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Kicked in Spain, “Orphans” and “The Adopted Son” Find Home in Gijon

Kicked in Spain, "Orphans" and "The Adopted Son" Find Home in Gijon

Kicked in Spain, "Orphans" and "The Adopted Son" Find Home
in Gijon

by Matthew Harrison

About seventeen years ago a lot of Spanish couples must have given birth
to a lot of film-freak babies because attending the 36th Gijon
International Film Festival
in Gijon, Spain which opened on November
20th, was to witness a huge throbbing horde of film hungry young
Spaniards stampeding the streets and mobbing the box office.
Whatever they are doing in Spain, they’re doing it right! These people
love movies.

Being a judge at this raucous 7-day event was one non-stop Asturian
party. Programmed by the stage shy but charismatic, bespectacled
33-year-old Jose Luis Cienfuegos and his 26-year-old co-programmer Fran
Gayo, the Gijon festival screens some 120 odd features and shorts. Gijon
is situated on the north coast of Spain in a region known as Asturias.
The city of Gijon is a picturesque seaside city of about 250,000 with
large surf (and Spanish surfers). Gijon seems to be happily undiscovered
by the tourist industry, both European and American. In fact, tour
guides foolishly suggest avoiding it. This couldn’t be more wrong.

The town is warm and relaxing. The festival provides filmmakers with a
wad of funny money and a list of selected restaurants honoring the
scrip. As prices in Gijon are considerably lower than Madrid, the toy
money makes for a healthy eating experience. Cafe Dindurra, a large art
Deco cafe situated beside the main theater Jovellanos, serves as the
unofficial daily gathering place (although it’s cash only).

Cienfuegos, who took over control of the festival four years ago,
travels to Cannes, Berlin and some smaller festivals in search of films.
He observed that Gijon competes roughly on a par with Turin and
Stockholm, both endowed with higher budgets. Ticket sales this year were
approx. 50,000, about 10,000 more than last year. Cienfuegos’ ambitious
plans seem to have the enthusiastic support of a prosperous and proud
city. Boasting excellent regional press support (fond of calling the
festival the “Spanish Sundance”), national Spanish press is now
beginning to wake up to the Gijon festival. Gijon’s sponsorship is good;
a budget modest but growing. The level of professionalism among the
festival staff is excellent, the facilities and screens good. Corporate
sponsors looking for a hot young festival to partner with should jump
right on Gijon.

To “set this festival apart from others” Cienfuegos plans to “build the
most risky festival in Spain.” His statement of purpose includes the
words “non-conforming,” “confrontation,” and “rebellion.” Although a
thread of dark themes and powerful emotions runs through the
programming, Cienfuegos noted that a comedy won the Young Jury prize
last year.

When I pointed out a conspicuous absence of the word “independent” in
the catalog, Cienfuegos responded by saying they are finding “the word
is going soft. We are moving away from independent.” Whatever their
theory, their mix seems to be a big hit with the crowds of young Spanish
ticket buyers who showed up every day.

There were twelve features and twelve shorts in competition. “Pecker
opened the festival and “Waking Ned Devine” closed it. A special
screening of “Hang the DJ” directed by Mauro and Marco Lavilla took
place on the second night. Three beautifully researched retrospectives
honored Karel Reisz, Paul Morrissey and the animator Phil Mulloy. Eight
special sections sported names such as Radical, Enfant Terrible, New
German Cinema and False Documentary. The nightly parties were
complemented by six concerts, one being mobbed when the hot Spanish band
The Manta Rays appeared. Also for the first time this year, a Media
Conference ran in concurrence with the festival, attended by some 80
students and industry pros. The Conference was a success and will be
repeated next year.

For independent filmmakers Gijon is a welcome break from the heated
competition of larger festivals and a more personal celebration of their
work. The festival keeps the focus on the filmmakers, going out of their
way to find original new artists (and feeding them well). Gijon is small
enough to allow filmmakers, students, writers and others of the European
film community opportunity to mingle and discuss film in a relaxed

Gijon does not pretend to be a deal making festival. As a regional
international festival no business of consequence is done here; make
your sales before coming to Gijon. Nevertheless, I was surprised to see
excellent films with commercial potential that had no deal in Spain,
such as Paul Tykell’s “Crush Proof.” Clever sales agents could pick up
some gems. Also, Gijon could serve as a good pre-launch festival for a
film’s release in Spain. Postering is modest to nonexistent in Gijon —
a filmmaker willing to poster the town could pack the theater.

The competition jury was made up of five individuals; British composer
Barry Adamson, myself (the only American and the only director), Spanish
thespians Fele Martinez and Elvira Minguez, and Kirsi Tykklainen
director of the Finland’s International Cinema Foundation and an actress
in several of Aki Kaurismaki’s films. In addition, a Young Jury was
made up of 50 local youths, many of them university students, awards two
prizes; one for a feature, one for a short. These kids tackled their job
with enthusiasm and dedication.

Prizes were awarded as follows:

Best Feature: “Orphans” directed by Peter Mullan (Britian)

Best Short: “Hund” directed by Clemens Schonborn (Germany)

Best Director: “Festen” directed by Thomas Vinterberg (Denmark)

Special Jury Award: “Beshkempir” (“The Adopted Son“) directed by Aktan

Best Actor: Gary Lewis for “Orphans
Although I personally felt differently, the jury as a group decided not
to give a Best Actress Award, with the stated reason that “although
excellent actresses were represented, the jury noted a conspicuous lack
of good roles for women.”

Best Screenplay: Hans Christian Schmid for “23” (Germany)

Best Art Direction: Jacques Rouxel for “Zon Zon” (France)

Young Jury Awards:

Best Feature film: “Buffalo 66″ directed by Vincent Gallo (USA)

Best Short film: “Los Diaz Felices” directed by Chiqui Carabante (Spain)

A personal highlight for me was sitting with Paul Morrissey viewing his
excellent feature “Spike of Bensonhurst.” My personal hands down
favorite was “The Adopted Son” directed by Aktan Abdykalykov from
Kirgizstan. If there is a chance to see this film stateside, grab it.

[Matthew Harrison is a writer/director whose credits include “Kicked in
the Head,” “Rhythm Thief” and “Spare Me.” He is currently completing his
new feature film “My Little Hollywood.”]

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