hedging its bets, makes one forecast: the 62nd San Sebastian Festival looks set to unveil the breadth, creative vitality and driving trends behind Spanish cinema, despite –and sometimes because– of crisis.
That’s in part because there’s so much of it: 33 Spanish movies play across sections, 16 world premieres, double the Spanish titles bowing in 2014 at Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Toronto put together.
No big national film industry in Europe has been harder hit by crisis than Spain.
Through August, only six films, including Hollywood blockbusters, grossed $10 million-plus, vs. 21 over the whole of 2007.
From 2011, Spain’s central government subsidy fund fell 56% to 2014’s €33.7 million ($44.3 million), though it has just received a state top-up for subsidies on 2012 releases.
Yet, says San Sebastian Festival director José Luis Rebordinos, “despite the crisis, the industry is currently spectacular in creative terms”.
A new director/producer generation in breaking through, bringing new production models to the table, he adds.
Of competition titles from Spanish directors -Alberto Rodríguez’s Marshland, Carlos Vermut’s Magical Girl, Gabe Ibanez’s Automata and Flowers, from Jon Garaño and José Mari Goenaga- the last three are sophomore outings.
Magical Girl was financed via investment from high-net-worth individuals, plus sales to paybox Canal Plus and, on completion, pubcaster RTVE, says producer Pedro Hernandez. The Basque government and pubcaster EITB and RTVE backed Flowers, post-produced inhouse by producers Irusoin and Moriarti, adds its producer, Xabi Berzosa.
Average film budgets plunged 50% to $2.0 million over 2009-14, per producers’ assn. Fapae.
Only two Spanish preems at San Sebastian are obviously budgeted over €2 million ($2.6 million). Others, lowerbudgeted, range from Roberto Caston’s film-within-a-film The Silly Ones and the Stupid Ones, to Iciar Bollain’s youth immigration docu En tierra extraña, to toon pic Mummy, I’m a Zombie, ageing couple drama It’s Not Vigil or Gorka Gammara’s Lantanda, about Guinea Bissau creole.
Of bigger-budget fare, noirish cop case “Marshland” is set in a Spain’s True Detective Andalusian flatlands in 1980; Loreak is the first Basque-language shot movie competing at San Sebastian; starring Antonio Banderas, robot sci-fi Automata is set in a near-apocalyptic future.
Some films push political envelopes, from Borja Cobeaga The Negotiator, a comedy about ETA, to real event-based Lasa and Zabala, about the torture and assassination of two ETA suspects by a government-backed death squad.
Films’ most common denominator of Spanish films at San Sebastian perhaps is an outreach to audiences.
Despite huge differences, as Rebordinos points out, all the Spanish competition films have genre elements.
Marshland has 170 sequences; Flowers rarely repeats a shot set-up.
Spain’s artistic achievements ma leave a bittersweet sensation, however. Lower budgets may well foster creative liberty, recognizes Vermut, But if he had $200,000, he’d be even more creative, he argues.
“Cinema in general is a mixture of art and industry, but Spanish cinema is a mixture of art and a lack of money”, rasped Spanish comic José Isbert.
60 years later, as it plans a congress next year to debare its future, per El Pais, much of the Spanish industry is still living hand-to-mouth. JOHN HOPEWELL