Galicia’s famed pilgrimage attracts filmakers

3D 'Apostle,' Estevez's 'The Way' shot in Santiago

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — With its cobbled alleys, old convents and Gothic-Baroque cathedral, Galicia’s Santiago de Compostela seems plucked, Brigadoon-style, from the Middle Ages as Catholic pilgrims mill outside the place where St. James the Apostle is allegedly buried.

This summer, however, Santiago was buzzing with new energy.

In a downtown garage, Fernando Cortizo was completing an exquisite thatched-roof cottage miniature for Spain’s first digital 3-D stop-motion movie, “The Apostle.”

Meanwhile, Alfonso Cabaleiro, Galicia’s new media minister, met with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez to discuss Galician support for Estevez’s film “The Way.”

All these events are connected.

In 2010, Santiago de Compostela celebrates its Holy Year. The next won’t come until 2021. Galicians are taking it very seriously.

“The Holy Year’s the best calling card possible to give Galicia the international profile it merits,” says Galicia’s president, Alberto Nunez Feijoo.

In its ancient pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), Galicia has discovered a 1,196-year-old movie brand.

With Rome and Jerusalem, Santiago was once Christendom’s most important city. Santiago Cathedral’s extraordinary Portico de la Gloria, which Estevez aims to film, ushered in Gothic architecture.

For Estevez, “Way” coincides with a global “spiritual crisis.”

“The Camino’s principal facet is its spiritual component, a rich well of personal stories and tales of living together,” Cabaleiro adds.

This year has already generated four Camino movies: Estevez’s Sheen starrer “Way,”  “The Apostle,” “Where Is Happiness?” and Roberto Santiago’s “Road to Santiago.”

“Way,” “Happiness” and “Road” — it’s no coincidence — are journeys of self-discovery.

But how can producers’ monetize the spirituality of the place? There have been some bestselling books — German TV presenter Hape Kerkeling’s Camino diary “I’m Off Then” sold 3 million copies while Paulo Coehlo’s “The Pilgrimage” is an international hit.

“Former pilgrims represent an avid Camino movie fanbase,” says Gonzalo Salazar-Simpson, producer of “Road,” which, helped by this, has grossed $3.6 million in Spain.

That base will grow. Via Google Travel, the Xacobeo 2010 org will launch the biggest campaign ever for this unique destination.

“There’s probably $50 million worth of locations along the Camino,” Estevez says, adding that the vistas from O Cabreiro, a mountain village, are “absolutely extraordinary” and that Muxia’s Atlantic-coast Nostra Senora de la Barca Sanctuary, where “Way” ends, is “spectacular.”

“The growth of a Galician film industry also explains Camino movie production,” Cabaleiro says.

Galicia, with Catalonia, boasts Spain’s most vibrant regional film hub.

On “Road,” the Xacobeo org put up $285,000-plus in sponsorship.

A Galician co-production can trigger Galicia government subsidies (up to $285,000), Brazil-Galicia and Galicia Audiovisual Consortium’s Raices co-production funds (at $171,00 per pic), and maybe investment ($1 million-plus) from SempreCinema risk equity fund, says Galician Audiovisual Consortium director Ignacio Varela.

Coin from pubcaster TVG averages $285,000.

Written off as Spain’s deep north, the Camino’s growing recognition may allow Galicia to walk into the future with a spring in its step. It may also reboot the economy.

The local tourist org calculates that 9 million visitors in 2010 would hike tourism’s contribution to the Galician GDP by 1.5%. Galicians — including Sheen and Estevez, who are of Galician heritage — share a sense of mission.

“This is a place people ought to see,” Estevez says. In film and in larger terms, the Camino is one way forward.

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