'Sundance of Spain' under threat

PARIS — In a shock move, Jose Luis Cienfuegos has been sacked as the director of the Gijon Festival, a meet he built up from 1995 into Spain’s premier distribution launch-pad for edgier indie movies from the U.S., Europe and beyond.

American indie helmers including Gregg Araki, Todd Solondz, Tom DeCillo, Todd Haynes and Hal Hartley all visited Gijon, mainly for tributes, under Cienfuegos when Gijon, a seaside city in the northern Asturias region, was branded the Sundance of Spain.

In reality, however, Cienfuegos spread fest’s net much wider, screening experimental and radical films to crossover arthouse fare. In 2011, Valerie Donzelli’s “Declaration of War,” Argentine Santiago Mitre’s “The Student” and Swede Ruben Ostlund’s “Play” topped its 49th edition.

It is precisely this cosmopolitan, upscale focus that, though applauded by critics and industryites in Spain, appears to have grated with the municipal authorities, controlled for the last nine months by the right-wing Foro Asturias political party, which announced Cienfuegos’ ouster Wednesday.

He will be replaced by Nacho Carballo, a former a.d. to director Jose Luis Garci, who has promised red-carpet stars, an audiovisual market and 3D movies in a move toward the mainstream, which suggests a loss of key branding and audience-industry demography built up over the years.

Edgier indie pics — U.S. or otherwise — look to have lost their Spanish distrib springboard.

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