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Launched in 1998, the Malaga Film Festival first grabbed attention as a Spanish movie showcase and birthplace of a Spanish star system, TV actors walking a red carpet to acclaim from milling throngs. 

Under Juan Antonio Vigar, director from 2013, it has consolidated as a platform for a new generation of Spanish filmmakers while adding ever increasing industry heft – co-pro forums, WIPs, a HACK digital forum initiative – and also opening up to TV. 

In 2021, however, Malaga Festival and Spanish Screenings have exploded in scale, impact and attendance.  The narrative of this year’s event is largely one of that growth. Eight takes on this and other Malaga highlights:

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Alcarras Credit: Lluis Tudela

Malaga Lifts Off 

Little wonder Malaga forms part of what’s now the Spanish Screenings XXL. In its first full edition since 2019 with festival and industry onsite and aligned, Malaga has truly taken off. It received almost 2,000 film and TV submissions, says Vigar. Attendance has skyrocketed to over 1,100 delegates, 609 at the Spanish Screenings, the latter an “exponential” growth, he adds. New sections target remakes and big screen makeovers. With a first leg in Málaga, the Spanish Screenings XXL segue to San Sebastian then a third event outside Spain. Once a yearly event, Málaga is now part of a year-round ecosystem. 

Spain AVS Plan

Put that down in large part to the Spain AVS Hub plan, a governmental drive to power up production, exports and inward investment in Spanish film and TV, funded to the tune of €1.6 billion ($1.8 billion). Alongside a bullish presence at Series Mania, the Spanish Screenings XXL – a national movie showcase boasting a 2022-23 $4.2 million budget – marks its earliest impact. More AVS Hub initiatives look set to be debated at a round table on March 22, hosted by Spain’s Film Commission. 

Netflix Galvanizes Early Malaga

Other factors, naturally, are also at work. Malaga has screened TV series these last few years. But never has Spain’s TV scene been more vibrant. “Our creators’ talent has [traditionally] been the Spanish film-TV’s key driver. We now need a consolidated industry that generates structures,” Vigar argues. That, if Málaga’s early running is anything to go by, is now happening. Arguably the biggest news of the whole festival came as early as

Saturday when Netflix released new photos of “Elite” Season 5 and showcased five minutes of its Episode 1, with much of the new cast in town. Netflix also opened the festival with “Emperor Code,” suggesting one burgeoning prototype for big upscale Spanish film production: Top notch producers – Spain’s Vaca Films, France’s Playtime; a powerful talent nexus of Jorge Guerricaechevarría, fresh off a Goya screenplay win for “The Laws of the Border,” “Hierro” director Jorge Coira and “Cell 211” star Luis Tosar; a genre bending political twist on a classic film identity: the special services op gone rogue.

More Corporate Muscle

But Netflix isn’t the only big act in town. Spain’s film and TV is scaling up in terms of its corporate backing. Movistar Plus, the pay-TV/SVOD arm of giant Spanish telco Telefonica world premiered on Saturday to applause Daniel Guzmán’s humble hood caper “Canallas,” its second original movie after Alejandro Amenábar’s “While at War.” It’s also backing “Rapa,” from “Hierro” creators Portocabo and the Coira brothers, a series positioned half way between cosy rural whodunnit and social issue Nordic Noir. ViacomCBS International Studios is behind therapy-themed “Mejores Días.” Bambu Producciones, itself backed by Studiocanal, part of Vivendi’s Canal Plus Group, produces Berlinale  competition player “One Year, One Night,” which director Isaki Lacuesta will discuss at Malaga.

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Rapa Das Bestas Credit: Jaime Olmedo

Spain’s Industry Build

The Spain AVS Hub plan is a work in progress. Spain’s securing inward investment is already in motion. Attraction cuts multiple  ways. On March 17, Universal International Studios and Buendía Estudios unveiled a deal to co-produce Spanish-language series. One day earlier, Germany’s Beta Film confirmed it was handling international on “Rapa” and Canneseries competition entry “El Inmortal.” Malaga unfolds as Spain’s drama series scene is booming. Big foreign players want in.    

A New Regional Scene: “Alcarrás,” “Lullaby”

That said, atomised and artesanal, the lion’s share of Spanish cinema at the Malaga Festival and its 63 Spanish Screenings still remains a question of singular auteurist talent. “I’ve always said that the Malaga Festival’s singularity is its general reach, its diversity,” says Vigar. To date, two movies have dazzled at Málaga: Berlin Golden Bear winner “Alcarrás,” from Carla Simón, and “Lullaby” (“Cinco Lobitos”), from Alauda Ruiz de Azua. Both serve as vindication for one of Spanish cinema’s most exciting “push” phenomena: the emergence of a new generation of (often women) filmmakers in Catalonia and beyond making movies often intimately grounded in their immediate reality, breathing authenticity and made by producers in Spain’s regions but also Madrid.

Buzz Titles

While Spain’s AV industry positively rocks from big industry moves, the major narrative of this year’s Spanish Screenings and Malaga Festival looks set to remain the story of individual talent, consecrated, just crowned and still emerging. Two of Spain’s biggest, and most singular voices – Enrique Urbizu (“Giants,” “Bandoleros”) and Jaime Rosales (“Petra,” “Beautiful Youth” ) – give masterclasses. “Canallas,” from Guzmán, has been hailed as an early competition favorite. Sparking large anticipation are crime drama “Unfinished Business,” from another past Málaga top prize winner, Juan Miguel del Castillo (“Food and Shelter”), and the Annapurna-set “Beyond the Summit,” from another Spanish cinema maverick, Ibon Cormenzana, which delivers a heartfelt tribute to the mind-boggling courage and ethical principle of big mountain climbers.

Women Make the Running

There’s good word on Imanol Uribe’s reportedly chilling massacre witness thriller “What Lucia Saw” and Chilean Matias Bize’s powerful “Mensajes Privados.” This could be the first year that Bolivia scores big at Málaga, with “Utama,” Alejandro Loayza Grisi’s  Sundance Festival winner – a “sublime, quietly elegiac feature debut,” Variety wrote – counting among competition contenders. But it’s still women – directing 37% of Malaga Fest titles, says Vigar – who are still sparking much of the biggest Malaga and Screenings buzz. In doc features, both Laura Sisteró’s Russia-set “Tolyatti Adrift,” and “Canción a una dama en la sombra” from Carolina Astudillo, are highly anticipated. Also awaited, and playing the festival and screenings, is “La Voluntaria,” Nely Reguera’s second feature after the sharply observed “Maria (And Everybody Else).” The film stars Carmen Machi, “superb” in Sundance hit “Piggy,” according to a Variety review. With multiple titles at Málaga, this could be her year.

The Málaga Festival runs March 18-26, its Spanish Screenings March 21-24.

Ed Meza and Emilio Mayorga contributed to this article.