Few figures in the Spanish film industry dress as formerly, or as well, as Malaga Intl. Film Festival director Juan Antonio Vigar. But then he takes his job very seriously indeed. While many other Spanish festival directors have more or less maintained the formats of their events, Vigar has innovated constantly since taking over in 2013. The result is a bouquet of industry initiatives which only San Sebastian can equal in Spain, and which channel the key pivots in Spanish-language production at large: The gathering sense of one common production market in Spain and Latin America; the two-way street with drama series production; the primacy of talent.

Variety talked to Vigar in the run-up to its 2020 Spanish Screenings:

The key direction in which you’ve taken Malaga is “apertura,” an opening up, whether in its geographical ambit or types of titles….

Cultural initiatives must be reset from time to time, to allow them to breathe, to give them a future. The Malaga Festival was launched in 1998 as a support for Spanish cinema. But the profile and identity of Spanish cinema have evolved. Before, films were usually made from one country. Now they’re made by several at least. “Spanish” has transformed into a new space, one of cultural confluence, where different countries have built co-production mechanisms which function better than going it alone.  So, we decided to evolve from a Spanish cinema festival to a film festival in Spanish….

“In Spanish” would have several readings?

Yes three. One is geographic: What happens in the ambit of Spain. A second is defined by production.  Any Spanish film produced in any country in any language. Some time back we had a Catalan film, “Callback” from Carles Torras, which was shot in English in the U.S. The third structural axis is language. A language spoken by nearly 600 million people is hugely interesting in its potential.

Another opening up is to drama series.

We’re living not so much a transformation as a revolution in the audiovisual sector. The borders between formats are increasingly diffuse. Series drink from cinema and its narrative production. Actors move from cinema to series. Producers have embraced producing for platforms. If we want to be a showcase of the best in cinema in Spanish, we must have series and platforms.

Why grow the industry side to the festival?

A festival can’t just be an exhibition space for films. It must drive up their commercial strength, in sales and international promotion.

The interest of the Spanish Screenings depends in part on the interest of Spanish cinema. How would you describe its state and key trends?

If we look at the films we’ve had at the festival, the level of auteurs is extremely high and the range of films broad. Spanish films may no longer attain such industry scale as before, out of economic circumstance. On the other hand, the strength of original creative voices is growing strongly, which speaks for a very positive future for Spanish cinema. If I had to rate the state of Spanish cinema by the number of films at the Spanish Screenings – 108 – I’d say the situation is positive, with a good balance across the sections of the Screenings between established directors and new voices, a more industrial cinema, with one that is more auteur-ist, vocational.

Pilar Palomero’s “The Schoolgirls,” winner of the top Golden Biznaga at this year’s Festival, is a banner title of the newest Catalan cinema which has a clear and often female auteur voice….

If you look at the winners of the festival’s Biznaga de Oro over the last few years, they’ve mostly been from Catalonia, Carla Simon in 2017 with “Summer 1993,” Elena Trapé in 2018 with “The Distances,” Carlos Marqués-Marcet with 2016’s “10,000 Km” and 2019’s “The Days to Come.” Our new talent interest runs across the industry initiatives. At MAFF, our co-production forum, we’re always looking for first and second feature projects.

But, looking further back, Rodrigo Sorogoyen [“The Realm,” “Mother,” “Riot Police”] came to Malaga in 2013 and won best director, actress [Aura Garrido] and first screenplay for “Stockholm.” In 2012, Paco Leon [“Arde Madrid”], really only known until then as an actor, offered us his feature debut, “Carmina o Revienta.” He wasn’t sure what kind of film it was, but we backed it and selected it for competition where it won best actress [Carmina Barrios], the Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award. If we like a film by a young director, they go straight into the Official Selection main competition.

The Spanish Screenings will take place seven months after COVID-19 struck Spain. How has that impacted them?

We had to pull the festival three days before it was due to open in March transferring an on-site edition to August, where we celebrated a safe festival with all the health and security measures in place. One of the biggest and essential axes of the festival remains the red-carpet presence of the cast and crew of films. Industry meets, in contrast, require international travel.

The Screenings, conversely, have gone online…

We realized that an on-site edition wouldn’t be possible this year from minute one. Thanks to the industry team, captained by Annabelle Aramburu, we celebrated online Malaga WIP, then MAFF, in a highly positive alliance with the Filmarket Hub. To create the Spanish Screenings, we worked hand in hand with ICAA, the Spanish Film Institute ICEX the Junta de Andalucía and Egeda. One of our references for the platform has been the work that it did to create ICAA’s website on the Marché du Film Online, which won the market’s Best Pavilion Design Award.

In a world where art films of ambition are almost always made in international co-production, you have also reached out to Latin America, its institutions and festivals to establish possible collaborations.

Yes, we are in constant contact with FIPCA, the Ibero-American Producers Federation, and above all with CAACI, the Ibero-American Film and Audiovisual Authority Conference, representing the state film agencies in the region. We’ve also established collaboration agreements with events in 17 countries: Ventana Sur, Buenos Aires Intl. Documentary Film Festival,  Brazil’s Cinemundi and Sanfic in Chile, for instance, with the Malaga Festival taking projects to their development labs, or vice-versa, of creating global joint initiatives. In Spain, we’ve also set up Pro Festival 21 with the Seville and Huelva festivals to collaborate where it’s most necessary to pool our strengths. Our work is based on collaboration, working via networks, listening in order to be heard, and being useful so as to generate a sense of complicity.