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Women on the Verge of Catalonia’s Breakout

A decade ago, Catalonia was looked to by much of the rest of Europe as a shining example of a vibrant regional film industry. After Spain’s economic crisis slashed across-the-board funding, it has begun to rebound in the past two years. And an important part of its new energies comes from a young generation of women cineastes.

That can be seen in recent prizes and at Berlin. Carla Simón’s “Summer 1993” scooped best first feature and Grand Prix of the Generation Kplus at Berlin, while Laura Ferrés’ short “The Disinherited” was a Cannes Critics’ Week winner. At Berlin, Meritxell Colell’s intimate women’s drama “Facing the Wind” plays Forum; screenwriter Clara Roquet will present her projected debut, “Libertad,” at Berlinale Talents; Celia Rico, Pilar Palomero, Alice Waddington, Belen Funes and Lucia Alemany have debuts that will move at the European Film Market.

The men haven’t aren’t inactive either. Álvaro Gago’s short “Matria” won a Sundance Grand Jury Prize last month; Carlos Marqués-Marcet’s “Anchor & Hope” and Fabrizio Ferraro’s “Les unwanted de Europa” competed at Rotterdam; Juanjo Jiménez (“Timecode”) has “Three,” a first feature project at the Berlin Co-production Market.

“The Berlin and Rotterdam selections mark a fantastic beginning for this year, fruit of a push from the Catalan Institute of Cultural Cos., allowing a new generation of directors and producers to emerge,” says Mar Medir, at Catalan Promotion Board Catalan Films.

Very recent Catalan releases, productions and projects underscore three trends: a clutch of bigger-budget bets and potential crowd-pleasers; a profusion of contained-budget auteur productions, and multiple first-features. More than half of the auteurist movies and debuts – about 15 features – are directed by women, nearly all from a new generation of filmmakers.

Catalonia is also co-producing movies by young women from outside the region: for example, the buzzed-up “3o Souls,” from Galicia’s Diana Toucedo.

“It’s about time,” says Isabel Coixet, Catalonia’s best-known woman director. With “The Bookshop” screening in Berlinale Specials, Coixet co-produces young women directors such as Elena Trapé (“Distances”) and two shorts by Belén Funes.

“We have to see if it’s just a flash in the pan or something more solid,” Coixet adds.

“We’d made a large effort sowing the ground, it was time for the harvest,” says producer Àngels Masclans at Oberon Cinematográfica, which won a Berlin Golden Bear with Claudia Llosa’s “The Milk and Sorrow” and is now preparing Funes’ “An Elder Sister.”

“This generation had to break out one day,” says director Judith Colell (“Elisa K”), citing women university attendance – 59% of 2015 students at Barcelona’s Universitat Autònoma. Women almost equal men in numbers at Barcelona film school Escac.

“Also, when women move forward together, they tend to loose their auto-censorship,” Colell adds.

The newest women’s generation share hallmarks. As to be expected from young creators, coming of age dramas abound, “Journey to a Mother’s Room,” “Las niñas”,”The Innocence” and “Libertad” are cases to point.

Funes’ “The Elder Sister” and Meritxell Colell’s “Facing the Wind,” a Panorama player, treat adult watersheds, identity and family legacy, as do movies from some of the first young women directors to emerge over the past decade in Catalonia – Mar Coll (“Three Days with the Family”), Roser Aguilar, who won an actress Locarno Silver Leopard for “The Best of Me,” and Nely Reguera (“Maria (And the Others)”).

“The new generation make cinema which are linked to life, personal stories which transcend,” Colell says.

Appropriate for a region whose capital, Barcelona, hosts Spain’s most prestigious documentary film school, Pompeu Fabra U., Catalonia has a strong creative documentary tradition seen in Ballus’ narrative doc “Six Ordinary Days.”

Battling gender inequality, the ICEC has allocated extra funds under its Audiovisual Strategic Program for 2017-20 to productions led by women. But it’s one thing to break through, another to raise ceilings.

“Agnieszka Holland once told me: ‘When women make the expensive movies, they will begin to be respected,’” Coixet says.

That may be beginning to happen. By late January, one of the most expensive productions coming out of Barcelona was English-language “Paradise Hills,” directed by Alice Waddington, produced by Nostromo Pictures’ Núria Valls and Adrián Guerra.

Backed by Ikiru, “Sarah’s Notebook,” directed by Norberto Lopez-Amado, and “Yucatan,” from Daniel Monzón, rank as two of the highest-profile Barcelona productions this year. With exceptions, women’s generational renewal still has some way to go to hit the mainstream.

Key New Titles From Catalonia

“DISTANCES” (Coming Soon Films/Miss Wasabi/Busse & Halberschmidt) Isabel Coixet mentors the second feature from Elena Trapé (“Blog”), a reflection on the friendship and frustrations of thirty-somethings in Berlin.

“FACING THE WIND” (Polar Star Films/Habitación 1520/Paraiso Prod.) A 47-year-old dancer returns to her village to sell the family home in Meritxell Colell’s Forum-selected feature debut.

“LIBERTAD” (Lastor Media/Avalon) Awaited helming debut of screenwriter Clara Roquet, about a girl forced to come of age by her maid’s wild teen daughter.

“ISAAC” (Zentropa Spain/Negras Films). New wave queer feel-good drama directed by Spain’s Zentropa producers Ángeles Hernández and David Matamoros. Shooting in July.

“JEAN-FRANÇOIS AND THE MEANING OF LIFE” (A Contraluz Films/ Surprise Alley) Sergi Portabella’s comedy debut, a preadolescent boy suffers bullying, discovers existentialism.

“JOURNEY TO A MOTHER’S ROOM” (Arcadia Motion Pictures/Amores Producciones/Sisifo Films/Pecado Films/Noodles Production) Selected last year at Berlinale Talents, debutant Celia Rico plumbs a mother-daughter relationship.

“LA BONA ESPERA” (Lastor Media/La Panda/Avalon/Movistar +) Final part of Carlos Marqués-Marcet’s trilogy, begun with SXSW winner “10,000 Km,” about a couple facing parenthood.

“LAS NIÑAS” (Inicia Films/Bteam Prods.) Valérie Delpierre, producer of the 2017 Berlinale first feature winner “Summer 1993,” backs Pilar Palomero’s religious school-set coming-of-ager.

“PARADISE HILLS” (Nostromo Pictures) The most anticipated feature debut of the year in Spain, a feminist sci-fi thrille,r directed by Alice Waddington (who won director at Austin’s Fantastic Fest with her short “Disco Inferno”). It stars Emma Roberts and Danielle Macdonald. Sold by Good Universe.

“PERSONALIEN,” (Andergraun Films) Buzzed-up new project from Albert Serra, a 2013 Locarno Golden Leopard winner for “Story of My Death”; it’s a meditation on the mysteries of acting, turning on the staging of a 17th century play about debauchery, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. In pre-production.

“PETRA” (Wanda Visión/Oberon Cinematográfica/Fresdeval Films, Les Productions Balthazar, Snowglobe) Multi-awarded Cannes regular Jaime Rosales (“The Hours of the Day”) portrays a rebellious woman artist in search of her father’s secret identity. In post.

“SARA’S NOTEBOOK” (Ikiru Films/Telecinco Cinema) Ikiru re-teams with Mediaset España’s Telecinco Cinema for an Africa-set missing sister thriller. Starring large marquee draw Belen Rueda. SA: Film Factory.

“STAFF ONLY” (El Kinògraf/Ikiru/Les Films Hatari) Sophomore feature of Neus Ballús (“The Plague”), a culture-clash drama as a 17-year-old Spanish girl falls for a Senegal tourist photographer. In development.

“SUNDAY’S ILLNESS” (Zeta Cinema/On Cinema) Starring Barbara Lennie and Susi Sánchez, a mother-daughter drama, from Ramón Salazar (“Three Steps Above Heaven”). World-premiering at Panorama.

“THE BOOKSHOP” (A Contracorriente Films/Diagonal TV/Zephyr Films, One Two Films/Green Films) The latest from Isabel Coixet (“My Life Without Me”), is a Berlinale Special near sold out worldwide by Celsius Ent. The film that grossed $3.2 million in Spain is about a widow who sets up a bookstore in a small town in Suffolk.

“THE KILL TEAM” (Nostromo Pictures) Starring Alexander Skarsgård and Nat Wolff, Nostromo produced action drama based on Dan Krauss’s 2013 Tribeca winning doc. Sold by Cornerstone Films.

“THE POP SONG” (Zentropa Spain) David Matamoros and Angeles Hernández’s directorial debut: Sima reencounters old friends who have suffered the brunt of Spain’s crisis. In development.

“THE TREE OF BLOOD” (Arcadia Motion Pictures/Noodles Prod., Aixerrota Films,/Diamond Films) a tragedy-laced drama from Julio Medem (“Ma ma”) about a young couple’s ancestors. Post.

“THEATER OF WAR” (BW Production/ Gema Films) Argentine Lola Arias’ Catalan-Argentine co-production about the emotional legacy of the Falklands War. Plays Forum.

“THE PHOTOGRAPHER OF MAUTHAUSEN” (Rodar y Rodar/Filmteam) Third directorial outing of producer-turned-director Mar Targarona starring Mario Casas as Mauthausen’s inmate and photographer Francesc Boix. In post. Sales: Film Factory Ent.

“THIRTY SOULS” (Lasoga Films/Diana Toucedo, CRTVG ) A coming-of-age documentary on a 12-year-old boy in a near-abandoned Galician village. Panorama. Diana Toucedo directs.

“THREE” (Nadir Films) Sci-fi thriller feature debut of Oscar-nominated Juanjo Giménez (“Timecode”).

“YUCATAN” (Ikiru/Telecinco Cinema) Daniel Monzón (“Cell 211”) helms a David Mamet-ish dramedic boat movie. One of the big box office plays of 2018.

“7 REASONS TO RUN AWAY” (Compacto/No Hay Banda) “Wild Tales”-ish caustic portrait of contemporary Spain.

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