Fests tap Spain’s niche films

Low-budget pics screen at Cannes, Locarno

BARCELONA — In mid-July producer Luis Minarro invited journalists to salmon and cold strawberry soup at a Barcelona restaurant.

There was cause for celebration.

Two docufeatures, “A Dream” and “The Blue Bull,”  had just been selected for Locarno.

“Song of Birds” and “Liverpool,” also from Minarro’s Eddie Saeta production house, screened in the Directors Fortnight at Cannes.

For Eddie Saeta, a boutique operation run out of a chalet in Barcelona, that’s an impressive track record.

But a sense of bittersweet triumph hung over the lunch.

Helmed by Argentina’s Lisandro Alonsoand boasting an Argentinean cast, “Liverpool” repped Eddie Saeta’s first foray into Argentine filmmaking.

It’s unlikely to repeat some time soon.  

Spain’s indie sector is shaking down, whammied by a product glut, and now the sudden combo of a far weaker domestic market and more stringent financing.

Pubcaster TVE has dropped its fiction feature acquisitions; subsidy funds in Galicia and now Catalonia are demanding more regional talent and local producer input in films they fund.

“Liverpool” hasn’t any Catalan subsidy coin nor a Spanish TV pickup.

So Minarro’s downscaling. He’ll still make an occasional “bigger-budget” film, over e1 million ($1.6 million). He’s teamed with Spain’s Jose Maria de Orbe (“La linea recta”)tapping national ICAA subsidies for Orbe’s Basque Country-set father-son drama “Aita.”

For the most part, however, Minarro will slash exposure to market and financing sources, making lower-budget fare.

“I’ll make films with new directors, people who have something different to say, because I love filmmaking,” Minarro vows.

Shot on mini-DV, “A Dream” and “Blue Bull” illustrate this  little-downside-or-upside thinking.

In “Dream,” a warm but melancholy film, director Christophe Farnarier shoulders a camera and plods beside an aged shepherd, as his guides his sheep, for the very last year, up to high summer pastures in the Pyrenees. “Dream” and “Bull” both cost $174,000. Catalan pubcaster TVC, co-producer on “Dream,” has put up $63,000.

Minarro may attempt a limited theatrical release in Barcelona’s new digital cinemas.

If the films plays well at festivals, they might grab cash prizes, and generate select foreign TV sales, says Minarro.

But profits, if any, will be slim.

A portrait of obsession, and frustration, the sensual “Blue Bull” profiles a young wannabe bullfighter, practicing his moves, reading books, trailing his matador’s sword.

“Bull” director Daniel Villamediana says he preferred to pay the actors than use much of the budget for a blow-up to 35mm that would increase its chances of theatrical exhibition.

As the home market and finance contract in Spain, low-budget niche filmmaking is one way producers can continue to make films.

“New directors, more than established producers, will be more willing to make almost-no-cost films,” Minarro says.

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