Over the twenty years of its existence, New York City's annual Spanish Cinema Now series has come to serve as the American showcase for vibrant, thought-provoking films in Spanish cinema. A new generation of comic filmmakers first met American audiences with our longest-running series at Film Society of Lincoln Center: Alex de la Iglesias, Santiago Segura, Ventura Pons, and Daniel Sanchez Arevalo, among others. Female directors, such as Iciar Bolain, Gracia Querejta, Helena Taberna and Isabel Coixet, have been prominently featured, as have the new approaches to classic genres as seen in the films of Nacho Vigalondo, Jaume Balaguer, and Javier Gutierrez. Spanish Cinema Now has also provided the occasion for retrospective homages to artists ranging from directors Carlos Saura, Victor Erice and Manuel Gutierrez Aragon to actors such as Javier Bardem and Javier Camera.
Back in the Eighties, before I was working at Lincoln Center, I would come to New York from Chicago (where I was living) to attend Spanish film week organized by the Spanish Ministry of Culture. My good friend, Carmelo Romero, head of international film promotion for the Ministry in those years, organized these shows, which took place in various cinemas around town that had been rented for the occasion. After I got my Lincoln Center job, I told Carmelo that as soon as our new cinema--a place that was to be called the Walter Reade Theater--would be up and running, I'd be delighted to host the Spanish film week. We made a date to have our first collaboration in the fall of 1989, just after the Walter Reade was scheduled to open (September 1989).
New York building projects being what they are, the Walter Reade didn't open in fact until December 1991, but every time I saw Carmelo I'd renew my promise. Finally, after some negotiation, we agreed on October 1992, to be the launch of our first series. Dramatically titled "Out of the Ashes," this first Lincoln Center Spanish show proved a great success, introducing audiences to films such as Bogas Luna's JAMON JAMON (as well as to Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in that film), and Carlos Saura's marvelous dance film SEVILLANAS. Encouraged, we decided we'd repeat our collaboration the next year, only we'd move the series into early December, and it's remained there ever since.
Together, Spanish cinema and the Film Society have taken quite a journey. When the series began in 1992, Spanish cinema was at a particularly low point: production was down to 40 films a year (down from highs of almost 200 in the Seventies), and Spanish cinema could not even claim ten percent of its domestic box office. The older, established generation of filmmakers had perhaps lost touch with Spanish audiences, especially younger audiences; raised in the shadow of Franco, this generation of filmmakers specialized in a somewhat closed, allegorical cinema, used as it was to hiding messages and themes from the censors. Yet the new generation was all about openness, about putting it out there, and there was no greater symbol of this than the one Spanish filmmaker who continued to enjoy growing international success in these years: Pedro Almodóvar, who once went so far as to claim that he made films "as if Franco had never existed."
In the twenty years since the founding of Spanish Cinema Now (Film Society of Lincoln Center's longest-running series), Spanish Cinema has continued to struggle to both maintain its domestic box office as well as to establish expanded markets around the world, yet there can be little doubt of its importance today--both as a source for talented directors and actors, as well as one of the most aesthetically provocative cinema anywhere.
We're proud to be a small part of this cinematic renaissance, and are grateful to Spanish cinema for all the pleasure it continues to give our audiences.
Film Society of Lincoln Center's Spanish Cinema Now series is currently celebrating 20 years with an exciting lineup of films, shorts, documentaries and a tribute to the late great director Luis García Berlanga, all currently playing at Walter Reade Theater until December 22. Visit www.filmlinc.com for schedule, tickets and information.