Bajo Ulloa, Martin Cuenca Unveil New Projects at Paris’ Small is Biutiful

Maria Leon confirmed for “Not the End,” from the Esteban Alenda brothers, also presented at the networking forum

Juanma Bajo Ulloa, Amal Ramsis and Jose Skaff

MADRID — Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s “Baby,” Manuel Martin Cuenca’s “Brando” and Cristina Andreu’s “Mara 13 Mara 18” are among the seven projects to be pitched at the highly popular 2016 Spain-Ile de France Small is Beautiful forum, a networking event now in its ninth edition.

Maria Leon (“The Sleeping Voice,” “Alli abajo”), regarded in Spain as one of the finest Spanish actresses of her generation, is attached to star in fantasy romantic drama “Not the End,” helmed by Cesar and Jose Esteban Alenda, another project to be unveiled in Paris.

Taking place June 24 in Paris, and part of its alternative Spanish film festival Different!, the meet serves to introduce a cream of edgier Spanish movie projects, arthouse and niche mainstream, to three dozen or so Paris-based distributors and international sales agents, in one of the world’s capitals of non-popcorn cinema.

Small is Biutiful often marks the first time Spanish movies which go on to renown or sales are introduced to the international market. Those signed up from France for this year’s meet include movers and shakers on France’s foreign-language distribution scene, such as Bruno Deloye, head of Cine Plus, a bouquet of cinema channels at France’s Canal Plus.

Past projects presented at Small is Biutiful, both from its 2012 edition, take in Oliver Laxe’s “Mimosas,” which won this year’s Cannes Critics’ Week and Carlos Vermut’s San Sebastian 2014 Golden Shell winner “Beautiful Girl,” produced by Pedro Hernandez’s Madrid-based Aqui y Alli Films, which has another title in Paris this year, Jose Skaf’s “Punto Nemo.”

Backed by the Cannes Film Market, Different! organizers Españolas en Paris and the Ile de France Film Commission, one of Europe’s most energetic film commissions representing the Paris region, Small is Beautiful also serves as a bellwether of trends, both industry and artistic, as Spain’s specialist sector has suffered the brunt of austerity cuts at Spain’s subsidy funds and public broadcasters.

That shows. Two projects, U.S. road movie “Brando,” and “Mara 13,” a Guatemalan gang warfare drama, are set abroad. “Baby” and “Punto Nemo” could shoot at least part in France. Four of Small is Biutiful’s titles are variegated drama thrillers as Spanish filmmakers seek to inject tension into relationship stories often., of projects presented at this year’s event, of a man or couple attempting to recuperate lost love – romantic, that of siblings or a mother’s for a baby – in a notably threatening or dislocated world.

The latest from Juanma Bajo Ulloa, one of the leading lights of a Spanish generation which broke through from the early 1990s, “Baby” returns to his grand theme of mother-offspring relationships. It turns on a junkie who sells her newborn for adoption, repents, attempts to retrieve the infant – so getting trapped in the hut where a family guards the child. Set up at Bajo Ulloa’s Vitoria-based Fragil Zinema, “Baby” would sport a Spanish/French cast.

An established filmmaker of considerable range, making mainstream literary adaptations (“The Weakness of the Bolshevik”), troubled family dramas (“Half of Oscar”) and auteur genre (“Cannibal”), the latter two titles selected for the Toronto Festival, Cuenca makes his English-language debut with “Brando.” Sparking good buzz before it is presented in Paris, “Brando” is an emotional coming-of-age movie about a man who travels from New York across the U.S. to buy the puppy he once promised, then forgot about, for his now ex-girlfriend. He learns, with the puppy in tow, to think about other’s needs.

Unspooling in Guatemala, and produced by Jose Maria Lara (“Justino,” “The Sky Turns”),“Mara 13 Mara 18” centers on a Spaniard who takes a job in Guatemala to find his estranged half brother, whom he attempts to save from Maya gang retribution. Leaner Gomez (“Port Father,” “Narcos”) is attached to co-star.

Backed by Spanish state TV network TVE, and Andalusia’s regional public broadcaster Canal Sur, and produced by industry vet Jose Antonio Hergueta out of Malaga’s Producciones Transatlanticas, “Not the End” is the most advanced of projects in Paris in terms of financing, having also snagged distribution in Spain with Betta Pictures. Javier Rey (“Velvet”), like Leon, reprises his role from the Esteban brothers’ short of the same title. A mix of “indie movie and more classical melodrama,” said Hergueta, “Not the End” depicts a man reliving consciously one day of bliss with the woman he loved 15 years earlier.

The writer-director of sci-fi dystopia-set “Vulcania,” the second feature from Jose Skaf (pictured, right), “Punto Nemo” follows a middle-aged couple, the wife seriously ill, as they take a road trip from Galicia to the Basque Country and into France, trying to re-connect, even when pursued by Romanian mafiosi.

Women have a significant role in this year’s selection. Both “Brando” and “Not the End” critique male egocentricism. The love story of two gypsy girls, “Carmen and Lola,” is directed by Arantxa Echeverria, produced by Pilar Sanchez Diaz and set up at TVTEC Servicios Audiovisuals, a company they created in 2006 to try to rectify the deficit of women film professionals in Spain.

The extraordinary story of an Palestine family sundered by its father’s decision to fight against Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War, the cinema-quality docu-feature “Venis desde lejos,” from Amal Ramsis (pictured) tells a true and singular story of Arabs’ battle for democracy in Europe, and its price. Its market potential could be considerable.

This year’s event is oversubscribed in terms of French companies wanting to attend this year’s mart-meet, said organiser Jose Maria Riba. Size, seen here in a select event, is important.