Spain’s BBVA Ups Ante on Movie Investment with ‘Cooking Up A Tribute’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Roca brothers’ Berlinale Culinary Cinema world premiere captures Latin America’s cultural revolution

Spain’s BBVA Ups Ante on Movie

High street bank Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), Spain’s third biggest company, is upping the ante on content production with one feature at Berlin and heading to San Sebastian and Mar del Plata – “Cooking Up a Tribute” – one more in development, another under consideration, and a broad-based contents philosophy which shows how a big bourse company’s involvement in film and TV can now go way beyond simply branding.

Produced by BBVA Contenidos, the bank’s 100%-owned media house, BBVA’s “Cooking Up a Tribute,” its first feature to make a big fest section – Berlin’s selective Berlinale Culinary Cinema – illustrates this philosophy to a tee.

Spain’s Feelsales has taken world sales rights. Directed by BBVA Contenidos’ Luis Gonzalez and Andrea Gomez, the behind-the-scenes docu feature starts at El Celler de Can Roca, a three-Michellin-star restaurant in the suburbs of Gerona, northern Catalonia, run by brothers Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca, its chef, head waiter and pastry-man, which ranked No. 2 in the 2014 edition of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Guide.

For the summer of 2014, Joan Roca announces at “Tribute’s” get-go, El Celler has decided to close its doors for five weeks and go on a long road. Cooking tasting menus in Houston, Dallas, Monterrey, Mexico City, Bogota and Lima, it packs its expertise and philosophy, a stoutly-defended mix of tradition and innovation, avant-garde science and countryside products. But those local products will now come from the places it stops off at.

Also written by Gonzalez and Gomez, BBVA Contenidos’ production heads, “Cooking Up a Tribute” largely chronicles the R & D for the trip, with Josep Roca prospecting for produce in Mexico, Colombia and Peru, visiting small farmers, plantation and distillery owners, chefs, critics and gastronomic schools from San Sebastian Abasolo in Oaxaca, to Harry Sasson in Bogota, the city’s most imposing restaurant, to chef Gaston Acurio at Lima’s Astrid & Gaston, the Gabriela Coffee Estate in Colombia’s Amara and the Andean highlands of Ayacucho.

Ending with the whistlestop tour itself, “Tribute” works on various levels. At times, it’s pure aesthetic delight. “You get to Mexico, and what surprises you most at the beginning, at least in my case, is the overwhelming simplicity of Mexican gastronomy,” says Mikel Alonso, chef at Mexico City’s Biko restaurant. Some of the pleasures of “Tribute,” with its clean, crisp cinematography, are equally simple: The gleaming green of water chilli in Oaxaca, glowing red guava in Colombia or in Peru the startlingly bright pink Qantata flower, used by Incas to decorate their altars, which also yields red potatoes. “How can the earth produce such colors?” Josep Roca asks, echoing many spectators’ sentiments.

Given that “Cooking” is the portrait of world-class business practice, it is also a chronicle of passion. Josep Roca – all three brothers are naturals before the camera – beams like a besotted lover, for instance, when Eduardo Mendoza at Amara explains how they use natural water from a waterfall to select good coffee grain.

Deftly, “Tribute” also serves as a cookery manual. It highlights some of Latin America’s gastronomic glories – maize, ceviche, – and offer a running series of tips: How to cook Mexican stone soup (use hearth-heated river stones); how to drink mescal (neat: the lemon, salt and worm stuff is for tourists). Alejandro Ruiz, the chef at Mexico’s Casa Oaxaca, describes how water chili is eaten raw, in hardened strips, with lemon and a little oregano, onion, salt, or with minced chicken stuffing. Josep Roca samples live honey ants, a hunk of maguey heart at a mescal distillery, which gives brother Jordi Roca, still back in Catalonia, the idea for a mescal candy.

“Tribute” also captures a Latin America in motion. Peru is now going through the throes of an “incredible revolution and rocking the whole Latin American continent,” explains food writer Ignacio Molina, visibly moved. Its emerging middle classes “looked out at their country, searching for reasons to feel proud of their identity. Peru recovered its national identity, the pride of being Peruvian, through its cuisine,” he adds, with restaurants such as Astrid & Gaston connecting with small, often humble producers that have clung onto their ancestral cuisine as their source of restaurant produce.

“What does a Peruvian feel today?” Acurio asks: “He’s a Peruvian young in spirit, connected to the world, but proud of his culture, but does not disdain curiosity, drinking in what the world has to offer,” he answers, before regaling Josep Roca with Lake Titicaca trout.

Which is where El Celler – and BBVA – comes in. “Our objective is to bring audiences to the bank with the contents we generate, which transmit our brand values,” Manuel de Mora-Figueroa, BBVA Contenidos CEO and “Tribute” exec producer, told Variety.

“We are a contents agency, generating contents and experiences, artwork, events, films, which incorporate BBVA values,” he added.

The American adventure took El Celler out of its comfort zone, recognizes Joan Roca, after the Tour is over. Back in Catalonia, El Celler can now incorporate some of the 56 new dishes it rustled up on the tour, paying homage to Texan, Mexican, Colombian and Peruvian cuisine.

Also compelling are the socio-economic models that the Tour and El Celler propose.

The Rocas’ work-method is like a Californian start-up, explained “Tribute” co-directors Gonzalez and Gomez. “Once we understood this, it was easier to explain in the film,” said Gomez. “They develop ideas very quickly, to see if they work, more like companies in Silicon Valley than an industrial laboratory,” Gonzalez added.

On another level, one of the first things Josep Roca is filmed doing in Mexico is paying a visit to the quaintly-named School of the Cloister of San Juana in Mexico, a restaurant school. There, he proposes that a selection of students serve as waiters or kitchen staff on the Tour. 13 were then invited back to Gerona for a nine-month internship at El Celler. “Tribute” forms just part of a three-year alliance between the Spanish bank and El Celler, said De Mora-Figueroa. BBVA financed the tour and the film. It will now offer credit lines to these interns to set up their own establishments, pursuing the same gastronomic philosophy of El Celler and the like-minded chefs met in “Tribute.”

For BBVA Contenidos, which has a staff of 40, “Tribute” is unlikely to be its last feature. “We will continue to make features, with the Rocas and beyond the alliance,” said De Mora-Figueroa.

Of late, BBVA Contenidos co-produced two entrepreneur talent based shows: Talent contest “Codigo Emprende” and “Tu oportunidad” where young business tyros pitch for financing, as well as “Con una sonrisa” following four young Spaniards with intellectual disabilities as they work at a five-star hotel.

Robustly glocal, “Tribute” proposes a big picture form of social engagement: the empowerment – cultural, social, economic – of a once colonized continent.

Up-date, Sept. 25, 2015: By September, selected to close San Sebastian’s Culinary Zinema section, “Cooking Up a Tribute” had been booked for a full festival roster – Seattle, Melbourne, Rio, Lima, Mar del Plata, Los Cabos, Tokyo – and BBVA Contenidos had a second part in post-production: “Cooking Up a Tribute: Turkish Way.” Second parts may or may not generally be better than originals. Their greenlight is a pretty fair indication, however, that the first part has been considered a hit by audiences and by its makers.