Spanish producers making waves

A handful of titles in Cannes’ boasts Spanish coin

CANNES -- Recent editions of the Festival de Cannes have trumpeted the creativity of Spanish-language films and filmmakers. Pedro Almodovar's "Volver," Alejandro Inarritu's "Babel," Juan Antonio Bayona's "The Orphanage" and Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" documented the burgeoning talent on tap in Spain and Latin America. But this year's selection speaks to a new trend -- Spanish producers making waves.

A handful of titles in Cannes' official selection boasts Spanish coin wed to an international A-list director. Barcelona-based Mediapro's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," directed by Woody Allen, and Telecinco Cinema and Morena Films' two-part, four-hour "Che," directed by Steven Soderbergh, are indicative of Spanish producers' talent for nurturing potential hits.

While production house El Deseo's support of Argentine director Lucrecia Martel's "The Headless Woman" falls within the traditional parameters of Spain producing Latin American talent, this year's lineup also includes Telecinco's co-production of Emir Kusturica's doc on Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona.

"This year, it coincided that we're there with Soderbergh and Kusturica and there's also Woody Allen," Telecinco Cinema CEO Alvaro Augustin said. "I think we're all looking for the same thing. We're thrilled to work with Spanish directors, but I'm also proud of the ability to be up to the standards of international directors."

Truth be told, Spanish producers have been courting A-list talent for years.

Andres Vicente Gomez paved the way in the '90s with John Malkovich's directorial debut "The Dancer Upstairs" and the upcoming "Manolete," starring Adrien Brody and Penelope Cruz -- a project long in the works, but finally finished and set for presentation to the media before summer.

"I think it's great for Spanish producers to work with foreign talent," Gomez said. "The same as I think it's fantastic for Spanish talent to work abroad."

But the new wave speaks to a different phenomenon.

The success of Spanish-language films and such directors as Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro Amenabar, Alex de la Iglesia, Alejandro Inarritu, Alfonso Cuaron and Almodovar has opened the international industry's eyes to stories from Spanish-speaking territories. And world-class directors with the gumption to go tell those stories have done so.

"Spanish language was not a stigma any more and suddenly there was an interest in stories from Spain and Latin America," Juan Gordon of Morena Films said. "Soderbergh is interested in world stories and doesn't shy away from shooting in Spanish, the language the stories happened in."

A combination of Spanish legislation that requires broadcasters to invest 5% of their annual revenue in film, fierce television competition and a handful of ballsy and sophisticated indie producers looking to break limitations innate to the domestic boxoffice have primed Spain as a go-to country for production.

And there's a track record that has piqued international sales agents' interest and translated to distribution deals in Spain.

"For talent to come to us and be able to work with these directors is an honor. It is absolutely our strategy to work with the top directors," Augustin said.

So a Soderbergh, Allen, Del Toro or other top-drawer director can look to Spain to finance their projects. "I knew a Spanish company and they wanted me to make a film there, so I made it there," Allen said.

For Allen -- as for other A-list directors ----the project is very much theirs, not Spain's.

"I have to raise money with the proviso that everything is under my control and that not everybody needs the script," Allen said. "And there are people who are willing to put up the money under those circumstances and people who are not."

So far, the directors have sought only financing in Spain. But Spanish producers are now looking to build on the momentum.

"The next step would be big international projects being offered to international directors by the Spanish producers," Gordon said. "And we've already started doing that. It's just that the films aren't out there yet."

Gregg Goldstein contributed to this story.