How Spain's Catalonia Region has Remade Itself Into Thriving Film Hub

A glance at the roster of Spanish films making international waves makes it clear that Spain's northeastern region of Catalonia has established itself as a film production hub.

Guillem Morales' much-anticipated "Julia's Eyes," Andrucha Waddington's biopic "Lope," Rodrigo Cortes' mystery "Buried," Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Oscar hopeful "Biutiful," Woody Allen's second Spanish production "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" and Emilio Estevez's father-son drama "The Way" all hail from Catalonia.

Three factors have catapulted Catalonia to stardom: generous regional incentives, a cluster of internationally focused production houses and the Barcelona-based Escac film school, which turns out fresh talent on a regular basis.

Spain's regions invested about $62 million in film and television subsidies in 2009, with the lion's share -- $24 million -- coming from the northeastern region of Catalonia.

"There's a powerful mix where producers and politics and experts work hand in hand with one goal: to get international recognition and find all channels of distribution possible, domestic and international, for all genres, all formats," says Angela Bosch, director general of Catalonia's film promotion platform Catalan Films.

The Catalan Institute of Cultural Industries and Catalan regional broadcaster TV3 enthusiastically backs films -- 74 of them in 2009 -- based on a point system that prioritizes projects promoting the local Catalan language or culture and based on creative elements.

"A film could have $1.1 million from the ICIC in subsidies and $700,000 from TV3, plus a bonus depending on the box office returns," says ICIC director Antoni Llado Goma-Camps. "So a film can raise some $2.7 million in Catalonia without factoring in other sources. And it doesn't inhibit its access to funds from the Spanish Film Institute or Television Espanola."

The subsidy system favors box office performers, allowing twice as much payback for film promotion and exhibition for Catalan-language projects than for films in other languages, with a cap of $276,000 for feature films.

While fiercely protective of local language and identity, Catalonian officials are nevertheless looking beyond the domestic market to create films targeted at international audiences.

"You have to think outside the confines of the local market," says Cromosoma's Toni Marin, producer of the Catalan-language documentary "Bicycle, Spoon, Apple," about former Barcelona Mayor Pascal Maragall's fight with Alzheimer's. "That pushes you to think of universal subjects and what you are going to say, not just in what language it is said."

As home to the Sitges Fantasy Festival, as well as horror specialists Filmax Entertainment and Rodar y Rodar, Barcelona has also found a niche as the genre capital of Spain.

"The Orphanage" producer Rodar y Rodar has thrown its weight behind another new director with a commercially viable film, "Julia's Eyes," which snagged backing from Guillermo del Toro and Universal, in addition to broadcasters TV3, Antena 3, the ICIC and Catalan film investment fund MesFilms.

Elsewhere, Filmax has scare master Jaume Balaguero's $7 million "Sleep Tight" in postproduction, with two more installments of the ever-popular horror franchise "[Rec]" in the works. Paco Plaza will start shooting "[Rec] Genesis" in 2011, while Balaguero will direct "[Rec] Apocalypse" at the end of next year.