Screenings unveil Spanish talent

Political genre pics 'Lobo,' 'Ants,' 'Art' generate buzz at mini-mart

MADRID — Lunar-like craters, triffid-size cacti, lava fields, camels, black beaches pummeled by Atlantic waves: Any film acquisition exec at the sixth Spanish Winter Film Screenings, held on the volcanic island of Lanzarote, could enjoy eye-catching scenes without nearing a screening room.

The Spanish film mini-mart (Feb. 24-26) also offered vistas of the shifting sands in Spanish film, and their overseas sales: Three buzz films — Filmax’s terrorist actioner “El lobo,” Pi’s “Ants in the Mouth” and Latido’s corruption thriller “The Art of Losing” — are political genre pics, a departure for modern Spanish film.

At a gala perf, neo-realist soccer comedy “The Longest Penalty in the World,” also sold by Latido, had auds guffawing. The potential winter sleeper could well sell over much of Latin America, a no-go zone for Spanish comedies, even a decade ago. Lanzarote’s hot teaser was Filmax’s teen chiller “The Nun.” While a few years ago, straight-to-vid horror films could ride the DVD boom worldwide, “Nun” is determinedly theatrical, and pulling down sizable all-rights deals.

Spanish sales markets, like production styles, are opening up; but theatrical distribution is a must, Lanzarote suggested.

“Sales options are now more developed in Latin America for Spanish comedies. They have higher production values, and young attractive casts sometimes mixing Latin American thesps such as Natalia Verbeke,” says Simon de Santiago, Sogecine/Sogepaq director of production and international.

“Latin American audiences can access Spanish TV series on satellite and cable,” adds Geraldine Gonard, general manager of the Pi Group sales consortium.

Spanish films’ hallmark still remains their frequent social underbelly, whether euthanasia (“The Sea Inside”), doltish consumerism (“Ferpect Crime”), or atavistic violence (“The Seventh Day”). But, strapped for cash from broadcasters and subsidies, directors are reaching out wider.

One strategy is to meld social issues with the tension of thrillers, allowing films crossover potential. “Ants,” for example, is also revisionist film noir with a feminist theme, set in 1958 Cuba. Mainstream auds can just enjoy the film’s heady build to the stock violent finale. Per Gonard, “Ants” “will function well in Europe where audiences like more intellectual fare.”

DVD offers increasingly fewer outlets for indie genre fare, even straight chillers, unless film play theatrically. So “Nun” is a declaration of principle. Plushly lensed, it comes across as a teen chiller with edge as a once-dead Sister slays her killers mimicking celebrated scenes of martyrdom: a play for mainstream niche auds a la “Saw” and “Open Water.”

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