MADRID — Sony Pictures Spain has acquired all Spanish distribution rights to real-event-based adventure pic “1898, Our Last Men in the Philippines,” produced by Spain’s Enrique Cerezo and one of the first big modern mainstream films in modern Spain to sing the virtues of at least a reduced number of Spanish heroes, set here at a time of national defeat.
Spain’s film establishment is normally highly critical with its establishment, and its figures, born out by such local B.O. hits as swashbuckler “Alatriste,” starring Viggo Mortensen, set in a seventeenth century Madrid and an acerbic take on Spain’s loss of empire.
Backed by Spanish state TV network TVE and the recently-launched nationwide private channel 13TV, the film underscores once more the crucial role played by TV broadcasters in local film financing schemes.
Vicente Canales’ Film Factory Entertainment, the sales agent of Damian Szifron’s “Wild Tales” and Pablo Trapero’s “The Clan,” handles international sales rights to “1898,” one of the most ambitious features coming out of Spain this year.
According to Canales, Film Factory will show “1898’s” first footage to international buyers at November’s American Film Market. A multi-generational Spanish cast, directed by first-time helmer Salvador Calvo, is led by Luis Tosar and Javier Gutierrez, stars respectively of Spanish sales breakouts “Cell 211” and “Marshland.”
Karra Elejalde, star of local B.O. juggernauts “Spanish Affair” and “Spanish Affair 2,” Eduard Fernandez (“The Skin I Live In,” “Biutiful”) and Carlos Hipolito (“The Department of Time”) also topline.
Also in the cast are younger thesps whose fame has been forged on local primetime TV dramas such as Alvaro Cervantes (“Carlos, King Emperor”), Ricardo Gomez (“Remember When”), Patrick Criado (“Red Eagle”) and Emilio Palacios (“El Principe”), plus Miguel Herran, winner of the Goya for best breakthrough performance in “A cambio de nada.”
Patriotism has been relatively rare in Spanish films since the heydays of Francoist era movies which briefly exalted national virtues in the 1940s and early 1950s, when a first version of “Los ultimos de Filipinas” was filmed in 1944, to large box office success.
Penned by Cuban scribe Alejandro Hernandez (“Cannibal”), “1898” is a modern take on a clutch of Spanish troops’ survival of a 11-month 1898-99 siege in the Spanish-American War, which marked the final days of the last high-profile colony in Spain’s Empire.
Among the last fifty Spaniards in Philippines, the troops suffered all illness and deprivation, barricaded inside a church in the small village of Baler, on Luzon island and attacked by the country’s indigenous Tagalog troops.
Filming from May 9 in Guinea, then on locations in the Canary Islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria, “1898” completed early July a nine-week shoot. Spanish d.p. Alex Catalan (“Marshland,” “A Perfect Day”) serves as cinematographer.
Enrique Cerezo, producer of the two most recent movies from Alex de la Iglesia, “Witching and Bitching,” “My Big Night,” heads the project, which is produced by Cerezo’s CIPI Cinematografica and Manila Producciones.
“I’ve had this project in mind for years,” Cerezo said in a statement. “To produce ‘1898’ is one of the greatest satisfactions a film producer can have, and to rebuild Baler is one of the most important events in Spanish production history,” he added.
“There is a wide range of audiences that will enjoy this great production, regardless of their greater or lesser knowledge of this controversial episode in the history of Spain,” said Ivan Losada, managing director at Sony Pictures Spain, calling “1898” a “primarily epic title.”
John Hopewell contributed to this article.