Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Directorial debuts: a bit of context

     Directorial debuts are a good place to start because of the massive influx of new talent that Spanish cinema saw during the 1990s: the fact that there has been a ‘Best New Director’ category in the Goyas (the national film awards) since 1990 is indicative of the growing number of new directors. Between 1990 and 1998, 25 percent of films produced were by first-time directors (Heredero 1999: 12), and by 2001 225 ópera primas (‘directorial debuts’) had been created in the space of twelve years (Heredero 2003: 32). Although the new directors are sometimes grouped together under the title of ‘Joven Cine Español’ (‘Young Spanish Cinema’), there was no official school for them to have collectively studied at and they are a ‘generation’ only by coincidence of the timing of their debuts; they cannot be said to form a group or movement in the manner of former collections of directors because their work encompasses such a disparate range of styles and genres.
      In the 1980s, the Government’s economic support for cinema came in the form of the 1984 ley Miró (named after the film director, and Directora General de Cinematografía in the first Socialist Government, Pilar Miró), which concentrated funds on a small number of productions with the emphasis on ‘quality’ (the so-called cine de calidad ('quality cinema')). The Government’s interpretation of ‘quality’ meant auteurist films with an emphasis on Spanish literary heritage and by extension a prejudice against popular forms of cinema, which were seen as not being part of ‘culture’. But, with only a few exceptions, these productions did not exactly set the box office alight. Staid literary adaptations alone could not represent what was going on in Spanish culture and society in the 1980s, and the post-Franco, movida generation of directors who strayed from what the Government wanted Spanish cinema to represent included names such as Pedro Almodóvar, Fernando Trueba, Bigas Luna, and Fernando Colomo. Nuria Triana-Toribio says of these directors that:
They renewed Spanish cinema, ethically and aesthetically, its genres, its star system, its locations and its soundtrack (both in terms of music and language). They succeeded as a consequence in changing the meaning of the words ‘Spanish cinema’ and what was perceived as Spanishness for future audiences, nationally and transnationally. (2003: 134)
Their films were also generally commercially successful and they attracted wide audiences.
Directorial debuts in the 1990s by (l-r): Álex de la Iglesia, Julio Medem, Icíar Bollaín, and Agustín Díaz Yanes  
      The financial problems with the ley Miró (i.e. the lack of success of the films that were funded under its criteria) meant that by 1994 (when a new film law with new financing structures came into operation) the funding subsidies became linked to box office track records. Spanish cinema is often described as being in ‘crisis’ (something that I will undoubtedly return to in later posts - a central paradox of Spanish cinema of this period is that at the same time as mass renewal and the significant commercial success of a range of Spanish films, the Spanish film industry was also sporadically said to be in crisis), but 1994 has been described as ‘the nadir of film production in Spain’ (Jordan and Morgan-Tamosunas 1998: 3); audience figures for Spanish films were the lowest they had been for years, ‘representing only seven percent of market share’ (1998: 2). Eduardo Rodríguez Merchán and Gema Fernández-Hoya link the culmination of problems in 1994 in part to the lack of specific support for new directors between 1990 and 1994 (when there were no subsidies for directorial debuts); they argue that the reinstatement of that specific subsidy was a decisive factor in the upturn and cambio generacional ('generational change') that Spanish cinema then experienced (2008: 28-29). The proportion of directorial debuts to total films produced increased to more than 30 percent between 2000 and 2007 (Yañez 2009: 51). 
Directorial debuts in the 1990s and 2000s by (l-r): Juanma Bajo Ulloa, Alejandro Amenábar, Jaime Rosales, and Daniel Sánchez Arévalo. 
      This new generation of filmmakers overtly and explicitly took inspiration from Hollywood films and formats. Although the movida generation took references from classic Hollywood cinema as well as Spanish traditions, the latest generation of directors are as likely to take inspiration from the work of George Lucas or Steven Spielberg as they are those of Luis García Berlanga or Narciso Ibáñez Serrador. Many of the new directors were within the same age range as their intended audiences (‘es la primera generación española que ha crecido con televisores en sus hogares, de manera que comparten un bagaje cultural sobre lenguajes audiovisuales con los espectadores más jóvenes’ [It’s the first Spanish generation to have grown up with televisions in their homes, in such a way that they share a cultural baggage with younger spectators in terms of audiovisual languages] (Rodríguez Merchán and Fernández-Hoya 2008: 31)) and seem to have had an interest in the traditions of Spanish cinema only insofar as they wanted to avoid them and create something new (Álex de la Iglesia infamously declared that his debut would avoid the Civil War and the post-war era, avoid adapting a culturally prestigious novel, or recreating childhood traumas (Buse et al 2007: 35)). In common with their cinema-going peers, the new directors wanted to watch films that were entertaining; their capacity to see cinema as a commercial venture meant that many of them embraced genres that had previously been looked down on, and made their films financially successful at the same time as redefining the boundaries of ‘Spanish cinema’. Barry Jordan and Mark Allinson argue that these directors have succeeded in balancing the commercial and the artistic, leading to ‘the emergence of a broadly commercial, entertainment-driven, Spanish cinema, involving new sets of narrative, generic, thematic, stylistic, technical, and casting concerns and choices’ (2005: 30). 
Directorial debuts from the 1990s and 2000s by (l-r): Mateo Gil, Nacho Vigalondo, Félix Viscarret, and Jonás Trueba
      While the new filmmakers have few elements in common other than the coincidence of the timing of their arrival in the industry (they have represented a broad range of genres and styles, ranging from horror, to musical comedy, to cine social, and more), the sheer number of them profoundly changed the make up of the Spanish industry and cinema in terms of both style and content. That said, this by no means precluded the continued work practices and success of both the post-Franco movida generation as well as the earlier ‘nuevo cine español’ (‘New Spanish Cinema’) generation (including directors such as Carlos Saura and Vicente Aranda), each maintaining their particular styles and interests (Jordan and Allinson 2005: 30) alongside the newer directors who emerged in the 1990s. So while I intend to start by looking at some of the directorial debuts made in the period, the more established names will also be addressed in due course.

Buse, P., Triana-Toribio, N. and A. Willis (2007) –The Cinema of Álex de la Iglesia, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.
Heredero, C. F. (1999) -20 nuevos directores del cine español, Madrid: Alianza Editorial, S.A.
        (2003) –‘New Creators for the New Millennium: Transforming the Directing Scene in Spain’, Cineaste, Contemporary Spanish Cinema Supplement, Winter, pp.32-37. Translated by D. West and I.M. West. 
Jordan, B. and M. Allinson (2005) – Spanish Cinema: A student’s guide, London: Hodder Arnold
Jordan, B. and R. Morgan-Tamosunas (1998) – Contemporary Spanish Cinema, Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press
Rodríguez Merchán, E. and G. Fernández-Hoya (2008) –‘La definitiva renovación generacional (1990-2005)’, in Miradas sobre pasado y presente en el cine español, edited by P. Feenstra and H. Hermans, Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, pp.23-35.
Triana-Toribio, N. (2003) – Spanish National Cinema, London & New York: Routledge.
Yáñez, J. (2009) –‘Debutantes en el cine español / El fenómeno de la ópera prima’, Cahiers du cinema España, No.24, June, pp.49-51.