Int'l film stage getting new player

Lots of money, effort behind push to put Madrid on map

Last summer when Madrid opened some of its most exclusive venues for the benefit of the first edition of the Spanish Film Screenings held in the city, it was clear the venture was intended to boost its status as a cinema capital.

But in the past few months, Madrid has also announced the construction of a production studio, facilitated a trip by local producers to Los Angeles to foment commercial ties, and is set to unveil a new international film festival. Each is a part of the Spanish capital's concerted bid to elbow its way to the top table of European film capitals, hitherto dominated in different ways by rivals Paris, London, Rome and Berlin.

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

The goal is shared by both the regional and municipal governments that have joined forces — a rare occurrence given personal differences between the mayor and the regional president — to bolster the city's visibility.

"One of our main objectives is to give the city the international recognition it deserves," says Alicia Moreno, culture secretary for the municipal government, who has seen her budget grow year after year thanks to Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon's publicly displayed passion for the arts.

The Spanish industry is very centralized. More than 70% of Spain's film and television industry is located in the capital, and more films are shot in Madrid than anywhere else in Spain. Internationally, however, Madrid seems to take a back seat to the glamour of the Basque resort of San Sebastian, host to the country's premiere film event, which is going into its 55th year. Even Antonio Banderas' hometown of Malaga gets more international attention from the film industry thanks to its Spanish Film Festival and accompanying market.

But 2006 marked a turning point for Madrid for several reasons, including the switching into high gear of the newly established municipal Office for the Promotion and Distribution of Spanish Cinema.

The office not only supported an international documentary film festival and a handful of other local initiatives, but also stood full-force behind the Spanish Film Screenings, the city's most obvious run for the international spotlight.

"Madrid is going to form part of the international calendar as a must for buyers," Pedro Perez, president of the producers federation FAPAE, said at the presentation of the screenings, which replaced the now-defunct Lanzarote Spanish Film Screenings last June.

Madrid has also started an active plan to snag high-profile shoots. "Madrid wants to re-establish itself as a Spanish-style Hollywood, taking advantage of the diversity in locations, experience of its technicians and auxiliary companies and services," Manuel Soria, head of the Madrid Film Commission, said.

To that end, the city has made shooting licenses free of charge and has streamlined paperwork.

Indications that the film commission's strategy is paying off include Milos Forman shooting "Goya's Ghosts" and Paul Greengrass filming scenes from the Matt Damon-starrer "The Bourne Ultimatum" in the capital.

In addition, the city has announced it will create a new film and TV production facility, though no construction date has been set. The studio — to be called Ciudad de Cine — will be a private initiative, with regional authorities assisting via rezoning and other measures to facilitate the construction. The studio will include extensive interior and exterior sets, postproduction facilities and laboratories.

Madrid has also joined the Capital Regions for Cinema, along with Paris, Rome and Berlin's respective film commissions, bearing the first fruit in the form of co-production accords.

On the prestige front, the capital is readying the CIM Madrid International Film Festival, focused on high-end fare. The first edition is tentatively scheduled for the end of March and will use some of the city's most emblematic and historic buildings for its functions.

But perhaps one of the best indicators of the authorities' backing for the entertainment industry is Promomadrid, a company created by the regional government and designed to promote Madrid's businesses. In 2006, the film and TV sector was added to its list of priorities and Carlos Alberto Martins was appointed head of the cultural industries department to oversee the sector.

"There is a general interest in fomenting the internationalization of Madrid's film and TV companies," Martins explained. "In audiovisual companies, this means co-productions and exports, which have been slowly — but steadily — rising for the past 10 years."

In 2006, Promomadrid aided Madrid's film and TV companies to attend international markets like AFM and MIP, with the European Film Market in Berlin joining the list for 2007.

Why the sudden interest in promoting Madrid as opposed to just simply Spain? Some of Spain's more independent-minded regions — like Catalonia, Galicia or the Basque region — have long trumpeted their local film industries. Now with regional film laws and entities functioning as platforms for local companies to make the international jump, some say Madrid's companies need the same assistance.

"Until now, (Madrid's film and television sector) has always just been considered part of the Spanish film industry," Martins says. "We're not looking to prove anything, but at the same time we want to give more visibility to the action, work and international awards that belong to Madrid-based companies."