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Highlights - 06/02/2015

 

Spanish film news - Interview with José María Riba, Spanish expert for Europa Cinemas

 

Five years after the economic crisis that had a serious effect on film theatres in Spain, Spanish films enjoyed their greatest success ever in 2014 with an estimated 123 million euros in box office takings and a market share of approximately 26%. Europa Cinemas interviewed José María Riba, Spanish expert on the network’s Committee of Experts, to discuss these results. José María Riba is a journalist born in Barcelona and is currently working at AFP (Agence France Presse), covering Spain and Latin America. He was also programmer for the San Sebastián film festival and currently works for Cannes film festival.

Can you give us a broad brush description of today’s Spanish film production, within the particular context of the economic crisis?

In Spain, the film sector has a complicated relationship with the government. The government does not believe that this industry can provide jobs in the cultural sector and this relationship is not getting any better with the economic crisis. Several events have contributed to this.

The first one was the reformulation of the regulation on private copying* that finances copyright management companies (Sociedad de Servicios para los productores audiovisuales (EGEDA), Sociedad General de Autores y Editores (SGAE)). The new regulation has removed a large share of their income.

Secondly, tax on cinema admissions increased from 8 to 21%. Within the sector, people say it isn’t the government who is providing assistance to the film industry as much as the film industry is in fact providing financial support to the government.

Finally, there is the piracy that is rife in Spain. The director of Spanish Affair, Emilio Martínez Lázaro (which reached 8.6 million admissions in Spain in 2014) stated that on the day the film became available illegally, the number of admissions halved.

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What do you think about the circulation of Spanish and European films within Spain and in Europe?

Most national films are released under poor conditions, but a handful buck this trend. For example, there were Spanish Affair, Torrente 5, El Niño and Marshland in 2014. Generally, these few films were produced by private television channels that use their promotional resources to support their release in cinemas.

In Spain, unlike France where private television channels give a percentage of their revenues to cinemas, particularly for auteur films, these investments focus on a very limited number of films. Additionally, the criterion for television channels is profitability. Spanish Affair and El Niño were produced by Telecinco while Torrente and Marshland were produced by Antena 3.  The latter, in competition at the San Sebastián film festival, owes its success to the promotional work held by Antena 3.

Beautiful Youth is the counter-example to these films. Even after being selected at Cannes and receiving critical acclaim, the film was not a success in Spain.

Furthermore, programme schedules in film theatres in Spain are dominated by American blockbusters. Independent Spanish films are penalised compared with commercial films that benefit from promotion by private channels. There are mainstream films in Spain but, unlike mainstream films in France, they do not venture abroad. Spanish auteur films have more followers abroad that in Spain.

For their part, European films are more successful in Spain than Spanish films in Europe. Non-national European films are released with relative success in Spain, French films taking first place, followed by British films.

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People are talking about professionals adapting to economic constraints and budget reductions as a result of the economic crisis. What do you think?

According to the cinematographer Imanol Uribe there are now three types of directors in Spain. The first type is the so-called “van” director. The entire film crew travels in a single van when filming! These people are called mileuristas* and some of them make films to show on YouTube. These filmmakers do not see the cinema as an industry and do not make a living from their work. Their only aspiration is to create an art project. There is an increasing number of mileuristas because the economic crisis has aggravated the situation within the industry.

The second group comprises those who have won the jackpot: a private television channel buys their film. Thus, they can make a comfortable living as a filmmaker for four years and produce a successful film in Spain, even if it is not distributed elsewhere.

The last group, the majority, are those who are between the two other cases. They don't do low budget films nor television channel financed projects. This group was the most affected by the economic crisis since it is almost impossible for them to finance their own projects. They end up working for nothing and face professional crisis.

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What can you tell us about the French public perception of contemporary Spanish film production?

From what I’ve seen in Cannes, there is a discrepancy between proposals (many films are proposed) and the expectations of the festival. Last year, of the 68 Spanish films that I saw, only Beautiful Youth and Wild Tales were selected (the latter is an Argentinean film, but produced by the Almodóvar brothers). The Spanish film industry produces fewer mainstream films (and this term is not necessarily derogatory) than auteur films. These films are not accepted at large festivals. But they may be selected at other festivals, for example San Sebastián, where Magical Girl found a place that was not offered in Cannes.

French audiences are demanding when it comes to Spanish films. Spanish auteur films achieve greater success in France than more commercial films. Torrente, for example, has not yet been screened in France. Alex de la Iglesia’s films are possibly the most commercial to be distributed in French cinemas but he hasn’t been hugely successful there.

Which contemporary filmmakers would you recommend?

There a many of them! Other than Pedro Almodóvar, the most internationally famous are Alejandro Amenábar, Isabel Coixet and Julio Médem. The next film by the latter is to feature Penelope Cruz as actress and producer. I should also cite Alberto Rodríguez, who makes commercial films but with substance, Santiago Segura and Fernando Trueba.

Speaking more personally, I favour filmmakers who seek to express themselves through the form: Jaime Rosales (Beautiful Youth), Albert Serra (Story of My Death), Carlos Vermut (Magical Girl).

Tell us about the festival `Different! L’autre cinéma espagnol´.

It isn’t a festival, our idea was to create something different. We are an organisation comprising journalists and professionals who devise programme schedules for festivals. With an awareness of Spanish films, we have set up an initiative to support professionals in France and Spain who take risks with Spanish films. Our work focuses on the creation of forums for professional gatherings. So once a year, in June, we organise a screening of four low-budget Spanish auteur films. We invite the vendors of these films, around 30 French distributors, the press and the public. This takes place at the Louxor cinema in Paris.

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With another initiative, Small is biútiful, we present six independent Spanish film projects to 30 French producers. Two or three films result from this initiative every year, including notably, A Gun in Each Hand, Magical Girl and Cannibal.

We also work hard on communication to raise awareness of Spanish films among Parisian film enthusiasts. With the release of Snow White, we organised a communication campaign since the actors were unknown. That made it easier for the distributor to promote the film.

Have you heard of other festivals like this one abroad?

I don’t think there are other festivals with this approach in Europe. Generally, the festivals are more audience-oriented. There are several in France, for example, the Festival Cinespaña in Toulouse, the Festival du Cinéma Espagnol in Nantes and CineHorizontes in Marseille.

 

Interviewed by Irene Angel Echeverri, February 2015

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*Private copying is a levy paid by the consumer to manufacturers and exporters of material supports that can be used to duplicate copyrighted work. The aim is to compensate the property rights of creators, authors, editors, artists-interpreters and producers when consumers make private copies of their work. Collective copyright management companies are responsible for collecting the levy and distributing it in accordance with each country’s principles and regulations governing intellectual property rights.

 *Mileurista is a neologism designating a young Spaniard, aged between 25 and 40, university-educated, who after undergoing placements ends up with a proper job that pays 1000 euros. The word was first coined in August 2005 by Carolina Alguacil in the newspaper El País.

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