Catalan cinema


Catalan cinema
   The Spanish film industry first consolidated mostly in Barcelona rather than in Madrid: it was here that the first production companies were founded, and for several decades representatives of the powerful Lumière, Pathé, and Gaumont companies preferred the Catalan capital to Madrid as their Spanish base. Historians have explained this in terms of the period of economic buoyancy of the former in the early decades of the century, and particularly the presence of a strong and progressive bourgeoisie that could support such enterprises. It was only in 1923 that, with the new political situation brought on by the Primo de Rivera conservative dictator-ship, the government started to exercise a tighter control on the film business and the industry became centralized. However, it was in Barcelona where, seven years later, sound film was first introduced, a sign of its more enterprising attitude.
   Still, Catalan production lagged behind Madrid through the 1930s. Although during the Franco period some films were still being made in Barcelona (for instance, most films directed by Julio Coll, made at Pere Portabella's company Films 69, or by prolific producer, director, and distributor Ignacio F. Iquino), the golden age of Catalan filmmaking seemed far behind, and Catalan filmmakers worked within a "national" (i.e., centralized) context. The next moment of Catalan prominence came in the mid-1960s, with the short-lived Escuela de Barcelona, developed by Catalan directors like Vicente Aranda and Jacinto Esteva, but in spite of the talent of some of the participants in the movement and the support of key intellectuals, these films never took off commercially and had only limited impact among influential critics.
   At the end of the Franco period and during the early Transition years, a number of films, like Antoni Ribas' La ciutat cremada (The Burnt City, 1976) and Josep Maria Forn's Companys Procés a Catalunya (Companys, Catalonia on Trial, 1979), contributed to the reinforcement of Catalan identity. These two films are the precedent of the new post-Franco Catalan cinema. Also in those years, directors like Bigas Luna, Ventura Pons, Josep Anton Salgot, and Francesc Bellmunt started using their Catalan roots as the basis for their films. The intensely specific urban life of the capital was a prominent theme for Pons and Bigas. Filmmakers from the region were also for the first time telling stories about their past, their identity, in their own language. These constituted a historical vindication of a sense of nationhood that had been under threat under the Franco regime, and their ultimate agenda was political rather than, as in the case of Escuela de Barcelona, artistic.
   When Spain became a democracy in 1978, one key measure was devolution of certain competences, including culture, to autonomous regions. The Catalan regional government could now manage a cultural budget, but rather than supporting film simply as an artistic practice or even to develop a Catalan film industry, there was a nationalist element in supporting certain cultural practices. These were difficult times for film in Spain, and full devolution of film budgets was delayed until the end of the decade. The main condition for obtaining funding as a "Catalan film" was that there should be an exclusive release in Catalan within the Catalan territory. For years, the linguistic element, and not the intrinsic quality of the project was important, to the extent that more funds were dedicated to dubbing Spanish and foreign films into Catalan than to supporting production. At the same time, for those politicians responsible for culture budgets, the best way to promote Catalan culture was through costly literary adaptations (like La Plaça del Diamant). After the autonomous government set up an institutionally funded television company, TV3, the linguistic issue became less relevant. As in the rest of Spain, a number of agreements were signed so that television companies would participate in Catalan film funding in exchange for broadcasting rights. By 1990, the percentage of specifically Catalan funding for 17 Catalan-produced films had risen to 33 percent of their total budget.
   In spite of considerable support, Catalan cinema never took off artistically the way Basque cinema did in the 1990s. Still, Catalonia and Barcelona itself have become in the last decade a favorite location for a number of films, Spanish and foreign. For many, the international discovery of the city's photogeny came with Pedro Almodóvar's Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother, 1999), although the director who had represented the city most richly and consistently since the Transition was Ventura Pons, who has made it a trademark to discover Barcelona's moods and hidden corners, bringing them to life for his films, including Caricies (Caresses, 1998), Amic / Amat (Friend / Beloved, 1999), Food of Love (2002), and Amor idiota (Dumb Love, 2004). It was also the background for Susan Seidelman's Gaudi Afternoon (2001) and Cedric Klapisch' L'auberge espagnole (2002), and Woody Allen shot Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), about two clueless American students, in the Catalan capital.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.


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