A new wave of Spanish filmmakers is making its mark

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MADRID, Spain -- Hands-down one of Spain's hottest directors, Alex de la Iglesia has steadily carved out a name for himself during the past decade by turning out colorful, often bloody outings laced with dark humor and biting satire. After reaping commercial and critical success with titles like last year's "The Oxford Murders" and 2006's "Crimen Ferpecto," de la Iglesia's adventurous take on genre conventions frequently leads to comparisons with helmers like Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro.

So what does it mean that a cult director like this was handed the reigns in May to Spain's staid Film Academy? For many, it was a signal that the time had come to shake things up in a filmmaking world that has stuck to the status quo for far too long.

De la Iglesia's election was part of a larger reshuffling following the appointment of then-Film Academy president Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde as culture minister. Gonzalez-Sinde's rise signaled a breath of fresh air for the industry as it saw one of its own take the country's top culture post.

New faces like these make it clear that a major overhaul of the Spanish film industry is under way.

"They bring fresh blood, which is always necessary to keep abreast of the changes in the market," says Beatriz Setuain, head of sales at Imagina International Sales.

In his electoral program, de la Iglesia appealed to his colleagues to change the traditional Spanish production philosophy, which refuses to see film as a product that must increasingly compete with the Internet and gaming.

De la Iglesia says the time has come for producers and filmmakers to work with distributors and exhibitors in an effort to lure Spanish moviegoers back to the

multiplex -- a tall order, given that Spain's boxoffice take in the first half of this year was a mere €28.5 million

($42 million) for domestic product, with slightly less than 5 million tickets sold. That was a humble 10% of total domestic theatrical earnings.

"Does a film exist if no one sees it? I don't think so," de la Iglesia says. "(The distribution and exhibition sectors) are an essential part of the movie business. If we listen to them, we can improve the commercial future of the films and the professionals that live off this."

"What I learned in Communication 101 was (that) to communicate you need not just a message, but also a receiver," adds Gustavo Ferrada, head of pubcaster

Television Espanola's film department. "It might be a small audience, even a marginalized one. But you have to want to find the film's audience."

This seems increasingly likely to happen with the new powers in place.

Even before last spring's reshuffle, however, the winds of change had been blowing through Spain as a new generation of producers, schooled abroad, started to rise through the ranks of TV broadcasters, with a far more market-friendly approach than previous generations.

"There is definitely a generational renewal going on," says producer Ignacio Salazar-Simpson. "Those of us in our 30s and 40s are comfortable talking business on international ventures. In order to make more successful films, we have to stop just co-producing with ourselves and look beyond our borders."

Foremost among those looking beyond Spain's borders are Mod Producciones' Fernando Bovaira and Telecinco Cinema's Alvaro Augustin, producers of the latest hit from Spanish wunderkind Alejandro Amenabar ("Open Your Eyes"), the €50 million ($74 million) English-language epic "Agora," expected to bolster Spain's slumped boxoffice sales for second-half 2009 after having the best opening of any movie in Spain so far this year.

Another obvious new generation product is Ignacio Perez Dolset, producer of Ilion Animation Studios' €60 million ($87 million) "Planet 51," which Sony plans to release in the U.S. in November. With a script by "Shrek's" Joe Stillman and lead voices by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Jessica Biel, "Planet" clearly targets the international audience.

"Take a look at the boxoffice. The common denominator is young people," says Francisco Ramos, producer of Spain's biggest sleeper this year, "Sex, Party and Lies." "Why are we making theatrical films aimed at older audiences? That ignores the whole wave of TV-bred actors and audiences, not to mention the key to financing a film."

The key to finance may come outside Spain. With TV financing for independent projects coming primarily from the pubcaster Television Espanola and exhibition windows becoming increasingly tricky, many new-generation producers are looking overseas for money.

"Between the fact that it's extremely difficult to release a Spanish film in Spain and to sell it abroad, it has become obvious that the only way to succeed is to open up to the rest of the world," Zip Films CEO Jordi Rediu says.

With a new generation of producers in place, legislation to strengthen their product under way and a fresh batch of forward-thinking players in key government positions, the ripples we are seeing now may be just the beginning of a wave of change. Without it, the future looks uncertain if Spain wants to hold onto its younger moviegoers.

"We share today's cultural cues," says Jorge Tuca, Telecinco Cinema's Director of Feature Films Development. "And you need to talk that same language to reach an audience that is downloading films and playing on the Wii."
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