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Spain: New Ideas Light Up the Screen

Despite even more outlets, thanks to the arrival of global streaming giants, Spanish sales agents and producers are caught in a current double-bind.

Sales to Netflix are diminishing, as it drives more into original production, but bullish theatrical distribution at home and abroad remains restricted to high-profile auteurs, big-budget productions or breakout titles.

In international, “a culture of fear has set in: independent distributors fear that smaller films don’t have a theatrical public,” says Antonio Saura of Spanish sales shingle Latido.

Both overseas and in Spain’s market, “average, mid-range movies no longer work,” says Mercedes Gamero of production house Atresmedia Cine. “Either you have real auteur-driven movies or big blockbusters.”

There’s an onus on originality. “It’s no longer about budgets but titles that impact, have something special,” whether that’s the cast or an novel concept or idea, says Iván Díaz at production and sales shingle Filmax.

If small, a movie has to be special. “Buñuel in the Labyrinth of Turtles” is selling “marvelously well across the world … despite — or because — it wasn’t an evident bet,” says Saura.

Local comedies still work in Spain. The biggest Spanish hit this year is Telecinco Cinema’s “I Can Quit Whenever I Want,” which Díaz describes as “ ‘Breaking Bad’ meets ‘The Hangover.’ ”

But companies are turning increasingly to other options, which may play well in theatrical and also have streaming platform potential.

One is women-skewing movies. “At least in Europe, theatrical audiences are more mature and more predominately female,” says Díaz. His company is selling drama “El Doble Mas Quince,” in which the female protagonist is the much older partner of a couple.

Atresmedia Cine will team with Bambu on “El Verano Que Vivimos” a romantic melodrama of impossible love set in the Jerez sherry trade in the 1950s. The film is similar to 2015’s “Palm Trees in the Snow,” an historical epic that grabbed big B.O. in Spain, Gamero notes. There’s “an underserved theatrical audience for these kind of films.”

Companies are also exploring animation.

“There’s lots of talent in Spain, and some great films are getting made,” says Saura.

Filmax will release four animated features this year: “The Lunnies,” “Bikes,” “Elcano” and, its big Christmas bet, “Turu, the Wacky Hen.”

“Pre-sales in general are difficult. But there are parts of the world — Latin America, Eastern Europe — where there are several distributors in each territory which handle animation, making it easier,” Díaz says.

Spanish producers are also exploring genre, in the widest sense of the word. Filmax’s “Sordo: The Silent Wall,” is “almost a war Western,” says Díaz, with a twist: the hunted hero, who takes to the mountains, can’t hear.

Telecinco Cinema has just gone into production on “Malnazidos,” a zombie bloodbath movie set in the Spanish civil war designed as a local market blockbuster.

Atresmedia Cine is “starting to look very seriously into the horror genre,” says Gamero.

Sales agents can still look to China, especially on movies that play to one of Spain’s creative strengths: sci-fi/fantasy and crime thrillers. At Cinema Republic, David Castellanos will introduce “HOus3,” a sci-fi/horror mix in which a hacker claims to his former university friends he can see the future using a secret app. Castellanos has prepared promos in English and Mandarin.

In such a quickly evolving sales scene, some verities remain, however. One is talent. “Our sales strategy is to bet on talent and try to focus on genre films on one side and highly creative drama on the other,” says Saura.

But “talent is paramount, since directors we love are very curious to explore all sort of different genres,” he adds, citing Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas’ “Holy Beasts,” part vampire story, part filmmaker homage, “both blending into a Caribbean style.”

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