Money rolls in as Spanish films get international acclaim
The resurgence in Spanish cinema continues apace. Last week FAPAE, the main Spanish film producers’ association, announced that Spanish movies made more money abroad in 2010 than they did in their domestic market, for the third year running.
While Spanish films made €80.3 million (Dh418.5m) in ticket sales at home, they amassed €90m when playing in foreign territories. The biggest money-makers among the 91 films that were distributed abroad were the cartoon Planet 51, the Sundance festival hit Buried and the romantic crime-thriller The Secret in Their Eyes, the winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film.What is notable about the these three top-grossing films is that two were presented in English and the other, The Secret in Their Eyes, was a co-production with Argentina and largely reported as an Academy Award win for the South American country.
Just as Hollywood studios in the past decade have been concentrating much more on how a film fares at overseas box offices, Spanish producers have also been paying more attention to the international market.
A number of the biggest Spanish films of the past 10 years have been presented in English. The rules under which a film is officially considered Spanish are complex and relate, among other things, to where the people who work on the film are from and where the shooting and post-production work takes place. While the criteria state that it is preferable for a film to be in Spanish (or one of Spain’s other official languages) this is not an absolute requirement.
When the Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar made the ghost tale The Others, starring Nicole Kidman, in 2001, it was the first film that didn’t contain a single word of Spanish to receive the Best Film Award at the Goyas, Spain’s national film awards. In 2009 Amenabar also directed the sword-and-sandals adventure Agora with Rachel Weisz.
Steven Soderbergh’s diptych Che, about the Argentine revolutionary, and Milos Forman’s Goya’s Ghosts, with Javier Bardem and Nathalie Portman, were also Spanish films. Indeed, the most costly Spanish production ever is Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen’s only good film made away from New York, was also a Spanish co-production.
The figures also highlight how Spanish cinema has moved on since the days when Luis Bunuel was the most famous name. Many of Bunuel’s best films were made on foreign shores as Spanish cinema fell behind other European countries under the years of General Franco’s dictatorship.
The resurgence began with the work of Pedro Almodovar, who was heavily influenced by Hollywood films. The director, though, has worked his whole career in Spain and his films helped establish Antonio Banderas, Carmen Maura and Penelope Cruz as international stars.
The success of Almodovar inspired filmmakers such as Bigas Luna, who made Jamon Jamon starring Cruz and Javier Bardem, while Fernando Trueba won an Oscar in 1992 for Belle Epoque. Julio Medem made a series of films in the 1990s that won awards at festivals as the country got a reputation for sexy cinema.
Though melodramas started putting Spanish cinema back on the map, the most successful films of the past decade have been catering to the sci-fi, fantasy and horror audience. It’s notable that in this period the Stiges Film Festival that takes place in October near Barcelona has become one of the most important genre festivals on the festival circuit. It is a favourite haunt of Quentin Tarantino, and nearly all the major fantasy filmmakers in the world make a visit to the fantasy festival. It’s become the perfect complement to the San Sebastian Film Festival, which takes place in northern Spain and which caters for more mainstream tastes and also helps development of cinema from the Middle East to Latin America.
It was actually a Mexican, Guillermo Del Toro, who kick-started the wave of Spanish fantasy films that became big hits overseas, with Pan’s Labyrinth, his remarkable treatise on the Spanish Civil War. The film premiered at The Cannes Film Festival in 2006 and went on to considerable international success. It was nominated for six Oscars and won three Academy Awards – for Best Art Direction, Cinematography and Makeup.
The success of Pan’s Labyrinth inspired other like-minded Spanish filmmakers, most notably Juan Antonio Bayona. In 2003, when Del Toro was at the Stiges festival with his film Cronos, he met Bayona and promised to help the Spaniard were he ever in a position to do so. Four years later, Del Toro was one of the producers on Bayona’s smash hit The Orphanage. The film was the highest-grossing debut ever for a Spanish film and enjoyed international box office success that surpassed that of Pan’s Labyrinth. Spanish cinema was now firmly on the map.
Other Spanish filmmakers who have had recent international success include Isabel Coixet and Guillem Morales, and with the appetite for Spanish cinema growing, it’s easy to see why Spain is such a good place for filmmakers to be working right now.
Source: By Kaleem Aftab for The National
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