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Spain’s Next Gen Cinema: 10 Takes on Madrid’s Incubator Talent

ECAM Screens 3rd Incubator
From left to right: Cordelia Alegre, Estibaliz Urresola, Alberto Martin, Itxaso Espinal, Lara Izaguirre, Mintzo Diaz, Yayo Herrero, Alvaro Gago, Patricia Franquesa, Mireia Graell / Credit: ECAM

In late July, “Ane,” a Basque Country mother-daughter social drama, scored one of the three-or-so berths reserved for Spanish titles at the New Directors sidebar of the San Sebastián festival, the most prestigious film event in the Spanish-speaking world.

It followed on “The Innocence,” a girl’s coming-of-age tale set in rural Spain, which made 2019’s New Directors’ cut. Selected for the TIFF Filmmakers Lab, in July Chema García Ibarra’s low-fi sci-fi drama “The Sacred Spirit” also secured financing from Eurimages, Europe’s biggest pan-regional production fund.

All three projects were put through the Madrid-based Incubator, a six-month producer mentorship initiative, which forms part of The Screen industry program at the Madrid Film and Audiovisual School (ECAM).

Increasingly, festival slots and film funding in Europe is going to feature titles which have performed an industry rites-of-passage, being put through a series of industry labs in both Europe and North America.

Arguably, there are few choicer places in Spain to discover young movie talent with international ambition than at such development programs. Few have caught so much attention so fast as Madrid’s Incubator, now in its third edition.

That reflects in part its selection process. Titles are chosen from over 200 applications a year – a 2% success rate that represents a hugely exacting, so exciting crib, says Gemma Vidal, the Incubator’s program manager.

What the Incubator says about Spain’s next generation of filmmakers – their obsessions, inspirations and makeup – is another matter.

As project producers from the 3rd Incubator, up-and-running from March, gird up to hit the road – they are offered free-of-charge industry accreditation by San Sebastian, feed the TorinoFilmLab’s Meeting Point and the Rotterdam Lab – here are 10 takes on five offerings from Spain’s next generation of filmmakers.

They’re Not So Young

They may be Spain’s youngest generation of feature film creators – four Incubator titles are first features – but the directors of the five feature projects at the 3rd Incubator are not so young at all. “We tend now to believe more than before that we have to go through a series of steps before we actually make our first film: University, then film school,” says Alvaro Gago whose “Matria” is a 3rd Incubator title.

He adds: “We don’t get hands-on experience as quickly as established filmmakers used to and we’re a bit more conservative, fear more our first feature. We mature later; everything happens later in our lives.”

Globalization 

Projects were chosen for their quality, viability and the “international vocation” of their start-up producers, says Vidal. Their directors, likewise, are part of a globalized generation. Gago studied at the London Film School with Carla Simon (“Summer of 1993”), Mikel Gurrea (“Suro”) and Mireia Graell, now his longtime producer. Estibaliz Urresola, director of another Incubator project, “20,000 Species of Bees,” is an alum of Cuba’s EICTV, Lara Izagirre, its producer, of the New York Film Academy; Alberto Martín Menacho, director of Incubator title “Nights Gone By,” spent five years in Switzerland, put himself through Ginebra’s Haute Ecole d’Art et de Design (HEAD). His producer, Pedro Collantes, trained at the Netherlands Film Academy.

And the Search for Identity in a Globalized World

That overseas education may have had a rebound effect. Certainly, it frames a paradox. Despite – or because of – their creators’ studying abroad, Incubator projects very often seek to trace a search for identity in the chaos of modernity and its internet-driven standardization. That though-line links all five features, but is diced is very different ways.

Most obviously, it surfaces in plot, “La Unión’s” two sisters explore their roots traveling from Barcelona to their mother’s home village in Colombia. “It’s a journey they make to understand themselves, their family, where they come from, and how that affects them, what they’ve left behind,” director Cordelia Alegre told Variety.

Change in Spain

Inner and outer world interact, of course. “20,000 Species of Bees” turns on reactions to a six-year-old son’s determination to be a girl. Lucía looks forward to vacation time in her town which seems the perfect opportunity to display herself to everyone as the girl she really is, the synopsis runs. “But things won’t be that easy,” it adds.

“20,000 Species” revolves around “how identity is constructed, how far it’s a cultural gender construct, how far felt and constructed by individuals,” Urresola says.

Set in Extremadura, south-west Spain, where four characters question their life in its conservative rural environment, “Nights Gone By” explores the hostages left to fortune by Spain’s ancient past, more specifically, “primitive elements of human beings which exist down to this day, such as hunting and migration,” says director Menacho.

“I’m interested in looking at the past, to understand the present,” he told Variety.

Playing off fiction and reality, Yayo Herrero’s “The Quinquis” is a crime drama, turning on two twins, modern day small-time delinquents on Madrid’s working class periphery. A Quinqui Cinema flowered briefly in Spain over 1977-1983, yielding Carlos Saura’s “Deprisa, Deprisa,” one of his finest achievements. “The key to my film is that it’s a Quinqui movie, but set in present-day Spain. It looks for what’s remains from the past. 40 years has gone by. But Spain’s big city periphery hasn’t changed that much at all,” says Herrero.

Specific Context 

“20,000 Species of Bees” will be spoken in Basque, “La Union” will have some Catalan; “Matria” expands on the short of the same title from Gago, which won the 2018 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, and took place in Val do Salnés,’ in Galicia’s Rias Baixas region.

It’s a common trend. “Filmmakers are making films that are very specific to a region, something that’s grown in the past few years in Spain,” Gago says. That entails “building story with maximum detail, truthful and faithful to the people that inhabit a region, how they walk, understand life, and interact with one other.”

Regional Filmmaking – an Industrial Necessity

The flowering of a regional cinema reflects an industrial reality. Spain’s double-dip 2008-13 recession decimated funding for first features and art movies. Spanish broadcaster RTVE cannot alone pre-buy the 200 or more features made in Spain every year. Paring budgets, producers and directors have had to look ever more to regional funds and networks as key finance to allow films to get made. Intimate cinema, founded in regional culture, made on contained budgets, has flowered in part as a matter of necessity.

Women to the Fore

The emergence of a first generation of women cineastes, often based out of Barcelona, has been one of the most exciting things that has happened in Spanish cinema in the last decade. Three of the Incubator’s five project are produced by women – and two have female directors. Alegre lives in Barcelona, studied at the Pompeu Fabra U., Urresola graduated from the Escac, Barcelona’s  other major film school, where Mar Coll (“Killing the Father”), Belén Funes (“A Thief’s Daughter”) and Nely Reguera (“María (And Everybody Else)”) studied before her. “The fact that they studied at the Escac and made shorts and features of large impact, lights up and smooths the way for other women directors, gives them a sense of confidence, “ says Urresola.

A new generation of women filmmakers is moving to the fore in Spain, and at the Incubator. The 3rd Incubator’s larger presence of women in production than direction is echoed in Latin America, in Chile, for example – eight of the 10 projects at Cannes Producers’ Network had female producers – and Brazil. But this is still a work in progress. A 50/50 gender balance is “still one of the principal challenges for program reach,” says Vidal.

Five From the Heart

“All five projects talk about spaces or stories linked to the directors,” says Vidal. That blurring of personal narrative and fiction can work in powerful, if indirect ways. Yayo Herrero’s father dedicated his life to working as a prosecutor at a prison. He remembers as a kid how families of inmates would come up to his father in the street, thanking him for helping an inmate. His second feature, “Quinquis,” about two teen twins trying to escape from a marginalized big city hood, is, he recognizes, a homage to his father.

Alegre’s mother is Colombian. She comments: “I felt a real need to know more about my grandparents, to understand my mother and through her myself.”

Social Issue Dramas

From the great 1950s social comedies of frustration of Luis Berlanga and Fernando Fernán Gómez through to the dysfunctional family dramas of Spain’s transition to democracy –  think “The Spirit of the Beehive,” “Raise Ravens” and “Poachers” –  many of the greatest films ever made in Spain have reflected on larger social wants, traumas and desperate needs. Though Spain’s youngest generation of filmmakers may not recognize that legacy, many still work in that tradition. Gago’s short, “Matria,” which now forms the starting point for his Incubator feature, turns on a remarkable women, Ramona, who works in a canning factory, is married to an indifferent husband, manages a household and job – a punishing daily routine – and yet still manages to have a life which, through her relationship with her daughter and grandchild, affords her some emotional dignity.

What National Cinema Influences the Incubator Directors Most? One Candidate: Argentina’s 

Directors tend to be influenced by films or other directors, not a country’s output. That said, “the first films of Argentina’s Lucrecia Martel and Italy’s Alice Rohrwacher  are for me important examples of how cinema is capable of revealing something universal in small communities,” Menacho says.

Alegre admires 2011 Locarno Golden Leopard winner “Back to Stay,” from Argentine-born (and Swiss raised) Milagros Mumenthaler, and Argentine 2020 Berlinale Generation entry “Mum, Mum, Mum,” both movies that, like “La Unión,” “talk of absence,” she observes.