5 Spanish Filmmakers Ready to Crack the Global Market

Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and Rodrigo Cortes are among the new wave of directors following in Alejandro Amenabar's footsteps.

With the Nicole Kidman-starrer The Others, Alejandro Amenabar broke ground for innovative Spanish storytellers who are savvy in genre and comfortable in English. The $17 million ghost story grossed $210 million worldwide and remains Spain’s best box office performer. But as Amenabar has moved onto more challenging filmmaking -- an euthanasia drama with Javier Bardem and historical epic Agora with Rachel Weisz -- he opened the door for a new generation of internationally-minded genre specialists from Spain. And they have charged forward, with no fewer than five of them regarded internationally as the cutting edge of genre.
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo – Nominated for an Oscar for his 1997 short Esposados, he followed up with the 2001 thriller Intact and made the industry sit up and take notice. The 43-year-old director made quite a splash with Fox Atomic’s British-Spanish zombie pic 28 Weeks Later in 2007, then followed it with the psychological thriller Intruders with Clive Owen, due for release by Universal Oct. 7 in Spain. Fresnadillo, who hails from Spain’s Canary Islands, just signed to direct Relativity Media’s remake of 1994 cult classic The Crow, in co-production with Spain’s Apaches Entertainment.
Rodrigo Cortes – His 2007 feature debut The Contestant, which he wrote and directed, put the now 38-year-old on the international radar enough so that Barcelona-based Versus Entertainment decided to produce the English-language Buried, starring Ryan Reynolds. The 90-minute film written by Chris Sparling was shot entirely inside a coffin with no flashbacks or cutaways. Buried stirred a bidding war at Sundance where it premiered, with Lion’s Gate paying slightly less than $4 million for North American rights. The self-taught Cortes immediately started work on Red Lights, starring Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy and last year’s Sundance darling Elizabeth Olsen. Versus produces in association with Cindy Cowan Entertainment.
Jaume Balaguero – The director was part of the first wave of scare-meisters harnessed by Barcelona-based mini-studio Filmax’s Fantastic Factory genre label. The young Catalan started early in English-language fear with the 1999 The Nameless, followed by the one-two punch of Darkness (released by Dimension in 2004) and Fragile (released by MGM in 2006). But it wasn’t until 2007 when Balaguero and co-director Paco Plazas introduced the world to a new kind of zombie with the [Rec] franchise. U.S. remakes of the first two have fallen short of the originals at the box office, but Balaguero is lined up to shoot the final instalment of the ever-popular horror property [Rec] Apocolypse at the end of the year. In the meantime, he is finishing post-production on the $7 million Spanish-language, roommate-from-hell thriller Sleep Tight.
Juan Antonio Bayona – The tip of the iceberg of a generation of directors trained at Barcelona’s ESCAC film school, Bayona was taken under the wing by none other than Guillermo del Toro for his directorial debut, The Orphanage, produced by Spain’s Rodar y Rodar and broadcaster Telecinco Cinema — with del Toro acting as executive producer. The film was Spain’s top grossing film in 2007, topping even Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Berlin’s February market coincided with Del Toro’s six Oscar nominations for Pan’s Labyrinth and distributors were eager to get their hands on anything linked to his name. Wild Bunch handled international sales and pre-sold the film to 10 countries — including Picturehouse for the U.S.— and thus began the international buzz about the Spanish-language horror film from an unknown Spanish director. Telecinco is co-producing Bayona’s much-anticipated The Impossible, with Spain’s Apaches Entertainment and a pre-sale to Summit Entertainment. The film stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor and depicts the 2004 tsunami that swept Thailand.
Nacho Vigalondo – His 7:35 in the Morning earned an Academy Award nomination for live action short in 2003 and his Spanish-language, time-travel, sci-fi thriller Timecrimes was the toast of the town in 2007. Oscar winning scribe Steve Zaillian has taken over writing the U.S. remake for Dreamworks. Four years later, Vigalondo has written, produced and directed Extraterrestrial, about a man who wakes up next to the woman of his dreams just as UFOs start invading Earth.