IFF Panama: Festival Audiences Embrace ‘Spanish Affair’

Telecinco Cinema's Alvaro Augustin looks at the film's growing international presence

Alvaro Agustín

PANAMA – Alvaro Augustin, producer and CEO of Spain’s Telecinco Cinema, was delighted and even a little surprised at how strongly “Spanish Affair” (“Ocho Apellidos Vascos”) played at the opening night of the Panama Film Festival.

The film, which is the highest-grossing film of all time in Spain, had been totally embraced by the festival guests at the opening gala in the National Theater, and had enchanted both actress Geraldine Chaplin and Brazilian director Karim Ainouz. Chaplin went as far as to say that she felt her father, Charlie Chaplin, would have loved the film and talked of the parallels with the “Great Dictator,” in which Chaplin had to play a person he was not.

“I knew that the audience might miss as much as 50% of the jokes as they are so local to Spain and the language,” Augustin told Variety, “but it still seems to work with audiences outside of Spain.” The film has already opened in Mexico and Puerto Rico, but when the film was invited to the Miami Film Festival, the producer had assumed that it had been watched by Spanish speakers. “It turned out the people who had seen it and loved it were English speakers.”

Augustin is experienced enough (his production credits include “The Impossible,” “The Orphange,” “Cell 211” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”) to know that the extraordinary success of “Spanish Affair” in Spain — where it has grossed €55.2 million ($59.6 million) — is something you can’t really explain or analyze too closely.

“It was clearly the right film at the right moment. It touched on issues that had not been addressed before in Spain. It had a great script, and the cast worked. But we only marketed and promoted the film in the way we would all our films. Word of mouth certainly played a part and the film built in Spain from its opening weekend. It became a cultural phenomenon and it was even discussed in parliament.”

Augustin confirmed that a second instalment to “Spanish Affair ” is moving ahead smoothly and that the basis of the script is nearly in place save for a few tweaks from the screenwriters of the original, Borja Cobeaga and Diego San Jose. The director, Emilio Martinez Lazaro, and key cast members Clara Lago, Dani Rovira and Carmen Machi, who developed such onscreen chemistry, are all expected to return.

Rovira, who plays Rafa, especially impressed Augustin as by trade he was a standup comedian with no bigscreen experience. After “Spanish Affair” he now has a solid box office pedigree and even hosted February’s Goya Awards, where he won the award for best new actor.

Looking ahead Augustin highlights two major upcoming releases from Telecinco Cinema. The first is Enrique Gato’s animated feature “Capture the Flag” (“Atrapa la bandera”), which is scheduled for a summer release in Spain. The story concerns a young boy’s dream to get to the moon (his grandfather should have been on the first Apollo moon landing), which becomes a reality when he finds himself in a race to the moon to place a flag before the bad guys get there first and claim the moon for their own nefarious interests.

The film will be released globally by Paramount and is an extremely ambitious project as this is a European company delivering world-class animation and telling an American story. The U.S.-based animation studios and distributors will be following the results with interest, especially as “Capture the Flag” has been produced at a fraction of what the U.S. animation houses would spend.

The other release Augustin says to look for is Alejandro Amenabar’s psychological thriller “Regression,” which stars Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson; it’s set for an August 28 release in the U.S. and Oct. 2 in Spain. Augustin says it is in part a return to the cop movies of the 1990s.

Given the success of “Spanish Affair,” it is also probably only a question of time until Augustin and Telecinco are discussing the international remake rights for Spain’s most popular domestic blockbuster to date.