ⓘ Cinema of Spain


ⓘ Cinema of Spain

The art of motion-picture making within the Kingdom of Spain or by Spanish filmmakers abroad is collectively known as Spanish Cinema.

In recent years, Spanish cinema has achieved high marks of recognition. In the long history of Spanish cinema, the great filmmaker Luis Buñuel was the first to achieve universal recognition, followed by Pedro Almodovar in the 1980s. Spanish cinema has also seen international success over the years with films by directors like Segundo de Chomon, Florian Rey, Luis Garcia Berlanga, Juan Antonio Bardem, Carlos Saura, Julio Medem and Alejandro Amenabar. Woody Allen, upon receiving the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award in 2002 in Oviedo remarked: "when I left New York, the most exciting film in the city at the time was Spanish, Pedro Almodovars one. I hope that Europeans will continue to lead the way in film making because at the moment not much is coming from the United States."

Non-directors, like the cinematographer Nestor Almendros, the art director Gil Parrondo, the screenwriter Rafael Azcona, the actresses Maribel Verdu and, especially, Penelope Cruz and the actors Fernando Rey, Francisco Rabal, Antonio Banderas, Javier Bardem and Fernando Fernan Gomez, have obtained significant recognition outside Spain.

Only a small portion of box office sales in Spain are generated by domestic films. The Spanish government has therefore implemented measures aimed at supporting local film production and movie theaters, which include the assurance of funding from the main national television stations. The trend is being reversed with productions such as the €30 million film Alatriste starring Viggo Mortensen, the Academy Award-winning Spanish film Pans Labyrinth starring Maribel Verdu, Volver starring Penelope Cruz and Carmen Maura, and Los Borgia starring Paz Vega, all of them sold-out blockbusters in Spain.

Another aspect of Spanish cinema mostly unknown to the general public is the appearance of English-language Spanish films such as Agora directed by Alejandro Amenabar and starring Rachel Weisz, Che directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Benicio del Toro, The Machinist starring Christian Bale, The Others starring Nicole Kidman, Milos Forman’s Goyas Ghosts starring Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman, and The Impossible starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts. All of these films were produced by Spanish firms.


1. Origins

The first Spanish film exhibition took place on May 5, 1895, in Barcelona. Exhibitions of Lumiere films were screened in Madrid, Malaga and Barcelona in May and December of 1896, respectively.

The matter of which Spanish film came first is in doubt. The first was either Salida de la misa de doce de la Iglesia del Pilar de Zaragoza Exit of the Twelve OClock Mass from the Church of El Pilar of Zaragoza by Eduardo Jimeno Peromarta, Plaza del puerto en Barcelona Plaza of the Port of Barcelona by Alexandre Promio or the anonymous film Llegada de un tren de Teruel a Segorbe Arrival of a Train from Teruel in Segorbe. It is also possible that the first film was Riña en un cafe Brawl in a Cafe by the prolific filmmaker Fructuos Gelabert. These films were all released in 1897.

The first Spanish film director to achieve great success internationally was Segundo de Chomon, who worked in France and Italy but made several famous fantasy films in Spain, such as El Hotel electrico.


2. The height of silent cinema

In 1914, Barcelona was the center of the nations film industry. The españoladas historical epics of Spain predominated until the 1960s. Prominent among these were the films of Florian Rey, starring Imperio Argentina, and the first version of Nobleza Baturra 1925. Historical dramas such as Vida de Cristobal Colon y su Descubrimiento de America The Life of Christopher Columbus and His Discovery of America 1917, by the French director Gerald Bourgeois, adaptations of newspaper serials such as Los misterios de Barcelona The Mysteries of Barcelona starring Joan Maria Codina 1916, and of stage plays such as Don Juan Tenorio 1922, by Ricardo de Baños, and zarzuelas comedic operettas, were also produced. Even the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Jacinto Benavente, who said that "in film they pay me the scraps," would shoot film versions of his theatrical works.

In 1928, Ernesto Gimenez Caballero and Luis Buñuel founded the first cine-club film society, in Madrid. By that point, Madrid was already the primary center of the industry; 44 of the 58 films released up until that point had been produced there.

The rural drama La aldea maldita The Cursed Village Florian Rey, 1929 was a hit in Paris, where, at the same time, Buñuel and Dali premiered Un chien andalou An Andalusian Dog. Un chien andalou has become one of the most well-known avant-garde films of that era.


3. The crisis of sound

By 1931, the introduction of audiophonic foreign productions had hurt the Spanish film industry to the point where only a single title was released that year.

In 1935, Manuel Casanova founded the Compañia Industrial Film Española S.A. Spanish Industrial Film Company Inc, Cifesa and introduced sound to Spanish film-making. CIFESA would grow to become the biggest production company to ever exist in Spain. Sometimes criticized as an instrument of the right wing, it nevertheless supported young filmmakers such as Luis Buñuel and his pseudo-documentary Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan Breadless Land. In 1933 it was responsible for filming 17 motion pictures and in 1934, 21. The most notable success was Benito Perojo´s La verbena de la paloma The Doves Verbena.They were also responsible for the 1947 Don Quijote de la Mancha, the most elaborate version of the Cervantes classic up to that time. By 1935 production had risen to 37 films.


4. The Civil War and its aftermath

The Civil War devastated the silent film era: only 10% of all silent films made before 1936 survived the war. Films were also destroyed for their celluloid content and made into goods.

Around 1936, both sides of the Civil War began to use cinema as a means of propaganda and censorship. A typical example of this is Luis Buñuels España 1936, which also contains much rare newsreel footage. The pro-Franco side founded the National Department of Cinematography, causing many actors to go into exile.

The new regime then began to impose obligatory dubbing to highlight directors such as Ignacio F. Iquino, Rafael Gil Huella de luz 1941), Juan de Orduña Locura de amor 1948), Antonio Roman Los ultimos de Filipinas, Jose Luis Saenz de Heredia Raza 1942), and Edgar Neville. Cifesa produced Ella, el y sus millones as well as Fedra 1956, by Manuel Mur Oti.

For its part, Marcelino pan y vino 1955 from Ladislao Vajda would trigger a trend of child actors, such as those who would become the protagonists of "Joselito," "Marisol," "Rocio Durcal" or "Pili y Mili."

Juan de Orduña would later have an enormous commercial hit with El ultimo Cuple 1957, with leading actress Sara Montiel.


4.1. The Civil War and its aftermath Social criticism

In the 1950s, the influence of neorealism became evident in the works of a number of rather young film directors. Their main works ranged from melodrama to esperpento or black comedy, but all of them showed a strong social criticism, unexpected under a political censorship, like the one featured by Franco`s regime. From the amorality and selfishness of the upper middle class or the ridiculousness and mediocrity of the small town people to the hopelessness of the impoverished working class, every social stratum of the contemporary Spain was shown up.

Luis Buñuel in turn returned to Spain to film the shocking Viridiana 1961 and Tristana 1970.


5. Co-productions and foreign productions

Numerous co-productions with France and, most of all, Italy along the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s invigorated Spanish cinema both industrially and artistically. Actually the just mentioned Buñuels movies were co-productions: Viridiana was Spanish-Mexican, and Tristana Spanish-French-Italian. Also, the hundreds of Spaghetti-westerns and sword and sandal films shot in southern Spain by mixed Spanish-Italian teams were co-productions.

On the other hand, several American epic-scale superproductions or blockbusters were shot also in Spain, produced either by Samuel Bronston, King of Kings 1961, El Cid 1961, 55 Days at Peking 1963, The Fall of the Roman Empire 1964, Circus World 1964), or by others Alexander the Great 1956, The Pride and the Passion 1957, Solomon and Sheba 1959, Lawrence of Arabia 1962, Doctor Zhivago 1965, The Trojan Women 1971). These movies employed many Spanish technical professionals, and as a byproduct caused that some filmstars, like Ava Gardner and Orson Welles lived in Spain for years. Actually Welles, with Mr. Arkadin 1955, in fact a French-Spanish-Swiss co-production, was one of the first American filmmakers to devise Spain as location for his shootings, and he did it again for Chimes at Midnight 1966, this time a Spanish-Swiss co-production.

Many international actors played in Spanish films: Italians Vittorio de Sica, Vittorio Gassman and Rossano Brazzi with Mexican Maria Felix in La corona negra ; Italian couple Raf Vallone and Elena Varzi in Los ojos dejan huellas, Mexican Arturo de Cordova in Los peces rojos, Americans Betsy Blair in Calle mayor ; Edmund Gwenn in Calabuch or Richard Basehart in Los jueves, milagro among many others. All the foreign actors were dubbed into Spanish. Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal has also recently received international notoriety in films by Spanish directors.


6. The new Spanish cinema

In 1962, Jose Maria Garcia Escudero became the Director General of Cinema, propelling forward state efforts and the Escuela Oficial de Cine Official Cinema School, from which emerged the majority of new directors, generally from the political left and those opposed to the Franco government. Among these were Mario Camus, Miguel Picazo, Francisco Regueiro, Manuel Summers, and, above all, Carlos Saura. Apart from this line of directors, Fernando Fernan Gomez made the classic El extraño viaje The Strange Trip 1964 and Victor Erice created the internationally acclaimed El espiritu de la colmena The Spirit of the Beehive 1973. From television came Jaime de Armiñan, author of Mi querida señorita My Dear Lady 1971.

From the so-called Escuela de Barcelona, originally more experimentalist and cosmopolitan, come Jacinto Esteva, Pere Portabella, Joaquin Jordan, Vicente Aranda, Jaime Camino, and Gonzalo Suarez, who made their master works in the 1980s.

In the Basque country the directors Fernando Larruquert, Nestor Basterretxea, Jose Maria Zabalza and the producer Elias Querejeta stood out.

The San Sebastian International Film Festival is a major film festival supervised by the FIAPF. It was started in 1953, and it takes place in San Sebastian every year. Alfred Hitchcock, Audrey Hepburn, Steven Spielberg, Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor are some of the stars that have participated in this festival, the most important in Spain and one of the best cinema festivals in the world.

The Festival de Cine de Sitges, now known as the Festival Internacional de Cinema de Catalunya International Film Festival of Catalonia, was started in 1967. It is considered one of the best cinematographic contests in Europe, and is the best in the specialty of science fiction film.


7. The cinema of the democratic era

With the end of dictatorship, censorship was greatly loosened and cultural works were permitted in other languages spoken in Spain besides Spanish, resulting in the founding of the Centro Galego de Artes da Imaxe - Filmoteca de Galicia or the Catalan Institute of Cinema, among others.

At the beginning, the popular phenomena of striptease and landismo from Alfredo Landa triumph. During the democracy, a whole new series of directors base their films either on controversial topics or on revising the countrys history. Jaime Chavarri, Victor Erice, Jose Luis Garci, Manuel Gutierrez Aragon, Eloy de la Iglesia, Pilar Miro and Pedro Olea were some of these who directed great films. Montxo Armendariz or Juanma Bajo Ulloas "new Basque cinema" has also been outstanding; another prominent Basque director is Julio Medem.

The Spanish cinema, however, depends on the great hits of the so-called Madrileño comedy by Fernando Colomo or Fernando Trueba, the sophisticated melodramas by Pedro Almodovar, Alex de la Iglesia and Santiago Seguras black humour or Alejandro Amenabars works, in such a manner that, according to producer Jose Antonio Felez, "50% of total box office revenues comes from five titles, and between 8 and 10 films give 80% of the total" during the year 2004.

In 1987, a year after the founding of the Academia de las Artes y las Ciencias Cinematograficas de España, the Goya Awards were created to recognize excellence in many aspects of Spanish motion picture making such as acting, directing and screenwriting. The first ceremony took place on March 16, 1987 at the Teatro Lope de Vega, Madrid. The ceremony continues to take place annually around the end of January, and awards are given to films produced during the previous year. The award itself is a small bronze bust of Francisco de Goya created by the sculptor Jose Luis Fernandez.


8. Awards

The Goya Awards are the main film awards in Spain. They were established in 1987 and work similarly to the Oscar Awards. In 2013, Premios Feroz were established as the Spanish counterpart of the Golden Globe Awards.

There are several International Film Festivals in Spain with important prizes for the industry. Two of them are the San Sebastian International Film Festival and the Sitges Film Festival.


9. English-language Spanish films

English-language films produced by Spanish companies include Two Much directed by Fernando Trueba, 1995, The Others Alejandro Amenabar, 2001, The Machinist Brad Anderson, 2004, Basic Instinct 2 produced by KanZaman Spain, 2006 or Milos Forman’s Goyas Ghosts Xuxa Produciones, 2006, The Impossible directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, 2012, Apaches Entertainment and Telecinco Produciones.

KanZaman Spain and Recorded Picture Company UK co-produced Sexy Beast, directed by Jonathan Glazer, in 1999. Films co-produced by this company include The Reckoning Paul McGuigan, 2003, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, based on the Pulitzer prize winning Thornton Wilder novel of the same name and directed by Mary McGuckian. It featured an ensemble cast consisting of Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Kathy Bates and Spanish actress Pilar Lopez de Ayala. Other films in this category are Mike Barkers A Good Woman 2004, and Sahara Breck Eisner, 2005. In 2004, KanZaman co-produced Ridley Scotts epic film Kingdom of Heaven, making it the biggest production in the history of Spanish cinema.

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