What Cannes Country of Honor Status Means for Spain

Spain’s status as Cannes’ Marché du Film’s Country of Honor is a “milestone,” says María Peña, CEO of ICEX Spain Trade & Investment.

But it’s also a mark of recognition, she says, after Spain’s big wins just this year at the Berlinale (three prizes for Estibaliz Urresola’s “20,000 Species of Bees”) and France’s Cesars (foreign film win for “The Beasts” and actor trophy to Benoît Magimel for Albert Serra’s “Pacification” and cinematography for its DP, Artur Tort).

Peña also points to April’s MipTV, where Rafael Cobos’ “The Left Handed Son,” from Movistar Plus+, won Canneseries’ Short Format Competition, and “The Caravan,” produced by Barcelona’s Caravan Films, the first MipDoc International Buyers Screenings honors.

Last year, Spain scooped up a Berlin Golden Bear (“Alcarràs”) and an Oscar (Alberto Mielgo’s “The Windshield Wiper”).

Spain is on a roll. That cuts multiple ways, however, explaining both the Country of Honor designation, and the country’s presence at large at Cannes this year. Seven takeaways about Spain:

Talent, Large Talent

Victor Erice, Pedro Almodóvar, Alberto Mielgo, Rodrigo Blaas — Cannes this year showcases some of the greatest auteurs currently working in Spain, with Erice’s “Close Your Eyes” playing Cannes Premiere, Almodóvar’s “Strange Way of Life” in a Special Screening slot and Mielgo’s “The Windshield Wiper” and Blaas’ “Star War: Visions” episode “Sith” weighing in as two highlights of Cannes’s Animation Day’s Revelations. All four, however, have at one time or another struggled to make films in Spain, its film biz proving, over the decades, as actor José Isbert once put it, to be “a mixture of art and a lack of money.”

Funding Uptick

Spain is now, however, one of the European countries that has seen the biggest uptick in public sector funding, from both its central PSOE government, which launched a $1.8 billion Spain AVS Plan in 2021, and regional power- houses. Spain’s ICAA film agency’s budget has rocketed past €100 million ($111 million), and audiovisual funding at Catalonia’s ICEC has escalated from €12.6 million ($14 million) in 2019 to €41 million ($45.5 million) in 2022-23. “Spain has a solid financing system that allows us to produce films with only national funding,” says Barcelona-based Ariadna Dot, a producer on Elena Martin’s “Creature,” which plays in Directors’ Fortnight. That could not have been said even a few years ago.

A Massive New Talent Showcase

Spain’s County of Honor celebrations have chosen quite logically to celebrate largely a new generation of filmmakers that is reshaping Spain’s art film scene. That includes producers, many women. The Producers Network Spanish Spotlight features titles from Paola Botrán, Marisa Fernández Armenteros and Emilia Font; Spanish Screenings Goes to Cannes screens “Sima’s Song” from producer Alba Sotorra while Annecy Goes to Cannes unspools her “Rock Bottom.” At Animation Day, ICEX and ICAA, the Country of Honor organizers, are highlighting shorts from emerging Spanish animators, with buzzed up titles including “To Bird and Not to Bird,” from Martín Romero. Not all the new generation are tyros. But some have hung their own shingles (Fernández Armenteros, or María Zamora, at Elástica Films), or head up new companies (Botrán). Especially for women there’s a sense that their time is now.

Key Industry Trends: International Co-Production

The passions of this new generation will inform much of the business dealings at Cannes. One is a larger pivot from regional to international co-production, aided by state-sector minority co-production funds. Spain’s presence at Cannes, for example, includes Pham Thiên An’s “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell,” a Directors’ Fortnight title co-produced by Spain’s Fasten Films with Vietnam, Singapore and France. “We’re generations that have understood from the beginning that we can’t just look at the purely local — a breadth of visions brings a lot to projects,” says “Alcarràs” and “Creature” producer María Zamora. Co-production is now a far more realistic industry option for Spain. Both Spain’s ICAA,, its national film agency, and Catalan cousin ICEC, created minority co-production funds in 2020. A generation of once eye-catching first time feature directors is now maturing. 

Animation Feeding Fever

It may be coincidental but is very symbolic that the final Spanish title added to Cannes’ Official Selection was “Robot Dreams,” a 2D animated feature. European animation is able to target local audiences still underserved by kids and family entertainment. Half of Catalonia’s 13 upcoming animated feature titles target this demo. “Tadeo Jones 3” grossed €11.8 million ($13.1 million) in Spain last year, and “Mummies” took in €5.8 million ($6.5 million) after its February bow.

Genre

Spain has a high-profile Western, “Strange Way of Life,” screening in Cannes. Slightly less obviously, “The Beasts,” Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s 2022 B.O. hit, is a kind of Western, too, climaxing in non-confrontation. For younger directors, genre has proved a consuming passion; genre is also, thanks to the streaming-platform feeding fever, a major market play. Spanish sales agents used to see success, for instance, dis- tributing Latin American crossover hits such as Latido Films with “Machuca,” and Film Factory with “Wild Tales” and “The Clan.” Some of their biggest plays at Cannes this year will be genre, in the broadest sense, whether Latido’s “All the Names of God” or Film Factory’s “The Wailing.” Filmax, which launched modern Spanish genre pics as an export business, has “The Chapel,” Carlota Pereda’s follow-up to standout debut, “Piggy.”

Spain, Big-Budget Shoot Hub

Wes Andersen’s “Asteroid City,” a Cannes Competition entry, looks like it was shot in a U.S. village, or Mars on a sunny day. It, in fact, lensed in Chinchón, south of Madrid. Spain boasts some of the most competitive film and TV production tax breaks in the world, capped at $20 million per series episode in the Canary Islands, for example, with deductions reaching up to 70% of spend in Bizkaia. Expect these to be one conversation-driver at Cannes.

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