A look at 'Julia's Eyes,' 'Aita' and 'Black Bread'

New reign in spain | Film sector turns to TV | Mid-budget films feel the squeeze | Case studies

Julia’s Eyes

The producers of Guillem Morales’ “Julia’s Eyes,” which world-preemed at Toronto on Sept. 11, hope to emulate their 2007 hit “The Orphanage,” which grossed $79 million worldwide, 50% in Spain.

Barcelona shingle Eddie Saeta looks to strike gold again with new arthouse drama “Aita,” which world-preems at the San Sebastian fest.

Skedded for a fall bow, the €4 million ($5.1 million) “Pa Negre” (Black Bread) is one of several projects — with “Heroes,” “Bruc” and robot pic “Eva” — on which Catalan institutions are betting significant coin in a bid to raise the profile of the region’s film industry.

“Eyes” gets beneath the skin of a woman slowly going blind as she investigates her twin sister’s mysterious death in a lackluster hamlet in Catalonia.

Producer Joaquin Padro of Barcelona shingle Rodar y Rodar is upbeat: “?’The Orphanage’ was about a mother trying to come to terms with losing her son; ‘Julia’s Eyes’ is about a woman who begins losing her sight but starts to see things she never saw before. It’s a scary trip that will reach out to women and young people.”

Exec producer Guillermo del Toro used his multiyear first-look deal with Universal to bring UPI on board, and exercised final cut on UPI’s behalf.

“I love the fact that (Guillem) captured a strange sense of melodrama and humanity underneath the skin of a traditional Giallo murder mystery,” explains Del Toro.

“The film’s merits are entirely his own.”

In April, Morales and co-writer Oriol Paulo spent four days in Wellington, New Zealand, going through the rough cut with Del Toro, scene by scene.

“It was a fantastic experience,” effuses Morales, “Guillermo loved how we’d got into the feminine psyche and helped us sharpen the tension.”

“Eyes” is one of a growing breed of Spanish pics funded by tripartite coin — a lead producer, Spanish broadcasters and foreign finance.

Alongside UPI, the ?5.1 million ($6.5 million) project was financed by Spanish broadcasters Antena 3 and TV3, the Catalan Institute of Cultural Industries (ICIC) and public film investment fund MesFilms.

ICIC finance director Xavier Parache attributes Catalonia’s genre prowess to what he calls the Catalan “Bermuda Triangle” — spanning leading genre producers such as Rodar y Rodar and Filmax, the Escac film school and the Sitges Fantasy Festival.

“Eyes” opens the Sitges fest Oct. 7, bowing in Spain Oct. 29 on 250 copies.

UPI distributes in France, Latin America and Spain. DeAPlaneta has sold 12 other territories, including the U.K.

Aita

Barcelona shingle Eddie Saeta looks to strike gold again with new arthouse drama “Aita,” which world-preems at the San Sebastian fest.

Helmed by Jose Maria de Orbe, the contempo story unfolds around a priest and a housekeeper in a 16th century mansion.

Headed by Luis Minarro, Eddie Saeta co-produced Cannes Palme D’Or winner “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” and produced “The Mosquito Net,” which won Karlovy Vary’s top Crystal Globe in July.

“Aita’s” biggest achievement, according to Minarro, is its artistic integrity. “I am very proud of the film, beyond its potential commercial success,” he said.

“We opted for making a movie reflecting the Basque country and the character of its people. It’s an exploration of space, light and shadow, truly a work of art.”

Budgeted at 1 million ($1.3 million), “Aita” will be distributed thatrically in Spain by Karma Films.

The film’s selection in the San Sebastian competition helped trigger an international sales pickup by Buenos Aires-based Filmsharks Intl.

Barcelona-based Eddie Saeta financed 30% of the “Aita” budget. “ICAA’s new directors subsidy covers a similar percentage,” says Minarro.

The Catalan Institute of Cultural Industries (ICIC) contributed 10%, payable after the film’s commercial release.

Despite the film’s part-Basque dialogue, Catalan broadcast net TV3 is putting up another 10% of the financing. Minarro aims to close the 20% gap through further TV deals.

” ‘Aita’s’ reception in San Sebastian is very important,” says Minarro. “It will give us more mass media coverage in Spain leading up to its commercial release. We could have premiered at other festivals but chose San Sebastian for this reason.”

Eddie Saeta hopes to recoup its investment through international sales, DVD distribution, and film festival screenings.

Pic’s commercial release is skedded for November.

Pa Negre

Skedded for a fall bow, the €4 million ($5.1 million) “Pa Negre” (Black Bread) is one of several projects — with “Heroes,” “Bruc” and robot pic “Eva” — on which Catalan institutions are betting significant coin in a bid to raise the profile of the region’s film industry.

The finance plan for “Bread” sees Catalan regional channel TV3 stumping up $900,000 between co-production investment plus local free-to-air rights, with national pubcaster TVE taking national broadcasting rights for $1.2 million.

The Catalan Institute of Cultural Industries put up a further $1.15 million.

Soft loans from the Spanish ICAA film institute, plus another $250,000 from sales agent Beta Films and a $650,000 producer investment from Massa d’Or Producciones, complete the $5.1 million budget.

Based on Emili Teixidor’s novel, “Bread” portrays a family torn apart by post-Spanish Civil War politics.

Pic is directed by Agusti Villaronga (“The Sea”) and stars Sergi Lopez and Eduard Fernandez. All three represent the talent unearthed by Catalan filmmaking.

But as Massa d’Or exec producer Isona Passola is quick to point out, “Bread” is no minority arthouse picture.

“Agusti (Villaronga) and I decided to bet on making something open to all audiences. The public institutions and television stations understood it that way, too.”

High-end Euro fare aimed at mainstream auds, backed by ambitious budgets, is the formula the fiercely independent region is betting on as it seeks to fashion a brand in film as renowned as its taste in food or design.

ICIC film funding director Xavier Parache says that the public coin in bigger pics responds to the coming-of-age of Catalan filmmaking, after years of investment, with local film school ESCAC churning out an impressive supply of young producers, directors and technicians keen to make market-driven pics with high production values.

” ‘Black Bread,’ ‘Heroes,’ ‘Bruc’ and ‘Eva’ are all distinctly Catalan,” says Parache. “This is an exciting time for Catalan films.”

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