Madrid de Cine fest helps sell Spanish city

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Given an increasingly crowded schedule of festivals, markets and other film industry events, finding the right time frame to launch and nurture a new business venture is virtually impossible. And while it might seem an odd decision to schedule the second annual Madrid de Cine -- a series of Spanish film screenings and related media events due to begin Sunday and conclude June 12 -- so close to the end of the Festival de Cannes, organizers firmly believe that international buyers and sellers still have plenty of energy left for transacting deals after their time on the French Riviera.

"We're very excited about the Madrid Screenings and think it's a great opportunity for the Spanish industry," says Laura Minarro, sales manager for Imagina International Sales.

"It's always good to meet buyers in a relaxed atmosphere, and Madrid Screenings are a good occasion to meet buyers," adds Simon de Santiago, head of the international division of Sogecable's sales operation, Sogepaq. "Obviously, there's not a lot of novelties compared to Cannes, but it is a great opportunity for buyers to really focus on Spanish films."

The brainchild of the Spanish Federation of Audiovisual Producers, or FAPAE, the Madrid de Cine was launched last year to replace the Lanzarote Winter Spanish Film Screenings, which collapsed after six years under the weight of a host of problems.

Located on an island off the coast of Africa, the Lanzarote screenings proved onerous for distributors who wished to attend, and its November-December berth conflicted with the American Film Market, as well as holiday and awards-season activities. The proximity of February's Berlin International Film Festival, which has grown in popularity as an indie film market, didn't help matters either.

By contrast, the inaugural Madrid de Cine -- which draws support from a number of national and regional government bodies including Spain's foreign-trade institute ICEZ, its film institute ICAA and the Audiovisual Producers' Rights Management Assn., EGEDA -- attracted buyers from international companies around the world, many of which sent their London-based staff to check out new product on offer.

"The Madrid Screenings were born of a practical need," FAPAE communication director Mercedes Martinez Albesa says. "Production companies and sales companies saw the necessity of creating a venue that was easy to access. Madrid is the appropriate place for international buyers to fly into for two or three days without having to go anywhere else."

This year, event organizers say they expect some 120 buyers to attend the three-day event -- up from about 100 last year -- with representatives from companies such as New Line, Focus Features, HBO Films and Miramax already confirmed.

Insiders say they are optimistic that the screenings, which take place in a number of theaters across Madrid, will help promote the city itself and the indigenous industry. Madrid functions as the hub of Spain's film sector, hosting the majority of film shoots and housing roughly 70% of the country's movie and TV companies.

Although the official program had not been unveiled at press time, insiders expect new and rare titles such as Antonio Banderas' feature directorial debut "Summer Rain" or Jaume Balaguero's "The 13th Lady" to appear in the lineup, with organizers finalizing plans for a closing-night tribute to Spanish actress Carmen Maura.

Roundtable panels and seminars will fill out the agenda. Topics will include an examination of how Spain's newly revamped film finance laws stand to impact homegrown cinema (set to be addressed during a Monday roundtable) and a discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of international co-productions (set for June 12). At press time, FAPAE reps could not confirm who would be participating in either discussion.

The lure of co-productions -- like Guillermo del Toro's 2006 R-rated fable "Pan's Labyrinth," a joint venture between Spain and Mexico that was shot on the Iberian Peninsula even while it was helmed by a Mexican -- is a factor that will likely prove a magnet for attendees.

"I'm looking to increase my co-production activity with Madrid," says Mexico-based producer Laurence Davin of the Davin-Romero production group. "I feel there's room to grow, and I'm going to the screenings because it gives me the chance to make contact with the Madrid-based industry."

In particular, screenings organizers have expended a great deal of effort targeting Asian buyers, attending Hong Kong's Filmart in March and scheduling meetings with them at Cannes. "We've used Cannes to make an effort to attract Asian buyers to come to the screenings," FAPAE international relations director Maria Jose Vadillo says.

But the Madrid Screenings are not just designed to attract foreign producers and buyers -- they also are a means of putting the focus on the Spanish film industry itself, and organizers are doing everything they can to woo the mainstream consumer press. "We'll be setting up (interviews with) the likes of (France's leading newspaper) Le Monde with Spanish directors, actors and producers to promote our cinema abroad," Vadillo says.

It is worth noting, though, that none of the individual film screenings will be open to the press.

Still, the Madrid de Cine is only one piece of what is emerging as a wholehearted endeavor by the city to brand itself as a European destination for international cinema. In addition to the screenings, the city has launched a new international film festival, the Cim Madrid International Film Festival, which kicked off in late March, and it also is developing a major new studio, though no construction date has been set for the privately financed operation, which is set to be called Ciudad de Cine.

Additionally, Madrid has added film and television to the list of priorities for the company Promadrid, which the regional government created to promote Madrid's businesses. It also has created a new municipal office for the promotion and distribution of Spanish cinema.

"Our objective is to situate Madrid on the international film stage," Salvador Victoria, secretary general of the Madrid regional government's cabinet, said earlier this year.

But not everyone is convinced that the Madrid de Cine will make any fundamental difference to Spain's cinematic picture. Insiders at several major studios and distribution companies in the U.S., as well as key independent and international agents, still seemed to be unaware of the event when contacted for this article, and even Spanish film veterans at times appear lukewarm.

"There's too many Spanish events," says Madrid-based veteran sales agent Kevin Williams, founder of sales outfit Kevin Williams Associates. "You've got five events in seven months, if you include (Sitges International Film Festival of Catalonia) and (the San Sebastian International Film Festival).

"I understand each one is a local event, and there's local money involved, and that's why each one wants to host," he continues. "But it's not fair on the sales agents. They expect the sales agents to be at all those events, and it doesn't make sense for the buyers. Why should they come to Spain three times a year? One big event (would be) bigger than five smaller events."

Nevertheless, insiders seem positive that the Madrid de Cine ultimately will have a positive impact on the city, if not the industry itself.

"All of the festivals and screenings look to support the city they are in, and Madrid Screenings are no different," the Madrid Film Commission's Manuel Soria says. "It is very positive for Madrid."
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