¡España Hoy! Contemporary Spanish Cinema

in All its Kaleidoscopic Glory

Executive Director’s Report. ¡España Hoy!

Spanish Film Series. (January 2018)

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Bronx World Film at La Naciona
Graphic Design: Julie Ortiz
Original Photography: Walter Krochmal

January 2018 ushered in the new year with another in a series of arctic blasts, driving the longest, bleakest winter in recent memory deep into the bones of New Yorkers. In the midst of that, a series of another sort brought a spark to the downtown arthouse film scene. ¡España Hoy!, a showcase of contemporary Spanish cinema in all its kaleidoscopic glory, debuted in the second-floor gallery at La Nacional’s brownstone headquarters on West 14th Street in Manhattan. Bronx World Film turned the space into a screening room (as we have done with other programs ever since our founding in 2011) and, over the course of four nights, introduced audiences to a new generation of Spanish auteurs who carve out distinctive paths for themselves across a broad swath of styles and genres.

¡España Hoy! took place as part of an even more auspicious event, namely La Nacional’s 150th anniversary year. As many who follow us know, La Nacional (legal name, Spanish Benevolent Society) was founded by immigrants from Spain in 1868 to organize and help each other. It is one of the city‘s oldest -- if not the oldest -- non-profit community-based organizations, a great distinction in and of itself. Furthermore, it commands respect in all Hispanic and Latino communities, particularly its artists, for a longstanding policy of open doors with them. It offers world-renowned tango and flamenco classes. And for Bronx World Film, it it the mother organization that has allowed us to have a space in which to carry out our activities and evolve from our founding in 2011. Granted the honor of opening La Nacional’s 2018 artistic calendar year, we responded with, ¡España Hoy! as an expression of our heartfelt gratitude. This is how it came about:

Fade-Ins from Memory’s Screening Rooms: Hallmarks of Spanish Cinema

INT. MOVIE THEATER. ONSCREEN, A SPANISH VILLAGE,

POSSIBLY THE BASQUE COUNTRY

The entire village whoops, all eyes on the two lines of able-bodied young men standing in single file, facing each other from opposite banks of a river and holding a thick rope between them which they stretch taut across the water, tug-of-war-like. A third cluster of young bucks gathers around one end of the rope. One by one, each steps forward and hoists himself up onto it grabbing a pulley system (a rustic ancestor of the zipline) while carrying a turkey. The teams on both sides of the riverbank hold the rope taut as the lad-and-bird duo travels along, then as they reach the midpoint quickly SLACKEN it. Lad and bird get a dunking. The tug-of-warriors yank the rope taut, lad and bird come back up to the surface gasping for air to another roar of the crowd, then finally land on the other riverbank amid lusty cheers. The scene replays itself again and again until it seems as if the game has been around from time immemorial and will continue forever, both inside and outside of time…

INT. CLASSROOM, TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS.

The basso profundo voice with that crisp diction rings out in class. It’s that master storyteller with holding us rapt in Spanish literature class. He is the feared but beloved, the cultured beyond compare, the “walking encyclopedia” we know as don Santiago Toffé, or simply “Toffé.” He expounds in his inimitable teaching style. He’s introducing a generation of Hondurans to Lorca, to Bécquer, to the Golden Age dramatists, to Spanish and European medieval history and culture. He leaves an indelible image in our minds of Spain as a precious stone of many facets, and the sensation in our hearts that we, too, are Spaniards, as indeed we are and as are indeed a goodly part of Western culture and civilization. It was a two-way street for him, also, as he consecrated himself in Honduras as one of its national theater’s founding fathers.

* * *

Still, with all this knowledge of Spain, which I began acquiring from high school and on throughout my career, this scene from the (possibly) Basque film took me aback when I first saw it, possibly decades ago. It did the same when it returned to memory in 2017 as I brainstormed to come up with a fitting tribute to La Nacional. When it came alive again in my memory, its animistic, pre-Christian mystified me. What Spain was this, which I’d never seen before? The question gnawed at me until I realized I’d found my answer. I would once again explore some unknown dimensions of Spain, and we would do so through a new generation of film makers. I suspected that we would find a good number of them who can’t get mooring in their homeland (“no man is a prophet in his own land),” and who would find a platform in New York City, specifically at La Nacional, of interest. Their collective vision and voice would provide the kaleidoscopic perspective on Spain’s astonishing diversity that would give this program its distinctive, contemporary touch. We would start laying the cornerstone for a permanent platform to showcase their work in New York City, dovetailing with La Nacional’s core constituencies and mission.

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Beacon-bound Vessels:
Spain’s New Generation Responds

We issued a call for films on short notice, relying on a human network to move the process forward. Soon enough, we started receiving responses from many different areas of the filmmaker community. One introduction lead to another, and another, and another until finally, in record time, we managed to put together a fitting program for the occasion. All told, when we look at how much new grounmd the series covered, we know we fulfilled our mission. We thank each and every one of these extraordinary filmmakers for their attention, for the warmth of personal contact and for understanding and supporting our initiative. We look forward to seeing their new works and those of their colleagues in the second edition of the series, coming January 2019 and beyond.

Highlights of the first ¡España Hoy! film series included three films by the prolific, versatile Javier Yáñez (La perrera, Mighty Boy and Sacred Love), who set the bar high for well-written, well-acted, well-produced films and swings easily between genres as diverse as horror, cult action and sci-fi. In addition to these three distinctive works, Javier offered a valuable commitment of time to serve as liaison to the community of filmmakers in Spain. His efforts helped us move quickly and efficiently at a critical moment, and fed great diversity into the final product.

Mighty Boy (Javier Yáñez)
Mighty Boy. Javier Yáñez.
Sacred Love (Javier Yáñez)
Sacred Love Javier Yáñez.

We met and screened Mei Casabona and Marta Arjona, a dynamic duo of dance film specialists from Catalonia, cradle of geniuses, They work with young dancers, favoring gender issues, and make spectacular use of unusual locations. As with Javier Yáñez, and as with so many of the filmmakers we met through this first version of the event, they have broad stylistic range, so we screened three of their outstanding works, Nigra, X-trem and Quadrant. This last they shot in the old Coma-Ral alabaster quarries.

Then along came Ila Gambarelli, a native Italian -- Genoese, as we know now -- based in Spain, and offering us the documentary short Porta Europa, supervised by the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, which follows a construction crew on one of Barcelona’s bridges. Ila also took on a liaison role, and helped broaden our reach to other Spanish filmmakers. In Eugenio Recuenco, we found an international fashion photographer and a master of irony and drama who screened two films, Manuscript Found in Oblivion (a tragedy in the far north) and Desire (a fashion film shot in India). Eugenio works at the highest standards of artistry and craftsmanship, and has the same versatility and range that speak to a restless intellect. Víctor Bárcena’s documentary Épiphanie tells the true story of a young Gypsy girl who faced deportation from France with her entire family after police arrested her on a school field day. Patricia Venti’s hallucinogenic Yellow Cab 267. A Musical Hell puts the viewer inside an exotic meat restaurant in New York City with shady ties to the underworld.

Manuscript Found in Oblivion. Eugenio Recuenco.

The following are the other outstanding directors who screened with us in the ¡España Hoy! series. Juan Ayanz (Krise), Juan José Moya (Mimo), Daniel Chamorro (Horror Vacui), Alejandro Mauriño (Hsiao Ch’u – The Taming Power of the Mundane), Mateo Cabeza (Life Goes On), Daniel Romero (Change) and Elena Molina (When I Was a Child and the notable documentary Puppet Cemetery, which follows one of West Africa’s most prominent puppeteers and a female pupil who ends us becoming his protegé). From our local network we pulled in the experimental Operation Jaqué: The Value of Hope, an innovative documentary that portrays a return trip, made by Sergio Colastra Milán and his father, to the Panama jungle outpost where Colombian FARC guerrilla forces kidnapped them both in 2006. Films screened at our Cycle program in previous years include works by Daniel Diosdado, (Insania and For You), world-famous urban artist Raúl Ruiz, or “El Niño de las Pinturas,” with Sikame, the animated short by El Buen Árbol Animation Studios, which he founded in Granada, Susurros by Labo Tuerto, and two films by Honduran filmaker Daniel Granados (Jullermorgen Señorita and Yibril), reflecting the experiences of Spaniards who have had to emigrate from Spain because of the financial crisis.

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Sikame (El Buen Árbol Animation Studios)
Sikame (El Buen Árbol Animation Studios)
Precedents for Spanish Film in NYC,
New Directions for !España Hoy!

Precedents do exist for Spanish film series in New York City, and good ones at that. Lincoln Center started the Spanish Cinema Now series in the early 90s, however the website has no current updates and it seems to have grown quiet. Cervantes Institute holds screenings occasionally, and has a magnificent film library. King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center is currently offering Spanish Cinema Days, a short series that will screen 5 feature films now in December. Notwithstanding all this, Spanish cinema seems to have lost some of its lustre in New York City. The ¡España Hoy! series fills that void while charting new territories. A final tally of all new works screened as part of the programming confirmed what I suspected from the outset. We located a sizable community of filmmakers whose work has not been seen in the US. 12 out of the 22 new short films we screened were either New York or US premieres. The range of themes, subject matter and styles made it clear that new Spanish cinema offers an endless well of inspiration from its many regions and cultures. We look forward to our next installation of ¡España Hoy!, scheduled for the weekend of January 11-13, 2019 at La Nacional.

Celebration of our Host Venue,
La Nacional, on its 150th Birthday