Making history

Spanish filmmakers mine the past for future blockbusters.

MADRID -- History is being remade in Spain. With a number of lavish, big-budget historical epics currently in theaters and in production, the Spanish film sector is mining the past in an attempt to strike gold at the future boxoffice. A slew of upcoming historical dramas is led by Agustin Diaz Yanes' $28 million "Alatriste," starring Viggo Mortensen as the 17th century adventurer. Other prominent historical figures to receive the big-screen treatment include Saint Teresa of Avila, Spanish master Francisco Goya and Spanish literary luminary Miguel de Cervantes.

"Historical films are a faithful reflection of personalities and events that have created the world we live in today," explains "Alatriste" producer Alvaro Agustin, who also heads Telecinco's Spanish and European cinema division. "The truth is, we're a country laden with a lot of history, and all of it is very cinematographic."

Most of these ambitious historical dramas feature A-lists casts, a strategy the Spanish film sector is using to attract international financing.

"There are a lot of great stories from Spanish history," Kanzaman vp production Denis Pedregosa says. "We like to focus on international movies with amazing actors. Spanish audiences aren't unique, in that they prefer to see big stars rather than unknowns."

Kanzaman's English-language "Goya's Ghosts," starring Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman, uses the Spanish Inquisition, French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars as a backdrop for the painter's most productive years, while Antena 3 has just released "Los Borgia," a sweeping look at the influential Borgia family, which produced two popes in a 50-year span.

Andres Vicente Gomez's Lola Films is currently in postproduction on Menno Meyjes' "Manolete," about the ill-fated bullfighter, starring Penelope Cruz and Adrien Brody. Lola also is in postproduction on the $10 million biopic "Teresa, Muerte y Vida," which centers on the 16th century mystic, with Paz Vega in the title role.

Warner Bros. Pictures has joined in on the production of Zebra's "Miguel and William," directed by Ines Paris, which imagines an improbable -- but not impossible -- meeting between the two literary masters, Cervantes and William Shakespeare. Antonio Cuadri's $15 million English-language "The Heart of the Earth" depicts a massacre at a Spanish mine owned by an English company in the 1800s.

Elsewhere, the Spanish film sector is ramping up efforts to appeal to the international market through English-language projects that feature recognizable stars.

Spain's Monfort Prods., Videntia Frames Prods. and a Contraluz Films are producing the 1950s-set thriller "Savage Grace," starring Julianne Moore, about a wealthy American family whose life falls apart while on vacation in Spain.

Other star-driven films include Valencia-based Valentia Films' $12 million "Moscow Zero," starring Alicia Silverstone, Vincent Gallo and Val Kilmer, now in postproduction.

Some of Spain's hottest international directors are themselves the stars of a number of upcoming features, such as Julio Medem's "Chaotic Ana," Alex de la Iglesia's "The Oxford Murders," Iciar Bollain's "Mataharis," Bigas Luna's "I Am Juani" and Fernando Trueba's first animated feature "Chico and Rita."