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Launched in 1998 to promote Spanish cinema, the Malaga Festival once promised a fantastic shot of Spring sunshine, a competition whose winners were maybe unlucky not to get to Cannes, an annual state of the business pronouncement from Spain’s producer association Fapae, and screaming fans around the red carpet, proving Spain had a new, TV-based star system.

That in itself was an achievement. Under Juan Antonio Vigar, Malaga Festival director from 2013, the event, however, has built, broadened and added large industry heft, as the importance of Spanish language fiction has skyrocketed in a streaming platform age, to become a not-to-be-ignored event on the international circuit.

Evidence suggests the Malaga Festival is not done yet but will add new initiatives and allies as Spain thrashes out new distribution models in a post-platform investment quota digital age, whose parameters are only now being set.

One key to growth, says Vigar, was opening up to Latin America – allowing movies from the region to pepper main festival sections, led this year by Rodrigo Ruíz Patterson’s double winner, “Summer White,” an explosive drama sold by Visit Films, observing the breakdown in fundamental family relations in Mexico.

Another milestone was persuading Fapae in 2017 to relocate its Spanish Screenings from Madrid in June to Malaga in March.

Backed by ICAA, ICEX, the Junta de Andalucía and Egeda, the Malaga Festival Spanish Screenings will this year showcase 108 titles, and welcome 185 buyers from 147 companies and another 54 outfits at its industry club, as well as 24 fest reps from 16 events, making for a grand total of 287 delegates from 217 companies. Buyers are double 2019’s on-site edition and general attendance, of distribution and festival execs, is up 40%, says Vigar. The number of films screening has risen 157% from 42 to 108, he added.

Spanish Screenings events take in six strands: Previews 2020, for Spanish films in production from second quarter, 2020; Neo Screenings, dedicated to more experimental and innovative titles; Next From Spain, featuring trailers of upcoming releases; Spanish Film Library Room: Films and series from Q4 2019; Spanish WIP for films in post-production; and Malaga Film Festival Winners.

Even the Spanish Screenings, however, form part of a far bigger industry umbrella, Mafiz (Malaga Festival Industry Zone), which this year has already celebrated a Malaga Work In Progress (March 23-April 10) and a Malaga Festival Fund and Co-production Event (MAFF, April 27-May 10).

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“Summer White” Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Launched in 2018, Malaga’s six industry strands also include a Malaga Talent campus, Malaga Docs and a bilateral co-production forum, kicked off by Brazil in 2018.

Malaga’s rise comes at a time of large challenges for Spanish cinema. Up to Spain’s double-dip recession of 2008-13, in retrospect Spain never had it so good, its industry sluiced from the mid ‘90s by public subsidy largely triggered by box office and obligatory investment of TV operators in production. Quite a few countries could make a bigger budgeted movie than Alejandro Amenabar’s “Agora,” starring Rachel Weisz, which world premiered at the Cannes Festival in 2009. Few, however, could afford a film of such unleashed artistic ambition.

But Spanish cinema, especially straight grants for first features and art films, took a huge hit in incentive support with recession as TV station revenues plunged and with them Spanish film investment, tabbed at 3% of broadcasters’ income.

That legacy still roils. Spain no longer has a steady stream of big art films. Much established talent is working on series.

In such a context, Malaga is building ever more as a new talent platform. As an example of new talent, Vigar cites Pilar Palomero whose “Schoolgirls” world premiered at Berlin this year and went on to win best feature at this year’s Malaga Festival in August.

Palomero forms part of an exciting new generation of often female Catalan or Barcelona-based directors and producers exploring personal issues in small-canvas but resonant early films.

Malaga Festival has caught that Catalan wave, awarding its biggest prize, the Golden Biznaga, six times in the last seven years to young Barcelona-based filmmakers, mostly women.  Five of the seven Golden Biznaga winners since 2014 have been first or second features.

Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s “The Platform” (“El Hoyo”), a terrifying sci-fi genre parable, was first discovered at Malaga WIP last year. Prized and picked-up by Latido Films, it won the People’s Choice Award at Toronto’s Midnight Madness, was swooped on by Netflix and released in March, to become for some days the No. 1 movie on Netflix in the U.S.

Many of the films hitting the market at Malaga, however, are now made in straitened circumstances. Several of the highlights, among Malaga market premieres, look set to be smaller films suggesting larger talent. Even many of the larger films work in many scenes as chamber pieces (“Black Stain”) or two (“Once Again”) or three-handers (“The Invisible”).

Yet here again Malaga is ahead of the curve. The battle royal of a global platform age is that for talent, distinct authentic voices that audiences love, as Netflix’s head go global TV Bela Bajaria put it in an interview last week. What better place to discover new talent than at a festival?