When a region does not have the easy markers that a nation does – such as borders and an obvious international presence – then other ways of identifying their collective characteristics and presence, so as to distinguish themselves and raise awareness in the world outside, become even more important. For Catalonia, the autonomous region in Spain's northeast whose capital is the wondrous city of Barcelona, there are various ways of flying the flag. One is Barcelona's football team, rightly celebrated as the best club side in the world over the last three years, and another is the film industry.
“It's important for the film industry to be there. It's a big industry, a powerful one, and it's got many different students that come up every year from schools and infrastructure,” explains Sara Bosch, a Barcelona expatriate now living in Melbourne who has helped raise the Catalan film scene's profile in Australia. “It's solid and strong and creates quality, so we want to acknowledge that. We want to showcase all that talent that might not otherwise get out of Spain or Europe.”
Bosch, along with Mariona Guiu, is a director of the Made in Catalonia Film Festival (MiCFF), a small but vibrant screening series that will run a fourth installment at Melbourne's Cinema Nova this coming weekend (Friday 2, Saturday 3, and Sunday 4 March). The quartet of films featured – in Catalan and Spanish with English subtitles – show various sides of Catalan life, personal and public, dramatic and documentary. Some larger film festivals on the Australian calendar would do well to cover so much ground with their far more extensive programs.
“You have to think from an Australian perspective, but also consider the Catalans and Spaniards who might come to the Festival; you have to get in-between. We want to entertain and also show people about our culture,” Bosch says.
One of the titles screenings is Manuel Huerga's 14 April: Macia Versus Companys, a faux documentary made with modern techniques that depicts with on-the-spot-recreation-of-events what happened in 1931, when the nascent Catalan Republic declared its independence from Spain. It is one of several times over a handful of centuries that Catalonia has declared itself, however briefly, separated from Spain, and relations in the past have been fractious. During the dictatorship of Generalissimo Franco, from the mid 1930s until the mid 1970s, Catalan culture and separatist belief was often severely repressed. MiCFF doesn't hide from those years, but nor does it fixate on them.
“There are other places where you can approach history in a different way along with politics. There was a dictatorship in Spain, a lot of people were affected by it, including Catalans, but we're beyond politics at this stage although we always include a kind of political choice in every edition,” Bosch says. “We acknowledge the past with that, but we try to move on. We live so far away – as my mum says if you go any further on this side of the world you're on the way back – that there's not much point getting into politics all the time.”
Alongside April 14, the films this year include Pau Freixas' Heroes: Forever Young (pictured), about a successful professional that examines his current personal malaise through the prism of his youth; Jordi Cadena and Judith Colell's tough drama Elisa K, where recovered childhood memories plague a young woman; and Felix Fernandez de Castro's touching documentary Maria & I, which looks at a father's relationship with his autistic daughter.
Like everyone at MiCFF, which is operated through the auspices of the long-standing Cultural Catalan Centre of Victoria, Bosch is a dedicated volunteer. When she arrived in Australia from Barcelona four years ago she wasn't daunted by the prospect of starting a film festival in a country where she had only just arrived.
“By nature I'm a curious person and I try not to be afraid of new things. I was involved in film festivals back in Barcelona, but things were different. There's a lot of organisation here beforehand, but at the same time people here are flexible,” she says. “I admire the curiosity of Australia audiences. They might not always know where it is, but they want to know what's there. They're not close-minded, and that makes it easier to explain what we're trying to do with the festival.”
The benefits are obvious. For those new to Catalonia there's a sense of education, even enlightenment, while those who have the region in their blood get a renewed sense of where they're from. The many miles between Melbourne and Barcelona fall away during MiCFF screenings.
“You can be proud and say to people this is where I used to live, that's where I grew up, that guy was a friend of my dad,” notes Bosch. “That all matters.”
The 4th Made in Catalonia Film Festival screens on Friday 2, Saturday 3, and Sunday 4 March at the Cinema Nova in Melbourne. For more information see the official website.