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Canarias Unleashed: The Islands Film Ambitions to Grow Beyond Big International Shoots (EXCLUSIVE)

Our Father
“Our Father” Courtesy of Cluster Audiovisual de Canarias

First they conquered Hollywood film shoots, now they’re aiming to drive up local production, adding a new local edge to one of Europe’s most popular big shoot locales.

A decade ago, Spain’s Canary Islands started to become a top shoot destination for big international films, offering wide-ranging landscapes and unique tax advantages.

An influx of international film and TV shoots served to establish an industrial base, nurturing high-profile crew talent and sparking the creation of competitive production services companies.

Now in second stage growth, the Atlantic Ocean islands are raising the ante, boosting local industry’s production subsidies and their international exposure.

Early fruit of new ambitious measures, the Canary Islands Audiovisual Cluster is introducing at next week’s virtual Berlin European Film Market an 80-minute promo reel dubbed Canarias Unleashed which offers a sneak preview of six upcoming features produced on the Islands by local companies tapping into local talent.

The immediate aim is to snag international sales agents for the films. Beyond that, the initiative aims to create a Canary film brand that helps its filmmakers’ presence at international markets and festivals.

“Our Father”

One standout title is the Spain-France co-production “Rendir los machos” (“Our Father”), the fiction debut of award-winning short filmmaker David Pantaleón.

Set on the island of Fuerteventura, the film weighs in as a modern-day Western with road-movie echoes, focusing on an universal drama about the reconciliation between two estranged brothers that have to walk 60 miles with a goat herd, as he last will of their father, to deliver a goat herd to one of his enemies.

The film is produced by Sebastián Álvarez at Volcano Films, a Tenerife-based company with a long track-record in film services production.

“Rendir los machos” marks Volcano’s return to co-production, here with France’s Noodles Production, with whom it made “Evolution,” the fantasy drama by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, winner of a Special Jury Prize at the 2015 San Sebastian Festival,and also an international sales hit for Wild Bunch.

“They Carry Death”

El Viaje Films has joined forces with Galicia’s Filmika Galaika to co-produce Samuel M. Delgado and Helena Girón’s left-of-field debut “Ellos transportan la muerte” (“They Carry Death”),

The movie delivers a critique of colonization and in a singular adventure film in which three crew members of the expedition led by Christopher Columbus steal the sail of the Santa María and flee with it to an unknown island. “They Carry Death” was put through the San Sebastian Festival’s Ikusmira Berriak development residency and won the Catapulta Film Lab Award at Mexico City’s Ficunam.

Led by producer and DOP José Ángel Alayón, El Viaje Films focuses on auteurist projects from young filmmakers. It already produced Spanish-Chilean director Théo Court’s “Blanco en blanco” (“White on White”), Ba best director winner at Venice’s 2019 Horizons, among other plaudits.

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They Carry Death Courtesy of Cluster Audiovisual de Canarias

“Just Once”

Guillermo Ríos’ feature debut “Sólo una vez” (“Just Once”) boasts a highly-popular Spanish cast, led by Álex García (“Riot Police,” “The Bride”) and Ariadna Gil (“Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed,” “Just Walking”). a drama with light comedy touches produced by seasoned producer Eduardo Campoy at Madrid-based Álamo Producciones in partnership with River Flow Pictures.

“Sólo una vez” tells the story of Eva and Pablo who have to visit a  psychologist after Pablo is denounced for gender violence. The producers are in advanced talks with sales company Latido Films and A Contracorriente Films for Spanish distribution rights.

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Just Once Courtesy of Cluster Audiovisual de Canarias

“The Volcano Skin’’

“La piel del volcán” is produced by Las Hormigas Negras and Proyecto Bentejuí, marks filmmaker Armando Ravelo’s most recent attempt to represent the indigenous past of the Islands by reconstructing the original language of its ancient inhabitants from , the Berber language Amazigh. Las Hormigas Negras has charted a similar path to Volcano Films, accruing large expertise as a production services company before betting on local film production.

“Our long experience as a production services company has become a hallmark and key when establishing synergies to set up our own production projects,” says Volcano’s Sebastián Álvarez.

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The Volcano Skin Courtesy of Cluster Audiovisual de Canarias

“Absolución de Juan Alfredo Amil”

The selection of Canarias Unleashed also takes in two creative documentaries.

Acquired by nationwide public broadcaster RTVE, “Absolución de Juan Alfredo Amil,” produced by 416 Studio, marks an self-portrait from filmmaker Juan Alfredo Amil, focusing on the obesity he suffers and an operation that could cost him his life.

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Absolucion de Juan Alfredo Amil Courtesy of Cluster Audiovisual de Canarias

“Sometimes Love”

José Víctor Fuentes’ “A veces el amor” (“Sometimes Love”), produced by Chukimi Studio, is scheduled to premiere on March 5 at Tenerife’s MiradasDoc, one of Spain’s top documentary meets.

Reflecting on how love is born, grows and dies, and the need for therapy when this happens, Fuentes, who previously produced the documentary “90 Minutes and I Love You,” uses frequent sequence shots, an essential element in his work.

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Sometimes Love Courtesy of Cluster Audiovisual de Canarias

Reinstated in 2017 after Spain’s double-dip recession, film subsidies from the Canary Islands government, alongside Tenerife and Gran Canaria councils, last year reached €2.0 million ($2.4 million), an all-time record in the Canaries. Four of the Canarias Unleashed projects – “Our Father,” “They Carry Death,” “Sometimes Love” and “The Skin of the Volcano”- benefited from the new regional subsidies.

With the exception of “Absolution,” the projects unveiled at the “Canarias Unleashed” also tapped support from regional public broadcaster Televisión Canaria.

“This has allowed the archipelago’s producers and filmmakers to make powerful bets on fiction features – once demonstrated their ability and the relevance of the local talent they use in both the short film format and documentary genre,” said José Ángel Alayón, president of the Canary Islands Audiovisual Cluster.

From May, tax incentives reached a world-record 50% tax advantage in the Islands, with recent Hollywood shoots including “Wonder Woman 1984” and Marvel’s “The Eternals.”

“Tax incentives are also beginning to benefit local film production,” Alayón adds.

The cluster is promoting the creation of an International Minority Co-production Fund, following the example of various Eastern European countries, Portugal and some Spanish regions such as Catalonia.

“The creation of support for film co-production would significantly accelerate the strengthening of the sector on the islands, would allow local producers to enter directly into solid projects, not only acquiring IP, but also their co-producers expertise, as well as contacts with sales agents and international programmers,” Alayón argues.

“In addition, it would contribute to attracting more shoots of different sizes to the islands. The aim is also that local producers that start as a minority co-producer, become a lead partner on their next project. It is a tool with many advantages,” he says.

“We want Canary Island producers to go one step further, to generate co-productions and enter IPs, making a creative, script and casting input in each project,” says Jairo López, manager of the Cluster.

Canarias Unleashed, a Canary Islands Audiovisual Cluster initiative in partnership with Proexca, the Islands public-sector agency, will be screened online at the European Film Market’s virtual edition on Tuesday 11:00am and Thursday 01:00pm.