Indie influx brings U.S. directors to Spain

The Yankee Utopia, a panorama of politically committed American filmmakers such as Jem Cohen (“Chain”) and Travis Wilkerson (“Who Killed Cock Robin?”), will screen at the 46th edition of Gijon Intl. Film Festival, which runs Nov. 20-29.

Spain’s top indie showcase, the Gijon fest will also honor experimental Austrian helmer Peter Tscherkassky (“Outer Space”) and Paris-based avant-garde video creator Cameron Jamie.

“Our goal is to offer balanced film programming, mixing the most radical avant-garde with other program strands that allow festgoers to take a breath,” says Jose Luis Cienfuegos, fest director since 1995.

Under Cienfuegos, the Gijon event has become one of the most firmly established film meets in Spain.

Its reputation as the Spanish Sundance has been borne out by its guests: Diablo Cody, Todd Solondz, Todd Haynes, Larry Clark, Greg Araki, Paul Schrader, Harmony Korine and Tom DiCillo form part of a large list of indie Stateside filmmakers and writers who’ve made it to the northern Spanish port. Fest also nurses higher-profile Euro and Asian fare.

Beyond its large local fanbase, fest has won a place as a preferential destination of cultural pilgrimage for young indie buffs nationwide, becoming an alternative to other film events such as San Sebastian or Sitges.

Every November festgoers travel to Gijon, attracted by a tourist spread combining film with music, art shows and fabes (large white bean dishes), washed down with cider. Attendance has grown almost five-fold, from 15,000 admissions in 1995 to 72,000 last year.

“After finding its raison d’etre and audience, Gijon has built its prestige,” says vet Spanish fest exec and journo Jon Apaolaza.

But Gijon’s a blessing for not only indie auds, but also Spain’s challenged indie distribution sector.

Ravaged by piracy — nearly 300 million pics files were downloaded in the country last year, according to copyright protection org SGAE — moviegoing is declining in Spain. Meanwhile, its TV operators are increasingly less interested in auteur films.

“Festivals such as Gijon are the only window small pics have to get known,” says Jose Maria Morales, founder of arthouse production-distribution company Wanda Films.

“Gijon stands out for discovering new talent,” argues Miguel Angel Perez, general manager at Madrid-based specialized distributor Karma Films. “We’re constantly watching out for surprise pics: It’s the Spanish fest closest to that spirit.”

Davaa delivers

In 2004, Karma brought to Gijon then-anonymous Mongolian helmer Byambasuren Davaa to present the Oscar-nominated docu “The Story of the Weeping Camel.” It worked: Davaa caught the eye of San Sebastian, the only Spanish Category 1 fest, where she won the 2005 Signis Award with her next feature, drama “The Cave of the Yellow Dog.”

This year, Gijon offers E117,000 ($186,841) in cash prizes, including $55,893 for the acquisition of fest-awarded pics lacking distribution in Spain.

“Before, the main difficulty for filmmakers was to shoot a film. Today the trouble’s reaching audiences properly. That’s the gap the festival has to fill,” says Cienfuegos.

In 2008, the Gijon fest will continue its already long tradition of allowing spectators access to a range of attractive, often relatively unknown film movements.

Fest category Totally Uncensored: Back Room of the New Cinemas revisits the ’60s and ’70s arthouse scene and includes pics by Radley Metzger, Bo Arne Vibenius and Jesus Garay.

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