Festivals in Spain or culture in times of crisis
17/11/2011 - After several years of constant work and renewed, almost obsessive, commitment to the vanguard of auteur cinema, the 49th Gijón International Film Festival is now within sight. This landmark is undoubtedly a cause for celebration but it comes at a difficult time, for over the last few months Spain has seen the disappearance of long-standing festivals with generous budgets, while other critically prestigious ones have been turned into biennials.
Gijón began in 1963 as a Children’s Film Festival and over many decades it has managed to assert its identity. We like to believe that in recent years the festival has successfully negotiated challenges like the new digital formats: these are considerable obstacles for a festival with a modest budget but, with common sense, imagination and some planning, they have been reasonably overcome. We have also seen a new generation of viewers, and the assimilation of our proposals, which had only one ambitious final aim: re-training the viewers’ gaze after decades of exposure to conventional narrative formulas. Besides working with youngsters, we try to reach out to the most experienced and demanding film enthusiasts.
It has been hard work winning back generations of people sceptical about the future of cinema and its new paths of exploration. What nobody could predict was the extent to which, in 2011, the economic crisis would wipe out a large number of festivals and cultural events in our country to the point where the necessity of their existence has been questioned in circles little inclined to understand the important work of film festivals in boosting local and regional economies, and their key role as a link in the increasingly complex and fragile circulation chain of audiovisual works.
Nevertheless, as we all agree that festivals have become a circuit that is complementary to that of commercial theatres, with important partners such as film archives, and faced with foreseeable cuts in state funding in 2012, it is worth pointing out two issues which, in my opinion, are essential:
1.In a way, film festivals in Spain have been victims of their own property bubble, due to the frenzied race to offer the most lucrative cash prizes (a race started by festivals with modest budgets and which has swept along events with a more comfortable financial situation).
2.The difficulty, in the short term, of dealing with the ever increasing demands from international distribution companies when it comes to paying for film rights and rentals. To give an example, experienced by our festival this year: Is it feasible and morally acceptable to have to pay an amount of about €600 for the exhibition of a short film produced more than five years ago and which is available on YouTube? I recognise and assert the need for these companies, which have contributed so much to the survival of festivals, but it is not out of place to warn of the danger of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Finally, a line-up as impressive and ambitious as that of this 49th edition aims, above all, to consolidate a programming strategy that has the support not only of many critics, but also of a diverse and sympathetic audience who for a long time have embraced the Gijón festival as a place of meeting, exchange, coming together and respect: it is a bastion against the dangerous homogenisation of tastes, against the prevailing complacency and critical indolence; and also, let’s admit it, a source of entertainment and intellectual pleasure. We continue the fight.
José Luis Cienfuegos is the director of Gijón International Film Festival, which begins tomorrrow.