Founder Natalia Ortiz gives an insight into the 15th annual edition – which nearly didn’t happen.
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13 Jun 2012 - 11:42 AM  UPDATED 27 Feb 2014 - 12:30 PM

The financial crisis in Spain nearly had a devastating impact on the 2012 Spanish Film Festival: After losing several key sponsors festival director Natalia Ortiz feared she would have to call off this year's edition.

That was until Ortiz held an emergency meeting in February with executives at Palace Cinemas, the fest's long-time exhibition partner, who came to the rescue by offering to provide staff to help organise the event.

“I said I was not in a position to go ahead and they very quickly said they can't allow the festival to disappear or to postpone it to another year,” Ortiz told SBS Movies. Palace's support enabled her to “concentrate more on my role in selecting films and looking after the artistic part of the festival rather than worrying about the money side,” she explained.

The disrupted preparation did force the director to move the 15th annual edition from its traditional May berth to July, kicking off in Sydney on July 4, in Melbourne the following day and later that month in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

Spanish government cutbacks in film funding haven't affected the programme she has assembled but there will be an impact in 2013 as she predicts the country's output will be reduced substantially from an average of 170 films per year.

Her decision to trim the number of features to 22, down from 36 in 2011, wasn't influenced by financial issues. Rather, it was a response to feedback from audiences who wanted more opportunities to see the films. Hence all 22 titles will be presented nationally (cities outside the southern capitals used to get a reduced programme) and each will screen up to six times in Sydney and Melbourne.

In sourcing films over the past six months, the good news is that all her wishes came true. “There is nothing that I wanted that I could not have,” she said. Recognising that about 75 per cent of her audiences aren't Spanish-speaking, she observed, “I try to pick a really diverse programme so everybody can choose a film they like; I don't want to make the festival too arty or too commercial.”

The opening night attraction is Álex de la Iglesia's As Luck Would Have It (pictured), a contemporary satire starring Salma Hayek and Jose Mota, centring on an out-of-work advertising executive who suffers an accident and plans to sell the exclusive interview rights to the highest bidder in an attempt to provide for his family. A 15th birthday fiesta with drinks, canapés and a live salsa band will follow.

Winner of the best animated feature and best adapted screenplay prizes at the 2012 Goya Awards, Wrinkles is a charming saga of two old men in a nursing home, directed by Ignacio Ferreras.

David Trueba's Madrid, 1987 stars veteran Spanish actor José Sacristán as a respected reporter and María Valverde as a journalism student who spend the day together locked in a bathroom after a failed seduction attempt.

Unit 7 is a thriller about four cops who are assigned the task of eradicating drug trafficking from Seville ahead of the 1992 World Expo, directed by Alberto Rodriguez.

Daniel Brühl and Lluis Homar star in Eduard Cortés' Winning Streak, based on the true story of the Pelayo family who travelled the world winning millions of dollars at casinos by capitalising on a roulette wheel's imperfection.

The recipient of the 2012 Goya for best Spanish language foreign film, Sebastián Borensztein's Chinese Take-Away is set in Buenos Aires and features Argentinean actor Ricardo Darín as a loner who is forced to take in a Chinese lodger.

A fan of over-the-top comedies, she's pleased to present Saving Private Perez, a Mexican film about the head of the most powerful drug cartel who sets out to rescue his brother from war-torn Iraq on the orders of the only authority he respects: his mother.

Also in that vein is Torrente 4, the latest instalment of the hit franchise directed by and starring Santiago Segura, chronicling the misadventures of a disgraced former cop turned private eye, with a familiar recipe of gross-out humour and political incorrectness.

From Peru comes writer/director Rosario Garcia-Montero's The Bad Intentions, a drama focusing on a young girl who is convinced she will die on the same day her brother is born.

Among the romantic comedies are Argentina's Widows, the saga of a happily married woman who discovers a young, attractive woman grieving at her husband's bedside, and Spain's Six Points About Emma, which looks at a blind woman who seeks the perfect man to help her conceive after her boyfriend rejects the idea.

The closer is Sleep Tight, a psychological thriller directed by Jaume Balagueró, starring Luis Tosar as an apartment block concierge in Barcelona who stalks the residents after dark. “If you don't like thrillers don't go; it's really scary,” she advises.

Thus far only four films, the opening and closing titles plus Chinese Take-Away and swashbuckling Spanish adventure Captain Thunder and the Holy Grail, have Australian
distribution lined up.

Ortiz is negotiating to bring over a number of prospective guests but is encountering a problem: “There's a huge financial crisis but everyone is working. It was easier when the festival was in May but in July everyone is making films. It's good to hear about these wonderful projects, some of which we may be screening next year.”

Last year, Ortiz staged a New Zealand offshoot of the festival in parallel with the Australian screenings, which she decided in retrospect was a crazy idea logistically. So she hopes to take the event across the Tasman in November if she can secure the necessary sponsorship and funding.

Next year, she aims to revert to the May schedule, pending audience feedback, and to expand the festival to Canberra, where Palace is building an eight-plex.

For more information on Spanish Film Festival visit the official website.