Festival In Focus: Why Female Directors & Producers Are Leading The Charge For A New Wave Of Spanish Cinema

Spanish cinema has undoubtedly been making a strong imprint on the international film festival circuit throughout the last few years and, crucially, there’s a new wave of female filmmakers that are driving this charge. 

Carla Simon’s Alcarràs took the Golden Bear in Berlin last year, while Elena Lopez Riera and Clara Roquet debuted their respective films The Water and Libertad in Cannes as well as Elena Martin’s feature debut Creatura, which played in the festival’s Directors Fortnight section this year. 

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So at this year’s San Sebastian International Film Festival, it’s unsurprising that the trend is continuing as three Spanish films in official competition this year are directed and produced by women: Isabel Coixet’s Un Amor, based on a bestselling novel by Sara Mesa, which is produced by Marisa Fernández Armenteros and Sandra Hermida; Sultana’s Dream, the debut feature from Isabel Herguera which is produced by Chelo Loureiro of Abano Producíons; and The Rye Horn from director Jaione Camborda, which counts Elastica Films’ María Zamora as its Spanish co-producer. 

“At the moment, cinema in Spain is very strong but the situation is changing for women at the moment, which is really encouraging,” says San Sebastian International Film Festival director José Luis Rebordinos.

It’s been an intentional push from the Spanish government, which has implemented strong policies in the last few years to increase gender parity for female filmmakers in Spain. Spanish film body ICAA has been instrumental in pushing the agenda in the last few years and has introduced positive measures linked to points in the applications for ICAA funds. In 2020, the body announced that at least 35% of its funding would be allocated to projects headed up by women, with these also able to receive up to 75% of public funding, including incentives. 

“Over the last five years the ICAA has been working hand in hand with the audiovisual sector, especially with women’s associations in the film industry to encourage and promote films not only directed by women but also with a strong presence in the creative and technical credits,” says ICAA general director Ignasi Camós Victoria. “The result has been a wave of new voices that have conquered festivals and box offices. We assume that this is only the beginning of a generation of talented women who will make the most of every opportunity.” 

For Fernández Armenteros, producer of Coixet’s Un Amor, which is described as a “striking account of existential doubt and transformative power of carnal desire, exploring the subversive nature of gender roles,” she says the last three years have been “transformative” in terms of supporting female filmmakers. 

“We have an amazing public system at the moment in terms of rules,” she says. “There are specific goals on how to improve the situation for female directors so that more projects from women are getting made.”

She adds, “These consistent public roots are necessary because if you don’t have public support, you have nothing.” 

Un Amor, which is budgeted at under €3 million and is led by top-tier Spanish helmer Coixet, was able to secure 75% of its budget from public funding. “The key was to attach Isabel and with that in place, it became easier to finance,” she says.

For Fernández Armenteros, who has been championing female directors in the Spanish film sector for years with films such as Alauda Ruiz de Azúa’s Lullaby and Maite Alberdi’s The Mole Agent under her belt, Spain’s measures to promote new female talent on an international stage has been a welcome one. 

“In the last few years, public policies have been essential to promote new talent and promote these voices, whereas ten or fifteen years ago, this wasn’t the case,” she says. 

Likewise, Zamora, who helped structure the co-production for Spanish-Portuguese-Belgian title The Rye Horn, a film about a woman on the run in the Galician countryside, agrees that public policies have made it “easier” to get films led by women off the ground.

“It’s a really competitive and selective team [that allocate funding] but these are positive measures from the government,” she says. “I think there’s still a long way to go because we are still in the minority, but the ministers in the Spanish government have applied this not only nationally but regionally as well, which is great.” 

Zamora also produced Simon’s 2022 Berlin Golden Bear winner Alcarràs through her production-distribution outfit Elastica Films, which she heads up with Enrique Costa and has built a reputation for being a big supporter of first-time filmmakers, many of whom are women, throughout her career. 

Loureiro, who produces 2D animated Sultana’s Dream from San Sebastian-born animation artist Herguera about a Spanish artist living in India, says that this century of Spanish cinema is “the century of the women.” 

“Now that we are being given more opportunities in the audiovisual sector, you can see that women have a lot to say and there is a wave of producers and directors who are anxious to get to work and start telling stories,” she says, adding that the market is still “very complicated” in the animation field for adults. “Distributors still prefer more commercial themes than the types of projects I work on.” 

But there are still challenges, with Fernández Armenteros, Zamora and Loureiro all agreeing that the next step is to increase the budgets that women are working with. 

“I find that women are working with reduced budgets still compared to our male counterparts,” says Fernández Armenteros. “I also think that it’s not enough to just support women directors – it’s really important to support women producers and not let it just be the men that make the final decision on productions. I don’t think this is an issue of responsibility but more of one of power.” 

Loureiro agrees saying that it’s impossible for female directors to build upon their skillset if they aren’t entrusted with the same kinds of budgets as their male counterparts. “Without proper budgets and funding, it’s hard to break through the glass ceiling.”

But still, it is looking hopeful, with things moving in the right direction, which Zamora says is something that she and many of her contemporaries have been working on for a long time.

“For many years, a lot of producers and directors of my generation have been working in this direction, and now we can see the outcomes of the work that has been done through all of these years for the new generations that are coming along strongly,” she says. “But there’s a long way to go and we just need to hold on to make sure that it’s not just a trend.” 

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