Pain in Spain: Euro rivals taking best films


CANNES -- The boom in Spanish-language film worldwide has become a mixed blessing for Spanish sales companies.

While the films are generating boxoffice revenue and international awards, the companies no longer have the field to themselves as European rivals swoop down to cherry-pick the hottest properties -- a problem other European industries don't suffer.

Insiders offer a spectrum of reasons, ranging from a Spanish inferiority complex to a tougher market, but the fact remains that all six of the Spanish films in the Cannes official lineup are being handled by sales companies outside the Iberian Peninsula.

That reality doesn't sit well at home. Where once Americans and French were the main targets of Spanish companies' complaints, at the market this year, Spanish companies are complaining about fellow Spaniards.

"It doesn't help the image of all the sales agents operating out of Spain when all the films selected are non-Spanish sales agents," KWA president and Madrid-based veteran sales agent Kevin Williams said. "It's an indictment on Spanish producers and an indictment on Spanish sales agents if the producers aren't giving them their films."

Many chalk it up to old prejudices from within the industry.

"In Spain, there's always been the sensation that if you put your film with a non-Spanish sales company, it automatically makes it bigger and more international," 6 Sales executive Marina Fuentes said.

But the fact is that Spain has seen an explosion of internationally minded, Spain-based sales operations. Sogepaq handled Alejandro Amenabar's Oscar-winning film "The Sea Inside," along with films from dozens of festival friendly directors like Julio Medem, Alex de la Iglesia, Iciar Bollain and Antonio Banderas.

Filmax has put itself on the international radar with a strong lineup of English-language, internationally cast genre films that perform well at markets.

6 Sales is handling Giancarlo Esposito's "Gospel Hill," starring Danny Glover and Angela Bassett, as well as Eric Nicholas' "Alone With Her," and prides itself on its eclectic slate.

Even newcomer Imagina offers Woody Allen's upcoming untitled Spanish project in its slate.

"Often an American producer will look to us because they know we'll take better care of their films than a bigger American company would," Fuentes said.

Another reason offered is the dynamic of the Festival de Cannes itself, which favors French product, encouraging non-French producers to turn over product in the hopes of securing a spot in the coveted lineup.

But the producers explain that often it has nothing to do with rejecting the Spanish companies. Many foreign sales companies have joined the project from the start and have a co-production credit.

"We entered into the project from the beginning and we are co-producers of the film," said Valentina Merli of Pyramide International, selling the Spanish-Argentine co-production "XXY," screening in Critics Week. "The Spanish producers didn't have sales structure in place and we did. So it was natural that we represent the film."

Wanda Films, which co-produced Jaime Rosales' "Solitary Fragments" -- the only Spanish film in Un Certain Regard -- does have a sales structure in Madrid but opted for Germany's the Match Factory to handle the film internationally.

"We're a part of the EU, not just Spain, and I seek the most appropriate and most efficient person or company to handle my film," Wanda chief Jose Maria Morales said. "I like the way they work and I appreciate the international projection they give my film."

Many Spanish producers say it's not so easy to find international representation. Agents are increasingly picky about the films they sell.

"It used to be that if I had a film that was in a major festival, all the sales agents would come to you. That isn't necessarily the case anymore," said Barcelona-based international film consultant Michele Ruben, who is handling the festival strategy for FIPRESCI prizewinner Rafael Cortes' "Yo," screening in Critics Week. "You have to look for a sales agent."

Complaints abound that the big problem is that it is a cluttered market and increasingly difficult to get the buyers to sit down and watch a promo. And that some Spanish agents are too focused on Spanish-language as a brand.

"Spanish sales agents in general do need to work to create as diverse a slate, not only in terms of language but also in terms of genre and commercial potential," Ruben said. "I think they need to have a colorful selection to attract as varied an array of buyers."

But that goes for French and German sales agents as well as Spaniards. So you can't blame European companies for looking to cash in on a hot tend.

"We're a French distributor but we take advantage of the market to sell films all over the world. The fact that it's a Spanish film doesn't change anything," said Silvere Moreau of Bac Films, handling Directors' Fortnight entry "La Influencia."

"Spanish cinema is a brand. It's really exciting at the moment," said Thorsten Schaumann, co-head of Bavaria Film International, which has Un Certain Regard title "El Bano Del Papa" and Ines Paris' period epic "Miguel aam" in its Cannes market lineup. "And of course, Spanish is an international language. With a Spanish-language film, you immediately have the markets in Latin and South America and among specialty distributors in the U.S. It makes it easier to recoup your minimum deposit."

Indeed, that fact may just be the saving grace for Spanish companies. Some Spanish companies now are casting their eye on other Spanish-language production industries.

"We're beefing up on our Mexican slate," Williams said. "Now in Mexico there's lots of local production and they don't have any sales agents. We're being approached by Mexican producers."

Scott Roxborough and Rebecca Leffler contributed to this report.