Cannes Daily Spotlight 2012: Spanish Cinema

Jenny Natelson

THE PELAYOS

Eduard Cortes’ true-story-inspired adventure-comedy “The Pelayos” targets international and Spanish theatrical, Spain’s two still — sometimes — resilient markets.

Movie marks a step-up in scale for Bausan Films and Alea Docs & Films, two Barcelona-based production companies better known to date for high-profile documentaries.

One of Spain’s biggest releases of the year, “The Pelayos” could be one of the few local films that make any real impact at the country’s 2012 box office.

Long in development, “Pelayos,” budgeted at e 5 million ($6.5 million), harks back to earlier Spanish film-financing models. The producers drew down bank bridge loans and lent against potential ICAA — Spain’s film institute — subsidies of up to $1.6 million, according to Bausan’s Loris Omedes, producer of 2003 Oscar-nommed docu, “Balseros.”

Near 40% of the “Pelayos” budget came from Spanish TV operators: pubcaster TVE, Catalonia’s TV3, which pre-bought rights and took 10% minority equity, and premium paybox Canal Plus.

A cast led by Daniel Bruhl (“Inglourious Basterds”) plus pic’s high production values boosted early international pre-sales, says sales outfit Film Factory Ent.’s Vicente Canales.

Making its market debut at 2011′s Cannes backed by a three-minute teaser, “Pelayos” sold to Wild Bunch for German-speaking territories, New Select (Japan), Cinema Prestige (Russia) and Playarte Pics (Brazil), among other territories.

Returns from international “are clearer than local B.O., besides maybe involving remake rights sales,” according to Omedes.

Also, producers created a tax-break vehicle. Subsequently, Afrodita Audiovisual and the Kraken Films, two other private investors, joined the project, channeling about $380,000 in tax break investment.

Sony Pictures took Spanish distrib rights at a very advanced stage, covering one-third of total P&A, estimated at about $1 million.

Turning on a Spanish family that discovered a way to legally win at roulette, “Pelayos” is not a pure-play youth movie, it’s also aimed at older cinemagoers.

Bowing April 27 on 223 prints, pic cumed $1.21 million after six days in theaters, despite huge competition from “The Avengers,” “Hunger Games” and “The Intouchables.”

THE HIDDEN FACE
Psychological thriller “The Hidden Face,” the soph pic of Colombian helmer Andi Baiz (“Satanas”), is a milestone in Spanish production due to the involvement of Fox Intl. Productions (FIP) — and it’s being made without the backing of any Spanish broadcaster.

Budgeted at e 2 million ($2.6 million), it was produced by Spain’s Avalon, which took a 27% stake, Cactus Flower (40%), and Colombia’s Dynamo Capital (33%). FIP and France’s Elle Driver sold “Face” internationally.

Pic was mainly shot in Colombia, benefitting from significant rebates, which are based on local spend. Fox released “Face” on 278 screens in Spain where it grossed a healthy $3 million. In Colombia, put out by BVI, it nabbed a juicy $2.4 million.

Getting Dynamo involved was an important element. Pic was penned by Hatem Khraiche and “its excellent script was an essential factor,” says Avalon’s Maria Zamora. “Hatem is a very high-concept writer and his work appealed a lot to Dynamo.”

Another key was enlisting FIP. “FIP read the project at the end of 2009. A basic deal was discussed a few days later in Sundance and a MOU was in place by Berlin 2010,” says Dynamo Capital senior fund manager Cristian Conti. FIP came on board as a financial partner, with distribution for Spain, and shared international sales with Elle Driver.

FIP veep of production Anna Kokourina says, “My personal experience on the ground has been positive, primarily because we as a rule do our best to adapt to local practices on the ground in every country where we shoot our films, as opposed to trying to impose Hollywood ways.”

The hot-selling thriller has closed most territories worldwide including the U.S. (Fox World Cinema), Italy, (Moviemax), Germany (Fox) and France (Haut et Court), where it bows July 4. Indian and U.S. remake rights negotiations are advanced.

Dynamo is about to produce Khraiche’s directorial debut as helmer, “Orbita,” pursuing a similar international financing business model.

“We anticipated a formula that might become more common in Spain from now on. There’s no solid alternative in the short run. We will have to fully or partially finance ‘Orbita’ from L.A.,” Conti concludes.

THE BODY

Ori ol Paulo’s “The Body,” from Barcelona’s Rodar y Rodar, completes a trilogy of thrillers starring top Spanish actress Belen Rueda, preceded by Juan Antonio Bayona’s 2007 hit, “The Orphanage,” which grossed $78.5 million worldwide, 47% in Spain, and Guillem Morales’ “Julia’s Eyes” (2010), which grossed $12.9 million, 72% in Spain.

The production team and crew for the three pics have been essentially the same, including d.p. Oscar Faria. But Rodar’s prexy Joaquin Padro doesn’t view them as a franchise.

“Belen wanted to shift roles, she no longer wanted to play the victim,” Padro says. “Here she’s got a bad side, a bit like Sharon Stone in ‘Basic Instinct,’ she’s sophisticated, self-sufficient, rich, powerful.”

“Body” features a detective (Jose Coronado) searching for the missing corpse of a scheming femme fatale (Rueda), assisted by her strange husband (Hugo Silva).

Padro calls the pic a neo-noir psychological thriller: “It’s a mix between Davis Fincher’s ‘Seven’ and Matt Reeves’ ‘Let Me In,’ with a touch of ‘Tornatore.’ “

The €5.1 million ($6.6 million) film is entirely Spanish-funded, as a co-production among Rodar y Rodar and Antena 3 Films, with a $1.6 million automatic subsidy from Spanish film agency ICAA, a $400,000 subsidy from the Catalonian cultural industry board ICIC, and pre-sales to Catalonia’s TVC, Canal Plus Spain, Sony Spain and DeAPlaneta, which handles international sales.

The nine-week shoot lasted from January until mid-March, with 60% of the footage lensed on a morgue set, housed in Terrassa film studios near Barcelona.

Like “Julia’s Eyes,” the film favors a realistic look and style with few visual effects.

“Oscar Faria’s cinematography is outstanding,” Padro says. “Very elaborate dark photography, not depressing. It looks fantastic.”

Helmer Paulo, 37, who co-wrote “Julia’s Eyes,” has been groomed within Rodar’s talent stable and aims to reach a broader audience with his debut.

“It’s well plotted, with many exciting story twists and a very unexpected ending,” says DeAPlaneta’s Gorka Bilbao, who will be showing an extended promo at the Cannes fest. “We think it will have major crossover potential in territories such as France and Germany that love detective thrillers.”

MADRID, 1987

Microbudget financing could be one salvation Spanish films need, with “Madrid, 1987″ an unintentional but successful example.

Buenavida Productions’ Jessica Huppert Berman produced the two-hander from writer-helmer David Trueba (“Soldiers of Salamina,” “Welcome Home”). The film went into development in August 2010 as Spain’s economic crisis was building, but faced its own financial challenges from the get-go.

Spanish pubcaster TVE passed on pre-buying, a surprise move considering Trueba’s cachet. Additionally, Berman opted out of applying for subsidies. So Buenavida funded the $350,000 budget itself. Shooting digitally, and mostly in a bathroom, curbed expenses.

But “Madrid” didn’t economize when it hired Spanish heavy-hitter thesps Jose Sacristan and Maria Valverde, an impressive get considering the sparse funds.

With no pre-sales, “Madrid” aims to recoup with local B.O., online distribution and international sales on the finished film.

Though TVE first declined, a purchase now “would be welcome; opening up to Spanish audiences is important,” says Huppert Berman.

Canal Plus bought Spanish pay TV rights after seeing the first cut. The film world-preemed at September’s San Sebastian fest. Just after, 6 Sales came on board taking worldwide rights outside Spain.

Since it hit the fest circuit, foreign distribution offers have been constant. So far, “Madrid” has sold internationally to the U.S. (where E Fisher Ent. will release via Breaking Glass), Brazil and Latin America (HBO PTV), Japan (At Entertainment), Poland (Vivarto) and South Korea (JoyNContents). A French sale is in the works.

There are also possibilities of remaking the pic for both screen and stage.

In Spain’s current economy, a microbudget success story like “Madrid” proves that small-budget filmmaking is still possible. “This model worked for us and could work for some low-budget films but we’re not advocating this as the solution to a very serious crisis,” says Huppert Berman.

“I think movies in Spain have always had to be made given the circumstances,” Trueba concludes, “but they say we’ve lived beyond our possibilities as a country, and I guess we’ll see.”

Cannes Daily Spotlight 2012: Spanish Cinema
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