Alberto Rodriguez’s ‘Marshland’ Wins Spain’s Best Film Export Award

Fapae-ComScore Prize winner exemplifies a new phenomenon of powerful art films with large audience ambition

Marshland (La Isla Minima)
Courtesy: Atresmedia Cine

MADRID — An example of a new strain of powerful crossover Spanish-language movies, Alberto Rodriguez’s “Marshland” (“La Isla Minima”), distributed in Spain by Warner Bros., won the Fapae-ComScore Prize at the 10th Spanish Screenings-Madrid de Cine, Spain’s annual national cinema export market.

The kudo, like 2015’ plaudit for “Wild Tales,” serves as further recognition for a building phenomenon in Spain and Latin America: Powerful art films with more mainstream tropes and wide audience ambitions. Often, as with “Marshland,” they boast muscular broadcaster backing, multi-partner co-production structures, big fest play, vfx or action scenes, and sometimes use of genre not only to drive narrative but make larger social or political points.

A noirish serial killer procedural set in 1980 Spain, “Marshland” was produced by Atresmedia Cine, the film production arm of TV network group Atresmedia, as well as two of Spain’s most resilient indie production houses, Madrid’s Atipica and Seville’s Sacromonte Films.

“Marshland” has 125 sequences, some some elaborate one-shots, multi-shot set-ups, as when two cops chase a poacher across Seville’s flatlands in a kinetic three-minute take. Yet the film, for all its action, is a portrait of social stasis: a just post-Franco Guadalquivir flatlands which, despite Spain’s newly-won democracy, seems in some ways still sunk in near-feudal repression.

“Marshland” set out to be an “entertaining thriller” but it can “be read on many levels,” Atipica Films’ Jose Antonio Felez said Wednesday, accepting the award.

It was a commercial success with international audiences precisely because of depth, added its sales agent, Film Factory Ent.’s Vicente Canales.

Rodriguez’s fourth solo feature, but first to break through to substantial theatrical box office abroad, “Marshland” has earned to date a global  €19.74 million ($22.0 million),  €12 million ($13.3 million) of that outside Spain, including $2.3 million in France. In all, it sold to 12 of the world’s top 15 film markets, including a pickup for the U.S. by Paul Hudson’s Outsider Pictures. “Marshland” also ticked multiple other boxes, sweeping Spain’s 2015 Spanish Academy Goyas and the European Film Academy’s Audience Award and garnering upbeat reviews: Variety called it a “satisfyingly atmospheric thriller.”

The challenge for Spanish cinema, and indeed foreign-language movies at large, is that very few each year break out to robust theatrical performances outside their countries of origin.

Spanish nationality movies earned a total  €160 million ($177.8 million) in foreign box office last year, according to ComScore statistics presented Wednesday at the Spanish Screenings.

That figure compares well with the  €600 million ($666.75 million) scored by French movies abroad in 2015 – given that France boasts a film industry five-to-six times as large as Spain’s.

But, at least in 2015, much of Spain’s overseas box office reflects on the country’s ability to attract star-driven foreign shoots and co-produce them out of Spain, allowing them to tap into Spanish tax-breaks: Two of Spain’s top-grossing movies outside Spain last year were Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” with Christian Bale, which shot on the Spanish mainland and Canary Islands, and “The Gunman,” with Sean Penn and Javier Bardem, which lensed in Barcelona. “Wild Tales” and another strong international co-production of large artistic and commercial ambition, Pablo Trapero’s Venice best director winner “The Clan,” both figure in a ComScore list of 13 Spanish nationality films which tallied €1 million ($1.1 million) or more – sometimes much more –  outside Spain.

Five movies from Spanish directors also made the cut: Alejandro Amenabar’s “Regression,” with Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke, “Marshland,” animated feature “Meñique,” Cesc Gay’s brotherly love story “Truman,” starring Ricardo Darin, and “Automata,” with Antonio Banderas.

Nobody suggested at the Spanish Screenings that international could be a quick fix for Spain, which has one of Western Europe’s most cash-strapped movie industries. But it does offer some upside.

“Suffering from large competition, because so many films get made these days,” Spanish cinema’s international distribution isn’t easy, said “Marshland” producer Felez. “The offer’s larger than the demand,” he added.

That said, “little by little, we’re carving out a market abroad,” he concluded.