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Strengthening its credentials in this year’s international feature film Oscar race where it represents France, Alice Diop’s “Saint Omer” edged Belgian’s Oscar entry “Close” for top honors, the Giraldillo de Oro, at a busy Seville European Film Festival.

A celebration of European arthouse which could not be more timely – the fall-off in arthouse attendance proved the festival’s main talking point – Seville’s top prizes served to underscore the vast variety of tones and issues in current European cinema.

“Saint Omer,” Variety noted in a Venice review, is “a quietly momentous French courtroom drama that subtly but radically rewrites the rules of the game.”

Lukas Dhont’s sophomore feature “Close” shared Seville’s Jury Prize with João Pedro Rodrigues’ “Will-o’-the-Wisp’.” The two films could not be more different tonally, “Close” weighing in as  “a profoundly felt portrait of two inseparable friends” whereas “Will-o’-the-Wisp is, for Variety, an extravaganza of a musical romance that “mixes anti-royalist politics, climate change doomsaying and horny fireman fetishism”.

Close Courtesy of Diaphana Films

Awards follow the buzz for Charlotte Well’s “Aftersun” topping the New Wave strand. A “sensuous, sharply moving debut”, picked up in Cannes by A24 and nominated last week for 16 BIFA awards, it seems destined for significant box office and award success. 

The major plaudit in the Andalusian program went to doc “Como ardilla en el agua,” a debut directed by Mayte Gomez Molina and mother Mayte Molina Romero.

The awards capped the 2022 Seville European Film Festival. A 9-day event which saw 222 films screened, the majority, 60%, realising their Spanish or world premiere in Seville, an impressive count.

With a ranging program, and distribution forum Merci running alongside the festival, there was much to consider. Five takeaways:

Championing Regional Talent a Triumph

Any region without a thriving film sector is a loss to diversity of culture. Well attended, the Andalusian program showed there is most certainly a demand to take in the different voices from any community or place. 

Prize winner “Como ardilla en el agua” balances the experimental and the intimate with aplomb. Director Ana Puentes shows promise in her drum skin tight short “My Life At The Beginning.” And vet helmer Gonzalo Garcia Pelayo and Pedro G. Romero conjure some disjointed magic with “Sietes Jereles.”

Cinema Needs More Column Inches

At Merci, a Visibility of Movies in Media session struck a sombre tone, as many spoke of their frustration at a reduction of coverage of cinema in the press. It’s true of major publications that film reviews have reduced. But the challenge is not just reviews, Avalon CEO Stefan Schmitz, a producer of “Alcarràs,” Spain’s Oscar contender, told Variety: There needs to be two communication drives, one “to convince older audiences it’s not dangerous to go to the cinema” and, second, one to persuade “younger crowds to come and learn that cinema theaters offer something they cannot have at home.” 

“Without a continued focus on watching film in cinema, [chances of it] becoming a regular pastime for the numbers of people it once did feel slim,” said Schmitz.

Cinema Audience bounce Back Still Weak

David Rodriguez, Comscore general manager for Spain and Portugal, presented interim figures for 2022 showing audiences in Spain could end 2022 down 37% compared to the 2015-2019 average. Latest data, for October 2022 vs 2019, made for unfavorable reading, with Spain tracking 40% down, compared to France and the U.K., 28% off, and Germany at 31%.

Entice Them Back

There was inspiration for attending exhibitors with presentations from Belfast’s Queen’s Film Theatre and Brussels’ Cinema Galeries. QFT talked up a scheme whereby memberships can be attached to a specific baby but any caregiver can attend. Cinema Galeries have had success by broadening out to art associated with filmmakers. They’ve collaborated with David Lynch on an exhibition of his paintings, and Jim Jarmusch with a curated smorgasbord of what inspires his films; it covered poetry, photography, music and art. The marketing copy for the Jarmusch season shows enticement in practice: “This exhibition can only be thought of as a back and forth between the film and the exhibition. All of his films will be screened at the Cinema Galeries. In the same building, we will be able to move from one state (the film) to the other (the plan-picture) to better play at surprising ourselves.” 

If You Want Mainstream, You Need Arthouse

Or so Schmitz argued: “The business we’re in is the business of discovering talent -–to work with new directors, to launch careers of filmmakers. And platforms need that phase of development of content. They need us as a breeding ground, and they need us as an establishment of brands. Because if you want mainstream, you need to have artists, if you don’t have arthouse, mainstream dies.” Talent needs nurturing, and independent films have a history of nurturing the next generation of filmmakers for big budget films. 

Scarlet (L’Envol) Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

2022 SEVILLE EUROPEAN FILM FESTIVAL 

OFFICIAL SELECTION

Official Competition 

Golden Giraldillo: “Saint Omer,” (Alice Diop, France)

Grand Jury Prize: “Close,” (Lukas Dhont, Belgium, Netherlands, France) and “Will-o’-the-Wisp,”  (João Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal, France )

Best Director: “Scarlet,” (Pietro Marcello, France, Italy, Germany)

Best Actor: Eden Dambrine, (“Close”)

Best Actress: Julie Ledru (“Rodeo,” Lola Quivoron, France) and Zar Amir Ebrahimi (“Holy Spider,” Denmark, Germany, Sweden, France)

Screenplay: Alice Diop, Amrita David, Marie Ndiaye (“Saint Omer”)

Editing: Géraldine Mangenot, (“Other People’s Children,” Rebecca Zlowtowski, France)

Cinematography: Mauro Herce, (“Matadero,” Santiago Fillol, Argentina, France, Spain)

New Waves

Best Film: Aftersun (Charlotte Wells, UK, USA)

Best Documentary:  Viagem ao Sol (Susana de Sousa Dias, Ansgar Schaefer, Portugal)

Special Mention: A Noiva (Sérgio Tréfaut, Portugal)

Andalusian Panorama

Best Film: Como ardilla en el agua (Mayte Gómez Molina y Mayte Molina Romero, Spain)

Rosario Valpuesta Award, Best Short Film: Mothertruckers (Paula Romero, Spain, UK)

Rosario Valpuesta Award, Technical Artistry: Menudo viaje. El sueño torcido del arte contemporáneo (María Cañas, Spain)

Endless Revolutions

Best Film: Afterwater (Dane Komlijen, Germany, Spain, Serbia, South Korea)

Extraordinary Stories

Audience Award: Blue Jean (Georgia Oakley, UK)

EFA Selection

Grand Audience Award: Tori and Lokita (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium)

OTHER PRIZES 

AC/E Award (Spanish Cultural Action), Best Spanish Film Direction: Carlos Pardo Ros (“H”, Spain)

Best Director, European First/Second Feature Film: Nikola Spasić (Christina, Serbia)

Cinephiles of the Future Award: Rodeo (Lola Quivoron, France)

Junior Europe Award: Las vacaciones de Yoko (Juanjo Elordi, Spain)

Asecan Award, Best Film, Official Selection: Siete Jereles (Pedro G. Romero, Gonzalo García-Pelayo, Spain)

Ocaña Freedom Award: Skin Deep (Alex Schaad, Germany)

AAMMA Women in Focus Award: Blue Jean (Georgia Oakley, UK)

XV European Prize, Film Screenplay, Seville U., Fiction: En recuerdo de Lupi (Silvia Mares García, Spain)

XV European Prize, Film Screenplay, Seville U., Non-Fiction: Erosión (Jesús Minchón Rodicio, Spain)