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Spain’s Next Gen Talent: Six Takes on Madrid’s 2022 ECAM Incubator Directors, Producers

ECAM Incubadora
(L-R) Elena Tara, Carlos Gomez, Barbara Magdalena, Carlos Villafaina, Gabriel Azorin. Credit: ECAM

Alauda Ruiz de Azúa’s “Lullaby” was described by Pedro Almodóvar as “undoubtedly the best debut in Spanish cinema for years.” Chema García Ibarra’s “The Sacred Spirit” was hailed by Variety as “one of the standouts of the 2021 Locarno Film Festival.” David Pérez Sañudo’s “Ane is Missing” won three Spanish Academy Goya Awards last year. 

What these three Spanish movies, all first features, have in common is that they have passed through the ECAM Madrid Film School’s Incubator, a six-month producer mentorship initiative. 

As its fifth edition rounds a final bend, Variety analyzes what its projects say about the state of cutting-edge young Spanish cinema and what the talent behind it says about the state of contemporary filmmaking. 

Filmmakers With Attitude

On the face of it, the five projects developed this year could not be more different, in genre, tone and issues tackled. Gabriel Azorín’s “Last Night I Conquered the City of Thebes” explores male friendship, while drawing links between two modern-day teens and young Roman soldiers who used the same baths in the Spanish countryside 2,000 years ago. “Ripli” plumbs ADHD, depression and processing anxiety. “Macramé” focuses on sexuality and power play, “Festina Lente” on functional diversity and “Disposable” on social segregation, as “Lente” director Carlos Villafaina points out. What the project do have in common, however, is that they are, in part at least, issue-driven. That’s true of much of a new Spanish generation at large: Think “Alcarràs,” “Lullaby” or now “La Maternal.”

A New Talent Feeding Fever?

In a new platform world, the battle for success is a battle for first-class talent. Everybody, from CAA Media Finance – which will meet film school students while at September’s San Sebastian Festival – to the most micro of local producers are scouring for fresh voices. “It’s very encouraging to see how streamers are looking for emerging talent to lead original movies and TV shows,” says Miguel Molina, who produces “Disposable” with Carlos Gómez Salamanca. Spain’s industry is now focusing on new voices and a diversity of cinema bets,” agrees “Ripli” producer Eva Moreno. The search for new talent, however, is now building to a feeding fever. “There are ‘too many’ new voices for limited public funding budgets,” says “Macrame” director Barbara Magdalena. There’s also a risk of possible new talent fatigue setting in, adds “Thebes” producer Carlos Pardo.

What ECAM’s Incubator Brings to the Table

The Incubator receives over 250 submissions a year, says program manager Rafa Alberola. “What’s interesting is to find those that respond to a moment in their creators’ life or the historical and socio-economical context we live in. It shows a will to speak about us and our place in the world.” If there’s so much new talent out there, the Incubator acts as a radical filter. That means the Spanish industry sits up and pays attention to the chosen few. Betting on stories and creators, the Incubator “allows riskier projects to resonate in industry circles and find their place,” says Iván Luis, producer of “Macrame,” which explores the Japanese art of erotic bondage and people in need of “sinister embrace.”

(L-R) Miguel Molina (Jaibo Films), Ivan Luis (Lasai Producciones), Eva Moreno and Cristina Urgel (Not Alone Productions), Sergio Grobas (Mayo Films), Carlos Pardo (DVEIN Films) Credit: ECAM

Animation: A Building Concern

A Colombia-Spain co-production, “Disposable” is the Incubator’s first animated feature. It’s unlikely to be its last. At San Sebastian’s Creative Investors’ Conference, three of the 10 features chosen to be pitched to an international industry are toon pics. France’s Annecy Animation Festival has seen attendance double is a decade. Animation also has creative knock ons, argues “Disposable” director Gómez. “The kind of cinema I want to make is explosive and delicate like the best punk songs, “ he says. “Animated, ‘Disposable’ has all the ingredients I need to narratively and visually experiment in that direction.”

Pushing the Envelope

“We all want the same thing – to do something different, mix genres and explore new formats and narratives,” says Molina. So Incubator producers and directors lament a certain conservatism that is setting in into Spain’s film industry. “I would like to see crazier films with a large mastery of narrative,” says “Thebes” director Gabriel Azorín. We’re missing more courageous films,” agrees “Ripli” director Elena Tara.

Will the Platforms Back Arthouse?

Whether such craziness is a viable option at least for larger films is another question. Currently, arthouse attendance in Spain has mostly imploded with COVID. Platform finance or international co-production remain the most obvious options to close the gap after Spanish state funding on bigger movies. Beyond Filmin, platforms’ appetite in Spain, for straight-arrow arthouse, which makes up much of the country’s film industry output, looks limited. Event arthouse such as Carla Simon’s 2022 Berlin Golden Bear winner “Alcarràs,” has punched a standout €2.15 million ($2.17 million) at Spain’s box office, making it the second biggest Spanish release to date of 2022. “Lullaby,” a big winner at Málaga, has run up a notable €717,000 ($724,000). “‘Alcarràs’ and ‘Lullaby’ could encourage platforms, distributors and production companies to invest in independent films,” says Villafaina. He might be right. Certainly, optimism is an important industry driver.

John Hopewell contributed to this article.