Appropriately blessed by sunshine in Spain, though the whole event went online, the Malaga Film Festival’s Spanish Screenings wrapped Friday, though films will continue to screen another week given the demand for screenings. The equivalent of France’s UniFrance Rendez-vous with French cinema in Paris, the Screenings proved a bellwether for far larger trends coursing the American Film Market and the international market at large. Following, five takeaways:

The French Connection

The Malaga Spanish Screenings rounded their final bend on Friday with news that France’s Playtime Group, one of Europe’s premier film sales-production groups with companies across Europe, has boarded Vaca Films’ “Project Emperor.” The Playtime-Vaca relation stretches back a decade to one of Spain’s biggest modern break-outs, “Cell 211.” It now forms part of a fast multiplying web of Gallic connections with Spain, as French companies buy into the global reach of Spanish-language fiction. The major beneficiary looks to be TV, as in the creation this month of Mediawan Studios Spain and Federation Spain in July. A moot question is whether Spanish film production may benefit as well. Certainly talent – such as “Project Emperor” director Jorge Coira – moves now seamlessly between film and TV. Coira himself directed Arte-Movistar Plus hit series “Hierro.” Where talent goes, French interest may follow.

Market Uplift 

Running Nov. 17-20, the Spanish Screenings came too hard on the heels of the AFM to catch a swathe of confirmed deals coming off the U.S. event. Market sentiment, with coronavirus vaccine results from U.S. pharma company Pfizer, may have taken something of an upswing, as some sales companies said at the AFM. The same pre-COVID market conditions still remain, however, of highly limited theatrical potential for all but the strongest of market titles. So caution remains, exacerbated by COVID-19 uncertainty, though the Screenings saw a clutch of titles enjoying what looks like market traction. “It’s curious. We introduced ‘The People Upstairs’ at Cannes and it had a great reception. But it’s only beginning to close deals two markets later,” said Filmax’s Ivan Díaz. “Distributors are asking much more about titles, compared to Toronto. They’re far more active,” said Latido’s Fabrizia Palazzo. “We just need that to lead to concrete sales,” she added.

Top Titles

Filmax’s Diaz reported he was closing deals on the Cesc Gay relationship comedy in major territories in Europe and North America. He also aimed, he said, to mop up final territories, such as the U.K. on psychological thriller “Cross the Line,” starring Mario Casas, which has almost sold worldwide. At Latido, Palazzo was negotiating a sale to all German-speaking territories on “Baby.” “Ane Is Missing” and “My Heart Goes Boom!,” the latter two among most viewed films at the Screenings, were also drawing heat, she said.

Most watched films at the Spanish Screenings through Thursday, according to the organization, also took in: “One Careful Owner,” “Rosa’s Wedding,” “The People Upstairs,” “Things to Do Before You Die, “The Invisible,” “Black Stain,” “Schoolgirls,” “Malpaso,” “Cross the Line,” “Trains Bound for the Sea,” “Portrait of White Woman with Grey Hair & Wrinkles” and “Boat Rower Girl.”

Buzz titles among Malaga market premieres also took in movies previewed at Malaga such as Marta Lallana’s sophomore feature “Muyeres.” there was also good word on Paula Placios’ “Drowning Letters,” executive produced by Isabel Coixet.

The large question is how much strength in depth Spain’s sales slate can show going forward as some sort of return to cinema theaters becomes clear. Over the last few years, big sales have been limited to a top echelon of titles.

Light, Escapist Fare

Kaleidoscope announced a healthy brace of sales on Daniel H. Torrado’s horror thriller “COVID 21: Lethal Virus.” That said it’s notable that two titles that were catching buyers interest and beginning to spark deals were comedy “The People Upstairs” and musical “My Heart Goes Boom!” “Comedies often have the added value of having great potential for remakes,” said Díaz. With COVID-19, the public is looking for fun movies that make them laugh,” he added.

Netflix: The Elephant in the Room

It’s remarkable that a company that wasn’t even at the Screenings still dominated them so much. One of the major talking point of the Screenings was Netflix, as the U.S. streaming giant appears from producers’ comments at least, to be boarding an escalating number of  the highest-profile Spanish movies moving towards production in the country. Establishing a relationship with Netflix and other platforms is now a major priority of many producers.

At the same time, playing off the large interest in Spanish-language fiction after the extraordinary numbers punched by “Money Heist” on Netflix, VOD business is buoying sales on films as distributors look themselves to deals with local or even in-house OTT platforms, Palazzo commented.

More international sales comapnies are acquiring Spanish-language films, as Spain itself will see new entrants in the sales agent space, looking in part to the rising attraction of Spanish fiction in an OTT space.

Never has the international sales business been more complex. The only clear solution, said one sales agent, is to access films made by the best talent around. If that is still possible.

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“Covid-21” Courtesy of Virtual World Pictures