Recently, there has been a consistent tide of well crafted and highly regarded films coming out of Spain. “Alcarràs,” “The Beasts,” “Lullaby,” “La Maternal,” “Prison 77,” to name just the five that the Spanish Academy Goyas singled out in early February.
This level of quality, over a short period, is getting noticed internationally. Last week the Glasgow Film Festival, Scotland’s largest, shone a light on eight films in its Viva el Cine Español program. A cultural moment is a strange beast, hard to fathom, but there are strong signals that Spanish Film is having one.
In addition to the aforementioned five, Glasgow added Andrea Bagney’s debut “Ramona,” “Wild Flowers,” from Jaime Rosales, another debut with Elena López Riera’s “The Water,” and a Penelope Cruz starrer, in Juan Diego Botto’s “On The Fringe.”
Glasgow’s Festival co-director Allison Gardner told Variety: “We seem to be seeing films both harking back to what’s happened post-Franco, but also what modern Spain is today. “Lullaby,” “La Maternal,” and “Ramona,” all feel like they’re tackling modern issues in Spain, whereas “Prison 77,” for example, is looking back at what had happened, and is still relevant for all of us.”
Relevance is being rewarded with Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s debut feature, “20,000 Species of Bees,” winning three awards at the Berlinale, while Albert Serra’s “Pacifiction” won two Cesar awards, and Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s “The Beasts” won the Cesar award for best foreign film. Not forgetting Simón’s “Alcarràs” winning last year’s Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, and being shortlisted for the Oscars.
The contrast of Spain’s history under Franco and its rapid progression to being the modern democracy of today provides a sea of fascinating stories and themes for filmmakers to explore to form their own stories. Rodrigo Sorogoyen, director of “The Beasts,” told Variety: “What is Spanish is eminently Spanish, but it is not totally alien, neither to other countries nor to other national cinemas.”
The towering talents of a Saura, Buñuel, or Almodóvar deserve their international reputation, but when an increasing number of filmmakers make their mark at once Spanish cinema’s rising reputational tide will lift all proverbial boats. If audiences form a generality of ‘Spanish Film = probably good,’ it will form a powerful incentive to those who fund, sell, and distribute films from the region. It’s happened to other markets before – think of the breakthroughs in ‘90s Korean Cinema, Nordic Noir, or Hong Kong Cinema all seeing a surge of interest at key moments in their history.
Bagney, who directs “Ramona,” speculates whether the rise and rise of streaming and high quality series have spurred on and raised the bar for filmmakers attempting to stand out, “There’s so much going on. I think that’s forced filmmakers to strive beyond and, in order to call ourselves artists and filmmakers we really need to make a work of art. I think this is something that’s a great opportunity for us in general.” she says.
Rodrigo Sorogoyen sees teamwork and a new generation as one factor, “not only in directors, but in all departments. Now producers and directors go more hand in hand, we make films more together. There are usually teams that have already worked together for a long time, that have started together, from the beginning. And there is a change in the look, both in how to tell the stories, which tend more towards realism, and in the way of producing, of approaching the trade,” he said.Support and incentives for the industry in Spain are growing. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is a known lover of cinema with voiced aspirations for Spain to be “the Hollywood of Europe,”. There’s policy to back this up with the country’s Audiovisual Hub plan offering €1.6 billion ($1.9 billion) of industry investment, significant tax breaks of up to 70% of spend to productions, and the $5.1 million over 2021-25, for the Spain Film Commission’s Action Plan.
If a final seal of approval was needed, it came last week with the announcement of Spain being the Country of Honor at Cannes Marché du Film.
Domestic cinema attendance in general remain bleak, though Spanish films posted an upbeat 22.5% market share last year; the unknown unknowns of streaming still loom; but quality cinema is not going unnoticed, the world is waiting and, more encouragingly, watching…