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As the Spanish film industry comes together at Valladolid International Film Week (known locally as the Seminici), one of the big talking points will be how to make independent films stand out at the local box office. 

Although Spain’s box office in the year to mid-October has grossed €400m, 35% higher than the same period in 2022,  it is still 17% lower than the 2015-2019 pre-Covid average.

US studio blockbusters led the charge, headed by Barbie ($35.2m), Super Mario Bros. Movie ($29m), Avatar: The Way Of Water, ($26.9m) Oppenheimer ($22m) and Fast X ($13.6m).

However the industry is buoyed by the strong release of a series of local and Spanish titles. “There are some remarkable performances in independent cinema,” said David Rodríguez, general manager for Spain & Portugal at Comscore Movies.

They include Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s 2022 Cannes Premiere title The Beasts which has grossed $3.6m so far, Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar winner The Whale ($2.1m), Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Oscar winner Everything Everywhere All At Once ($1.6m) and Charlotte Wells’s Bafta winner Aftersun ($528K). All of these films opened at the end of last year, but took most of their revenues this year.

Spanish auteur success

Auteur Spanish cinema is also attracting audiences, according to Los Angeles-based Spanish producer and box office analyst Pau Brunet. “Especially cinema directed by women and with a fruitful presence at international festivals,” he adds.

Brunet cites Jaione Camborda’s San Sebastian winner The Rye Horn, which has just opened in cinemas, Berlinale Silver Bear winner 20,000 Species of Bees ($947K) and Elena Martín’s Europa Cinemas’ award winner in Cannes Directors’ Fortnight Creatura ($192K).

The Spanish auteur resurgence comes amid a general lack of commercial Spanish films beyond Santiago Segura’s Vacaciones de Verano (literally Summer Holiday) which has grossed $7.9m and Championext, Javier Fesser’ sequel to Spain’s biggest local box office hit of the last seven years Champions, which has taken $11.7m.

One of the reasons for the lack of commercial Spanish films in cinemas is the growing participation of the streamers in financing Spanish productions. As a result, many potential hits go directly to platforms or have limited releases in theatres.

Other indie films to have performed well in Spain this year include Danny and Michael Philippou’s horror-thriller Talk To Me with a $2.6m take through distributor Diamond Films; Ruben Östlund’s Triangle Of Sadness ($1.2m, Avalon Distribución); Samuel Bodin’s horror Cobweb ($653K, Vertice); animation Mavka: The Forest Song ($854K, SelectaVisión) and Santos Blanco’s documentary Free, which scored the year’s highest average per screen take at $13,940 for an indie film, grossing $600K and distributed by Bosco Films.

Elsewhere, Oliver Hermanus’s drama Living grossed $60,00 and Woody Allen’s romantic dramedy Coup The Chance, took $840,000. Both are distributed in Spain by Wanda Visión.

Strong Spanish indie titles include the action dramas Paul Urkijo’s Irati (€957,000, Filmax) and Daniel Calparsoro’s All The Names Of God, (€958,000, Tripictures); 20,000 Species Of Bees (Bteam Pictures); and two drama features Alejandro Marín’s Te Estoy Amando Locamente (literally I’m Loving You Madly, ($565,000, Filmax) and Itsaso Arana’s The Girls Are Alright ($345,000, Elástica).

Market saturation

Many other titles, however, have struggled to make a mark at cinemas, says Rodríguez. “Every week we release an average of 15 new titles and this obviously does not help. There are successes, but others suffer an obvious lack of visibility. The reasons? The saturation of the market and the lack of investment in marketing and advertising.”

The number of films launching in cinemas in Spain is around the same as it was before the pandemic. According to Spain’s Ministry of Culture, 643 films premiered in 2022 compared with 655 in 2019.

Production of Spanish films is higher, however, than it was before the pandemic. 322 Spanish feature films were produced in 2022. Of these, 250 films were wholly Spanish, while a Spanish production company participated in another 72 international features.

By comparison, 265 Spanish productions were made in 2019, while Spanish production companies were involved in another 52 international features.

However, in terms of overall takings, the total Spanish box office in 2022 was $386m, far below the 2019 pre-pandemic figure of $645.4m.

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