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Guadalajara’s Homage to Catalonia: 10 Takes

Catalonia’s presence will help define this year’s edition of one of Latin America’s highest-profile festivals

BARCELONA — In the sixteenth century, Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, was barred by Spain’s central government from trading with the New World. Five centuries later, a veritable armada of film industry talent – producers, directors, fest-heads, executives and at least one critic – are hitting Mexican shores for a tribute from the Guadalajara Film FestivalVariety drills down on the tribute to Catalonia, Guadalajara’s 2018 guest of honor, whose presence helps define this year’s fest edition.


Why Catalonia? Guadalajara’s honorary guest tributes are, after all, normally given to countries: Italy, for instance. But Catalonia has often driven Spain’s film industry. Even under dictator Francisco Franco, it took succulent rewards in the 1950s to persuade many of the major film companies in Barcelona to relocate to Madrid. From the late ‘90s, it has been Catalonia not Madrid which has sown most of the seeds of one of its most exportable film lines: Auteur genre movies, such as the Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza’s franchise “[REC],” made at Filmax, and J.A. Bayona’s “The Orphanage.” Four more, far more recent titles play in the tribute: Sadrac González-Perellón’s “Black Hollow Cage,” a dysfunctional family drama and genre auteur fantasy; “Herederos de la Bestia,” David Pizarro and Diego López’s doc hat-tip to Spanish genre master Álex de la Iglesia; Pintó’s black comedy “Matar a Dios”; and Agustí Villaronga’s provocative 1987 Berlinale hit “In a Glass Cage.”


Democracy from 1977 did not see a full-on immediate Catalan film renaissance. Jordi Pujol’s ruling CSD party had other priorities.

Post-1992 Barcelona Olympics, it slowly warmed to film, however, as Catalonia built a film industry infrastructure, seen in at least two world-class film faculties – the Escac and Pompeu y Fabra – and the build of Sitges into, arguably, the most prestigious fantastic film fest in the world. That has left, in many ways, a large legacy.


One case to point. Pompeu y Fabra has nursed a generation of highly creative documentary filmmakers. Set on the border between fiction and documentary, films by José Luis Guerín and Marc Recha have had a large influence on Latin American filmmaking. Recha’s “La vida lliure,” about childhood imagination, plays at Guadalajara. It is probably no coincidence that two of the five feature projects at Guadalajara’s Co-Production Meeting are documentaries, including “Robin Bank (o manual para expropiar bancos),” which talks about a true-life subject, but has elements more associated with narrative features as well.


Equally, dramatic thriller “Slaughterhouse,” one of the most anticipated of Guadalajara Co-Production Meeting projects mixes fact and fiction in a drama thriller about a U.S. director who arrives in Argentina’s La Pampa to shoot a film about the first uprising of laborers against Argentina’s landowners. The project marks the feature debut of Santiago Fillol, an assistant director and co-writer of Olivier Laxe’s Critics’ Week Grand Prize winner “Mimosas.” It packs a strong co-producer package: Magoya Films (Argentina), El Viaje Films (Tenerife, Spain), 4A4 Productions (France) and Nina Films (Catalonia).


Guadalajara opens with Visit Films-sold “Anchor and Hope,” directed by Los Angeles-based Catalan Carlos Marqués-Marcet whose debut, “10,000KM,” took the SXSW acting award for Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer. The dramedy is produced by Barcelona’s Lastor Media, the U.K.’s Vennerfilm and L.A.’s LA Panda Productions, its ranks swelled by Catalan emigrés. The financial crisis hit the Spanish cinema hard, particularly new directors. Many ventured abroad. In professional terms, some have not returned. Though it’s no recommendation for crisis, this has aided the international reach of Catalan cinema.


Another emigré, though this time in artistic terms: Isabel Coixet. The tribute includes her “The Bookshop,” starring Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson and Bill Nighy. Last month, it became one of only two English-language films to win a best-picture Spanish Academy Goya. Coixet directed the other English-language winner, “The Secret Life of Words” (2005). Emerging as the Grand Dame of Catalan cinema, Coixet also symbolizes its centrifugal passions at a time when European communities are increasingly self regarding.


The title of the lead article in Variety’s Berlinale 2018 Catalonia Spotlight. After Spain’s economic crisis slashed across-the-board funding, Catalonia’s industry 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,” the article argues. That can also be seen in the Guadalajara selection. Of an 17-pic Catalan showcase, eight are directed by women, some with festival success. Meritxell Colell’s poetic dance docu-fiction “Facing the Wind” was a 2018 Berlin Forum entry; Carla Simón’s coming-of-ager “Summer 1993,” won best first feature at last year’s Berlinale. Elena Martín “Júlia Ist” was a best feature and director winner at Spain’s Malaga Fest Zonacine showcase. One of the most anticipated of Co-Pro Meeting projects is ”Las niñas,” from “Spring 1993” producer Valérie Delpierre. To be helmed by Pilar Palomero, it portrays a 12-year girl who studies at a convent school in a small provincial town in 1992.


Catalonia’s post-Franco film history has been a roller coaster. In terms of regular fiction  feature output, pretty well only one director has stayed the course: Ventura Pons (“Anita Takes a Chance,” “Barcelona (A Map)”), whose debut, “Ocana, an International Portrait” bowed way back then in 1978. His latest film, “Miss Dalí,” screens in the Catalan  showcase. Pons will be honored with Guadalajara’s Mayahuel Award.


A building trend in Catalonia, its new queer cinema takes in “Anchor and Hope,” Javier Ambrossi and  Javier Calvo’s “Holy Camp!,” Ángeles Hernández and David Matamoros’ “Isaac,”now in post, and “Grimsey.” Directed by Richard García and Raul Portero and set in Iceland “Grimsey” follows a gay man’s search for a former lover. World-premiering at India’s Pune International Film Festival, it receives a special screening at Guadalajara.


A fanboy Mecca, Catalonia’s Sitges Fantastic Film Festival is now expanding in international. Guadalajara is again a case in point. Broadening its reach, Sitges has curated the tribute’s four-title genre focus and acted as a consultant for the Co-Pro Meeting, one reason why genre is far more prominent this year. Sitges will also offer an exhibition “Cinema is Fantastic,” curated by Brigadoon director Diego López. The show constitutes a journey through the history of the fest, which turned 5o last year. On March 10, Mónica García, deputy director at the Sitges Foundation, will offer a conference, ”How Much a Movie Costs,” presenting a study commissioned by the festival about the use of big data algorithms, among other strategies to build a successful movie. Catalonia has always prided itself on being ahead of the curve.


Shorts from the Catalan new new wave auteurs in competition: Clara Roquet’s “Les bones nenes,” Luis Tinoco’s “Caronte,” and Joan Vives’ “El escarabajo al final de la calle.”

Shorcat: A brace of out-of-competition shorts: Beatriz Pérez’s “Nobody is Perfect,” Séverine Sajous and Patricia Sánchez Mora’s “Password: Fajara,” Pau Bacardit’s “Compatible,” Iso Luengo, Jorge Moneo Quintana and Andrea Ballesteros’ “La ciudad interior,” Caye Casas and Albert Pintó’s “RIP,” Gerard Nogueira’s “Rocco,” and César Pesquera’s “Santa Ana.”

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