Decimated by Spain’s financial crisis, which shriveled regional government and TV finance for its movies, the once-effervescent film hub of Catalonia is finally showing signs of recovery.
Some early indicators: A live-action short Oscar nomination for Juanjo Giménez’s security-guard romance “Timecode.” Lluís Quílez’s post-apocalypse love story “Graffiti” made the Academy Award shortlist for shorts. Carla Simón’s childhood tale “Summer 1993” won the Generation Kplus Grand Prix in Berlin and Laura Ferrés’ “The Disinherited” is playing Critics’ Week, the lone Spanish film selected for Cannes.
The drivers of recovery are twofold: government support and the other filmmakers themselves.
A tax levy on telecoms in Catalonia is fueling the country’s film industry via the Catalan Institute of the Cultural Industries, says its head Xavier Díaz. In 2013, the institute’s cinema-TV budget stood at €8.5 million ($9.2 million); the 2016 budget comes in at $19.6 million. Catalan producers hail the new financing and what it can do for previously depleted but sophisticated institute support mechanisms.
“Catalonia will almost certainly become Spain’s highest-production capacity territory,” says Zentropa Spain’s David Matamoros.
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The funds will power not only institute production aid but also development support, a combination absent at the national level in Spain. The org also backs reciprocal minority, then majority co-production deals with the same foreign production partner. “This is common in Europe and Latin America, but unfortunately not in Spain,” Matamoros adds.
Unfortunately, pubcaster TVC, Catalonia’s other film-financing pillar, is not enjoying such plenty. Spain’s double-dip recession slashed its co-production and pre-buy budget — for film, TV movies, documentaries, miniseries and animation — from $18.5 million in 2010 to $6.6 million in 2015, with a slight uptick to $7.2 million last year.
“Subsidy regulation, Catalan and Spanish, doesn’t allow film production without an important TVC participation,” says Valérie Delpierre of Inicia Films.
“TVC’s de-capitalization is a problem,” says Isona Passola at Massa d’Or Produccions. “The telecom levy, however, places us in an interesting position compared to the rest of Spain.”
Catalonia’s incentive system is still a work in progress. Kicking in an Audiovisual Strategic Plan from a September subsidy round, new aid will target three production axes: “singular projects aimed at local audiences; more industry-driven projects for the global market; auteur-titles with a strong cultural heft,” says Francisco Vargas, director of the audiovisual area at ICEC.
“We’re still supporting and bet on in-house fiction and out-of-house co-productions, although we are conscious there’s a need to increase the budgetary commitment,” says Oriol Sala-Patau, TVC head of fiction and cinema.
Just how that could happen is another question. It seems unlikely that TVC will slash its head count as Catalonia is pushing for independence. One resort would be to share rights with independent producers, especially on TV production, allowing the latter to tap into investor tax deduction financing, channeled via the Economic Interest Group, says Carlos Fernández at Filmax Ent. It is only a matter of time before this happens, he adds.
“In sectors with small [domestic] markets — such as Catalonia’s — the government support is important,” says Jaume Roures at Mediapro.
He cites French government action. “The French have managed to create audience-driven products, apt for export and with their own identity,” he says. “[But] when making a movie, our first goal should be the audience.”
Public-aid mechanisms are not the be-all and end-all of Catalonia’s rebound, however.
Catalonia spawned a Barcelona school of new film in the 1960s, and now another wave of cinema is flourishing driven by a new generation of filmmakers.
Among them are the likes of Leticia Dolera, Sergi Portabella, Sergi Pérez, Mar Coll, Isa Campos, Dani de la Orden, Clara Roquet, David Gutiérrez and Víctor Alonso.
The key to this new generation is that it is driven not only by directors but also up-and-coming producers, says Mar Medir at Catalan Films. Aritz Cirbián, Marta Cruañas, Marta Rodríguez, Tono Folguera, Anna Soler-Pont, Bernat, Manzano Oriol Maymó, Martín Samper and Sergi Moreno rank among noteworthy producers.
Many studied at two prestige Catalan film schools, the Escac and Pompeu Fabra University. But the strength of Catalonian schools, which helps explain the constant emergence of new talent, runs deep, including the Bellaterra Autonomous University, Bande a Part, the Barcelona cinema school, Reus’ Ecir, the Mab and Bau School of Design.
“The new generation follows two lines: A more avant-garde one of auteurs who experiment with genre blending and storytelling -Lluís Galter, Miguel Ángel Blanca, David Gutiérrez, Neus Ballús, Albert Serra– and a second more naturalist one: Carlos Marques-Marcet, Marc Recha, Mar Coll, Carla Simón and Meritxell Colell,” whose debut is “Facing the Wind,” Medir says.
This next-gen Catalan cinema and ICEC initiatives will prove crucial in Catalonia’s drive to regain its status as one of Europe’s most vibrant regional film hubs, mixing genre movies, arthouse pictures, documentaries, and high-profile international co-productions in a healthily broad range of moviemaking options.
John Hopewell contributed to this report.