A Malaga Market Wrap: Spain’s Bull Market, The Move to Upscale Mainstream, Regional Power and a ‘Masterpiece’

MALAGA, Spain — “The Chapel,” from “Piggy” director Carlota Pereda, Celia Rico’s competition title “Little Loves,” loved by a lot of critics, and “Free Falling,” produced by “Society of the Snow’s” J.A. Bayona and that film’s producer Belén Atienza, looked like three of the hottest tickets at this week’s Malaga market and Spanish Screenings which rated as the most upbeat in years.

Most all sales agents on the films – focusing on titles from Spain and Latin America – whose ranks are now swelled by Antonia Nava’s Neo Art International, forecast or saw deal traction on more than one title or a broad slate of films.

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“Malaga was great for our movies,” said Latido Films’ Antonio Saura.

“For us, it’s been the best Spanish Screenings of the last years,” reported Luis Recart at Bendita Film Sales.

Why of course is another matter. 10 takeaways on a Spanish bull market, and other significant trends seen at Malaga:

Boffo Buyer Presence 

Over the past two decades, a major narrative at the Malaga Festival, a dedicated meet for movies from Spain and Latin America, has been the growth of its industry arm. Energized and given a deeper pocket to invite buyers thanks to its Spanish Screenings Content showcase, its distributor presence is bigger and better, at least for Spanish and Latin American festivals, than most “A” grade festivals. That tells.

This year’s festival boasted titles which just a few years ago would have been held back for a major section at a big fall fest. No more. 200 buyers returned to Málaga, moreover, after an upbeat sales market at Berlin. “It wasn’t just a case of one or two films sparking buyers enthusiasm. There was large interest across a broad section of titles. Malaga, like Berlin, has seen the market reactivation we needed,” said Ivan Díaz, Filmax head of international.

A Rising Tide….

The Malaga Festival and Spanish Screenings end just two days before the 96th Academy Awards where Spain has scored three nominations, “Society of the Snow” for international feature and makeup and hair-styling and “Robot Dreams” for animated feature. It also takes place as four of the five most popular non-English films ever on Netflix have been produced out of Spain. Platform playability is one major consideration persuading buyers to reach for their moolah. Oscar visibility counts.

The Crucial Pivot 

More than anything else, however, Spanish cinema may have changed. “People are looking at upscale commercial titles, which have quality but market potential,” Film Factory’s Vicente Canales commented at Málaga.”The market was looking not only for arthouse, but also for good genre movies,” agreed Latido’s Antonio Saura. Event arthouse titles, such as Movistar Plus+’s new five-pic slate, are also gaining ground. Expectation for Alberto Rodríguez new pic, one of the films on the slate, is “enormous,” said Canales, who will launch the title at Cannes.

A Winning Sense of Genre

“So why does the content from Spain travel so well?,” James Farrell, Prime Video VP of international originals, asked when interviewed with Variety just before Malaga. Partly “it’s because of the beats of Spanish content, the rhythm to it, the fact that it’s universal. It’s not hyper localized. You see that people are familiar with American content, so they’re used to those beats.” Spanish cinema is sluiced by a winning sense of genre, movies hitting or very often subverting genre tropes. “Nina,” in Malaga competition, for example, is part Western. “Saturn Return,” makes mockery of biopic cliché, such as the romantic subplot: It doesn’t end with a kiss, but begins with a breakup, pictured in a scene which its narrator freely admits never happened. 

Emerging Female Directors 

But a lot more is also going on with Spanish film. “The great thing about Spanish cinema is that it has an enormous diversity of genres, and doesn’t fear to play with certain things,” said Saura of its genre bending. Three of the most popular titles at Málaga main competition were first or second features from women lead by the Latido-sold “Little Loves,” but also Basque production “Nina,” from Andrea Jaurrieta (“Ana by Day”) and Filmax, about a woman, played by Patricia López Arnaiz, who returns to her northern coast hometown to kill a writer she knew when 16; and Sonia Méndez “As Neves,” a suspense drama that adds another talent to the illustrious ranks of new films from Galicia, alongside Lois Patiño and Oliver Laxe. Valencia-based Rosa Bosch is handling world sales for “As Neves.”

Other Buzz Titles

Reducing some members of a theater audience to tears, stylish family drama “La Casa” ranks as the Malaga Festival’s biggest breakout, a critics’ darling confirming the promise shown by director Álex Montoya in sidebar Zonazine hit “Lucas.” “La Casa,” plays in competition, however. “The Good Man,” from David Trueba, starring Jorge Sanz, charmed audiences with a knowing portrait of loss and time’s degradation of love. “Saturn Return,” about indie rock group Los Planetas’ storied attempt to make their third and finally iconic album – but really about people’s need to recast the past as comprehensible narrative – has been hailed by Spanish newspaper El Mundo as a “masterpiece.”  

Basque Cinema Build

Galvanized by up-to-60% tax credits, the Basque Country’s Bizkaia is growing dramatically as a production shoot hub.

The Basque country is looking too grow its own cinema in other ways, however. Estíbaliz Urresola’s painstakingly developed screenplay for Berlin triple winner “20,000 Species of Beas,” was put through a Basque development initiative, Noka Mentoring. It proved crucial, she has often said. But most scripts coming out of the lab are now gathering dust in a drawer. So call in the calvary. Launched March 1, Noka Production will see a producer and director develop scripts with two teams of energetic mentors – Urresola and Alba Sotorra, and Rocío Mesa and Marisa Fernández Armenteros – endowing them with far greater possibilities of getting made. Tutors include “Lullaby’s” Alauda Ruíz de Azua and “The Beasts’” Isabel Peña. Expect a sudden flurry of Basque first features to hit the market from 2025 onwards.

Canaries Take Flight

Canary Islands tax breaks – 45% deductions and €36 million caps per movie, for instance – are among the best in Europe. But, again, how can the Canary Islands develop its own film industry? From 2018, its film authorities launched labs and subsidy systems for new homegrown production. Five years and one pandemic later, a first flock of titles are taking flight. Malaga’s Spanish Screenings, for example, featured a trio of titles: Berlin Forum entry “Undergrowth”; estranged brothers drama thriller “I’m Gonna Disappear,” a Market Premiere; and “Black Butterflies,” a climate change animated feature. More titles are in the offing. Once lacking, Canary Islands cinema is now conspicuously present.

Fixing Spanish Cinema

Not that everything is hunky dory for Spanish cinema. Post-pandemic, box office is the worst of Europe’s big five markets, down 24% on pre-COVID 19. What Spain needs are regulated release windows, agreed panelists at Malaga’s centerpiece industry debate on March 5, Spanish Cinema Models Examined. To date, holdback for pay and linear TV have been matters of industry consensus. But how long should windows now be? Return to 112 days and platform bows won’t benefit for theatrical release marketing, the panel agreed. But make windows too short and people will ask whether to catch a film in theaters when they can watch it shortly on TV, RTVE’s José Pastor observed. If windows had an easy solution, it might well have been taken.

And the Deals and News Announcements 

Málaga’s Spanish Screenings content and Market came so soon on the heals of Berlin, that sales agents have only just begun to sign contracts off the German event, let alone clear announcements of Malaga business. So the following is more and deals-in-progress summary with accords likely to balloon over the next few months:

*Handled by Filmax, horror thriller “The Chapel,” Carlota Pereda’s second film, has sold to Latin America (Impacto Cine), Germany (Lighthouse) and India and subcontinent (BookMyShow), announced Filmax’s Díaz, noting he has also sold “The Sleeping Woman” and seen “a lot of movement” on “Ellipsis.”

*Latido Films Antonio Saura pointed to the enthusiastic reception of not only “Saturn Return” but also “Little Loves” and La Casa.” Sales look set to follow. With distributors slates so packed, “we are beginning to pre-sell movies of great directors, such as David Pérez Sañudo,” he added.

*Laura Jou’s “Free Falling,” starring “The Orphanage’s” Belen Rueda as a too exacting gymnastics coach, has had a very good reception at Malaga, said Film Factory’s Vicente Canales. He has also sold “Checkmates,” a feel-good family targeting comedy from Nacho G. Velilla (“No Manches, Frida”) and looks to be bringing to Cannes one of Film Factory’s strongest slates in years.

*Newly launched Neo Art International will handle sales on Italian-Spanish black comedy “Funeral Family” trilogy, the Rome-set saga of a family funeral business.

*In a second pick-up, Filmax announced world sales rights on “Nina,” inspired in part by Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” but also channelling classic Westerns and Douglas Sirk-style melodrama.

*Starring ‘Elite’s’ Omar Ayuso, ‘On the Go’ has been secured by Dark Star Pictures & Uncorkd’d Entertainment for North America. France (Outplay), Germany, Switzerland, Austria (Salzgeber) and Taiwan (Cineplex) have already closed on the spirited breakout.

*Juan Gautier’s ‘The Aspirant,’ a Malaga Work in Progress player about college hazing, has been acquired by Begin Again Films for both Spanish distribution and international sales.

*Handling domestic on “As Neves,” Sideral is also set to distribute in Spain Enrique Buleo’s ‘Still Life with Ghosts,’ one of the six films playing at Málaga’s WIP España sidebar.

*’A Dead Man Cannot Live’s’ Ezekiel Montes and Sergio Siruela announced they are teaming on ‘Aullar,’ starring Elena Martínez.

*Director Miguel Marti and actress-producer Macarena Gomez launched at Malaga an online hunt for horror scripts with a Spanish tinge.

*‘Gypsy Bride’ star Nerea Barros unveiled her directorial feature debut ‘The Coast,’ reflecting her obsessions: ‘The legacy of the elderly, climate change.’

*Abner Benaim, director of Oscar shortlisted ‘Plaza Catedral,’ confirmed and presented his next, ’The  Simple Life,’ a ‘tropical existential road movie.’

*Málaga caught Bendita Film Sales closing the first flurry of deals on “Memories of a Burning Body,” acquired in the run-up to Berlin, including several major territories. The Spanish Screenings have served to finalise some deals we began at the European Film Market some days ago and begin new ones sparked by ‘Memories’ Berlin prize and a good reception for ‘The Major Tones,” said Renart.

*Neo Art has opened a production services division to leverage Spain’s muscular shoot incentives, such as Bizkaia tax credits and an €18 million ($19.2 million) rebate per series episode for international productions lensing in the Canary Islands.

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