Monday, 21 April 2014

BARATOmetrajes 2.0 (Daniel San Román and Hugo Serra, 2014) and cine low cost

    This timely (for me) documentary examines the phenomenon of 'nuevo cine low cost Español' / new low cost Spanish cinema, which has grown exponentially in the last couple of years. I'm going to take the opportunity of talking about the documentary to expand on the issue of 'cine low cost' as mentioned briefly in previous posts. Obviously there is an economic and social context to the increase in low cost cinema being made - austerity measures in Spain have seen reductions in government funding of cinema, and those kinds of schemes aren't always feasible for films made on the margins as some of them utilise expected audience numbers, which are not guaranteed or reliably predictable for independent cinema - but technological advances in recent years have also democratised production: more than one of the interviewees notes that you can make a film on your phone these days. However, technology alone is not enough to get a film made and seen.
    Interviewees in BARATOmetrajes 2.0 include directors, producers, distributors, festival programmers, and journalists, collectively taking the attitude that if you have an idea, a script, and friends who are willing to lend a hand, you can make a film - cinema is no longer the preserve of only the well-connected or the wealthy. However, there are evident tensions in relation to the idea of relying on friends - for example, producer Tina Olivares states that she would never embark on a film presuming that it was going to be low budget because that contains an assumption that she won't be able to pay people properly, something that she is unhappy about. Several of the directors interviewed were clearly uncomfortable about not being able to pay people (or themselves) properly for their work - this low cost cinema could still turn into the preserve of the rich if they're the only ones able to get by without a salary. 
    Funding in general is problematic - the films discussed were generally made for (low) five-figure sums but even that was hard won, often through appeals to friends and family, and increasingly via crowdfunding platforms (there is disagreement within the documentary as to the limits of crowdfunding in terms of how long it can remain viable as a funding source). The film explains the controversial system of 'subvenciones' (controversial in part because of how it's misunderstood - sometimes deliberately so when political point-scoring is going on - and the common misconception that the money goes into the filmmakers' pockets), and how it is loaded against smaller budget films, in a concise and clearly-illustrated manner. 
    Lack of money can have a knock-on effect on the aesthetic of a film, which may suit those who see these 'limitations' as adequate for the ideas they have and the speed at which they wish to work (several suggest that technical proficiency is overrated), but others evidently have aspirations for more ambitious productions. Relatedly, there is a discussion as to whether 'cine low cost' constitutes a genre, because there are certain recurrent characteristics (mainly dictated by the budget restrictions), chief among which is often what the film looks like - the films used as examples within the documentary looked quite different to each other stylistically, but others that I have seen online have a more generically lo-fi appearance. In terms of what I've read about cine low cost to date, it is generally spoken of as if it were a genre, which is part of the reason why it's separated out from the so-called 'other Spanish cinema' - although there are points of overlap insofar as both are termed 'independent' cinema (one interviewee asks "independent from what?") and usually low budget (although 'low' is always relative in financial terms). My project focusses on 'the other Spanish cinema' but I need to work out where the dividing line is and why films are put in one category or the other - are the 'other' films more ambitious or experimental? Or is it something else that differentiates them? Aesthetically the 'other' cinema encompasses a broad range of styles and methods of filmmaking - is this distinct from cine low cost? How do the two types/movements/phenomena connect with Spain's current social context?
     What I took from the documentary is that getting the film made is not actually the hardest part - getting it screened and seen by audiences is (another overlap between the two groups). Although technology has democratised production, the same is not true of distribution or exhibition. The Spanish market cannot cope with the volume of Spanish productions being made - for example, of the 107 Spanish films made in 2000, 3% never saw a commercial release; by 2007, with 172 Spanish productions, the proportion of unreleased films had risen to 14% (source: Yáñez 2008 and 2009 - I haven't managed to find more recent statistics on this specific aspect yet). Independent distributors are struggling in the current economic climate - Spain's biggest independent, Alta Films, a distributor and exhibitor of smaller / independent titles (whether American, European, or Spanish), shut its distribution arm last year and also had to close most of its cinemas. Meanwhile larger chains are also struggling due to the combination of the rise in IVA (which rose from 8% to 21% on entertainment in September 2012) and the cost of switching to digital (Spain is running behind many other European markets in that area), alongside people spending less on 'luxuries' - multiplexes are also closing down. In that environment, the bigger chains are less likely to take a chance on a smaller film that isn't a big draw for audiences. 
    In response, cinema is moving online - Márgenes, Filmin, and other VOD platforms are mentioned (I noticed that the littlesecretfilm initiative isn't included, which is a bit strange because it fits with the subject matter and they have been one of the most visible platforms for cine low cost, although I guess that their 'rules' set them apart), as is the possibility of filmmakers making their films pay-per-view through their own websites. El mundo es nuestro (Alfonso Sánchez, 2012) and Carmina o revienta (Paco León, 2012) are held up as (differing) examples of new and experimental distribution tactics that paid dividends, and the use of social media to generate publicity that they didn't have the funds to buy in the traditional sense.
     The issue of piracy, never far away in relation to Spanish cinema, also appears with members of the public offering the opinion that the Spanish won't pay for something that they can get for free. The low cost filmmakers admit to mixed feelings about their films being pirated because, while they would like to get paid, they would also like their films to be seen - the price of cinema tickets and DVDs (the former are broadly comparable with the UK, perhaps slightly more expensive, but the latter are noticeably more pricey in Spain) are seen as exorbitant in the current economic climate.
     BARATOmetrajes 2.0 is an interesting documentary that covers multiple aspects of the cine low cost phenomenon and includes a variety of opinions - quite often without an overall consensus, which serves to illustrate the diversity of people involved as well as the range of problems and possible solutions that they're encountering. Although it's not quite the topic I'm looking at, it's a good primer of what's going on alongside it, and is definitely worth watching if you have an interest in non-mainstream cinema. 

I watched it at Filmin, where it is showing for a few more days as part of the Atlántida Film Fest, but you can buy the DVD from the filmmakers' website - although note that it doesn't have subtitles.   

Yáñez, J. (2008) - ' El cine español que no estrena', Cahiers du cinema España, January, no.8, pp.50-52.
Yáñez, J. (2009) - 'El cine español de 2007 que no llegó a las salas', Cahiers du cinema España, February, no.20, pp.52-53.