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Gijon grows indie cred

Local festival finds strong footing on the edge

GIJON — Unspooling in late November, the Gijon Festival, Spain’s premier indie film event, is a rigorously programmed Spanish Sundance — though admittedly with all-night partying — claiming high-profile Euro and Asian fare as its territory.

Many foreigners have made it to Gijon for tributes.

Greg Araki’s homage in 1996, the fest’s second year under director Jose Luis Cienfuegos, was “a declaration of intentions and new directions” for the Asturian sprocket opera, Cienfuegos says.

Todd Haynes presented film shorts in 2000; Tom DiCillo inaugurated Gijon in 2001 with “Double Whammy.” Hal Hartley announced “The Girl From Monday” at Gijon in 2003. In 2005, Todd Solondz sheepishly arrived at the fest with his first 16mm short, “Feelings,” a Maurice Albert riff partly shot in Spanish.

Last year, Larry Clark exhibited his career-launching Tulsa-series photos, introduced “Wassup Rockers” and posed with young girls.

But Gijon mixes it up. Ulrich Seidl, Abbas Kiarostami, Aki Kaurismaki, Bruno Dumont and Claire Denis have received retros.

“For years, we’ve allowed spectators access to a range of powerful directors, some of whose films have never been released in Spain,” Cienfuegos says.

One 2007 career tribute will feature Shinya Tsukamoto, whose thundering horror tale, “Tetsuo: the Iron Man,” piqued the West’s interest in Japanese movies. Also honored will be Polish-born, Brit-based Pawel Pawlikowski (“Last Resort,” “Summer of Love”).

Fest’s exhaustive Euro New Cinema retros will examine the New German Cinema.

Under Cienfuegos, Gijon has become one — if not the — favored meet of sophisticated young Spanish film buffs. Attendance quadrupled from 15,000 admissions in 1995 to 67,000 last year.

Gijon’s still evolving. It has started to incorporate docus into the main competition. Starting this year, it will grant a best nonfiction film prize, Cienfuegos says.

Gijon plays an industrial role as a launchpad and audience testing ground for more radical or youth-targeted fare. It taps films from edgy sales companies like Films Distribution, Pyramide, Celluloid Dreams and Fortissimo. Distributors presenting or screening pics include Golem, Alta, Nirvana, Fox Searchlight, Kharma, Avalon, Civite and Baditri.

But Gijon’s major growth looks set to lie in education. It’s already a key trait.

The teens-to-tykes Enfants Terribles section features rumbunctious SRO sessions. Last year, German toon pic “Impy’s Island” received a standing ovation.

But the next phase in Gijon’s expanding education mission may well be marked by collaboration with Asturias’ new Laboral City of Culture project, which marries high technology, art, culture and education under one roof.

The two institutions are pairing in many ways to promote the growth of the local media production industry.

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