The London Spanish Film Festival: Preview

In the next two months, Mostly Film will be covering a number of major film festivals in depth, including the BFI London Film Festival, the Raindance independent film festival and the London Korean Film Festival.

Susan Patterson kicks off this series with a look at the London Spanish Film Festival, which starts today.

Andrucha Waddington's 'Lope'

Spanish is the first language of some 400 million people on earth, but in 2009 only 12 Spanish-language films were released in the UK.

The 7th London Spanish Festival is previewing a handful of films that will get a general UK release (such as tonight’s gala film at the Ciné Lumière, Andrucha Waddington’s Lope), but more striking is that almost every film in the core programme is a UK premiere. And in many cases it will be your only chance to see these films on a big screen.This is therefore the ideal opportunity to watch much-talked-about but little-seen films such as Pa Negre (Black Bread) and Tambien la Lluvia (Even the Rain). Directed by Icíar Bollain, Tambien la Lluvia is an account of the Spanish settlement of Bolivia and was first shown in the UK at the 2010 London Film Festival, almost a year ago. It won three Goyas this year and was one of Spain’s formal submissions for the Oscars, but has never been distributed in the UK. The same is so far true of Pa Negre, which is one of Spain’s tips for next year’s Oscars.

Carlos Saura and Geraldine Chaplin

The London Spanish Film Festival was started by Jona Granero in 2005, when it showed 11 films, but the number has grown annually and the festival’s activities have expanded to include special weekends of Spanish film outside the festival proper. One of the festival’s calling cards has always been appearances by actors and directors. Invited this year are Paco Cabezas, Oscar Aibar, Oliver Laxe, Francisco Boira and Ventura Pons, among others.

This year also sees the return of Eduardo Noriega who will be doing a Q&A after Blackthorn, the western that closes the festival. Blackthorn is a reimagining of the latter days of Butch Cassidy (Sam Shepherd), who is living in Bolivia under the assumed name James Blackthorn. It tells the story of Blackthorn’s flight back to America, accompanied by a Spanish mining engineer (Noriega).

The festival has had a Catalan Window since 2007. This year includes five Catalan films, headed by the already mentioned Pa Negre. Winner of nine Goyas this year, and the first Catalan film to win Best Picture at the awards, Pa Negre is showing this Sunday and will be followed by a Q&A with lead actress Nora Navas. Adapted from Emili Teixidor’s novel of the same name, Pa Negre tells the story of Andreu, an 11-year-old boy who witnesses the deaths of a boy and his father during the Spanish Civil War. This event leads to the disintegration of Andreu’s world, and a flight to the countryside to live with his grandmother and aunt.

The festival also includes a special retrospective of the work of Geraldine Chaplin.  It includes a Q&A with her after the screening of Ana y Los Lobos (Ana and the Wolves), the 1973 film directed by her then partner, Carlos Saura, who was at the festival last year presenting his film Io, Don Giovanni. Best known in the English-speaking world as a daughter of Charles Chaplin and for portraying Tonya in David Lean’s Dr Zhivago (screening 2 October), Geraldine Chaplin has had an unparalleled career in Spanish-language cinema for more four decades. In addition to two Saura films, the festival will be showing Chaplin in Alan Rudolph’s Remember My Name (1978) and Juan Antonio Bayona’s more recent El Orfanto (The Orphanage).

The range of films on offer is impressive for a small festival. It gives good representation to films in Basque and Catalan, as well as looking at the history and scope of Spanish cinema. If the festival is successful, it may boost the chances of seeing more Spanish and Spanish-language films on general release in the UK. So why not see them here, first?

The London Spanish Film Festival runs from 23 September to 6 October 2011 at Ciné Lumière, 17 Queensbury Place, London SW7 2DT.

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