3D 5th Wave 70s Culture 80s Cinema A Night of Horror AAustralian film Action Activism Adaptation Adelaide Film Festival Adventure Advocacy African American Age of Adaline AI albanian Alien Abduction alien covenant aliens Alpha alt-right altzheimers amazon American Amitabh Bachchan Animal Animation anime anthology Anti-vaxx Ari Gold Art Asia Pacific Screen Awards Asian Cinema Australian film AV Industry Avengers Bad Robot BDSM Beach Boys Berlinale BFG Bianca Biasi Big Hero 6 Biography Biopic Blade Runner Blake Lively Blockbuster B-Movies Bollywood Breast Cancer Brian Wilson Brisbane Bruce Willis Camille Keenan Canadian Cancer candyman Cannes cannibalism Cannon Films Cesars CGI Chapman To Character Actors Charlie Hunnam Charlize Theron Chemsex China Lion Chinese Chloe Grace Moretz Chris Hemsworth Chris Pratt Christchurch christian cinema christmas Christopher Nolan Classic Cinema Clint Eastwood Close Encounters Cloverfield Comedy Comic Book Coming-of-Age Concert Film Conor McGregor Conspiracy Controversy Crowd-sourced Cult Cure Dakota Johnson Dance Academy Dardennes Brothers darth vader Debut Deepika Padukone Depression Disaster Movies Disney Diversity Documentary doomsday Dr Moreau drama Dunkirk Dustin Clare Dystopic EL James eli roth Elizabeth Banks Entourage Environmental Epic Erotic Cinema Extra-terrestrial Extreme Sports faith-based Family Film Fantasy Father Daughter Feminism Fifty Shades of Grey Film Film Festival Foreign found footage French Cinema Friendship Fusion Technology Gareth Edwards Gay Cinema Ghostbusters Ghosts Golan Globus Gothic Graphic Novel green inferno Guardians of the Galaxy Guillermo del Toro Gun Control Hacker Hailee Steinfeld Han Solo Happiness Harrison Ford Harry Dean Stanton Hasbro Haunted house


The diversity of Spanish society – the centuries-old traditions that define the romanticism and passion of the land versus the role the urban centres play at the forefront of European modernisation – has infused the cinematic output since the first projected image stunned audiences in Madrid in 1896. Over the last century, the nation has been shaped by civil war, dictatorial politics and continental economic integration – all factors that have become evident in the artistry and unique interpretations Spanish filmmakers have produced.

(Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodovar's Volver, 2006)

A few months prior to the Lumiere Brother’s tour of Spain, Eduardo Jimeno’s Salida de misa de doce del Pilar de Zaragoza (People Coming Out of the Noontime Mass at the Cathedral of the Virgin of Pilar in Zaragoza) screened in Madrid. Though essentially a collage of random images depicting the essence of Spanish rural life, the film displayed many of the traits that would define Spanish cinema for much of the first half of the century – quaint longings for and loving homages to the sweet exoticism of a country appreciative of the simple joys of life.

Spain’s silent cinema industry had little influence or impact outside of its homeland, but a fledgling industry did exist on the back of some innovative, entrepreneurial directors. Fructuós Gelabert (pictured, right) directed Spain’s first fictional silent short Riña en un café (Café Brawl) in 1896; he would remake the film just prior to his death in 1955 and soon became one of Spain’s most prolific and influential silent filmmakers, amassing over 100 writing and directing credits. His documentary, industrial and travelogue shorts are now considered invaluable records of a developing nation.

One of Spain’s greatest cinema technicians came from this period - Segundo de Chomón. His early use of special effects and image manipulation is best seen in the extraordinary El Hotel eléctrico (The Electric Hotel, 1908), a fantasy film about a fully-automated hotel that many historians consider to be technically on par with Georges Méliès' Le Voyages dans la luna (A Trip to the Moon, 1902).

As international silent film production increased and American and European films filled cinemas in Madrid and Barcelona, Spanish cinema continued to explore themes and narratives froma traditional perspective. Adaptations of popular Spanish historical stories flourished (Ricardo Baños's 1905 film version of the popular play Don Juan Tenorio, for example). The entrepreneur Benito Perojo was the driving force behind the establishment of the film industry in Madrid, launching his own production company in 1915 and producing and directing works of a nationalistic slant. Filmmakers such as Florian Rey (La hermana San Sulpicio / Sister San Sulpicio, 1927, pictured, right; Agustina de Aragón / Augustina of Aragon, 1929) and Juan de Orduña (Una aventura de cine, 1928) became leading forces in the silent film era and then into the conversion to sound. Epics were especially popular, if limited in their international distribution by an overt Spanish fervour, depicting Spanish bravery and resilience – Gerard Bourgeois’ La vida de Cristóbal Colón y su descubrimiento de América (The Life of Christopher Columbus and his Discovery of America, 1916) and Rey’s La aldea maldita (Cursed Village, 1929) are two of the more memorable examples.

As the sound era dawned (Spain’s first talkie was Francisco Elías's El misterio de la Puerta del Sol / The Mystery in the Puerta del Sol, 1929), an expatriate Spaniard, living in France, began to experiment with film. The films of Luis Bunuel (pictured, left), notably Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog, 1929) and L'Â ge d'or (The Golden Age, 1930) would change the course of film language forever. Creating the movement that would become known as Surrealism, Bunuel, with fellow Spaniard Salvador Dali, became the toast of bohemian Europe, his films shocking and disorienting to audiences used to linear narratives and traditional stories. To this day, Un chien andalou is considered a masterpiece and features one of the most iconic cinema images of all time – the slicing of a woman’s eye with a straight razor, shot in extreme close-up (faked, of course, but unforgettable nevertheless). Returning to Spain to make the socialist documentary Las Hurdes (Land Without Bread, 1933), Bunuel ran afoul of the Republican government, who banned the film for its confronting images of lower-class suffering in Salamanca.

Luis Bunuel would establish himself as Spain’s greatest filmmaker, ensuring a truly unique legacy for Spanish film culture. His major works include Quién me quiere a mí? (Who Loves Me?, 1936), Los olvidados (The Forgotten Ones, 1950), Una mujer sin amore (A Woman Without Love, 1952), El bruto (The Brute, 1953), Nazarin (1959), Viridiana (1961, a Cannes Golden Palm winner that was denounced by the Vatican), Le journal d'une femme de chambre (Diary of a Chambermaid, 1964), Belle du jour (1967, winner of Venice’s Golden Lion), El discreto encanto de la burguesía (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeousie, 1972, winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film) and Ese oscuro objeto del deseo (That Obscure Object of Desire, 1977).

The early 1930’s were a boom period for Spanish cinema – from 1930 to 1936, Madrid’s two major studios, Ricardo Urgoiti’s Filmófono (home to executive producer Luis Bunuel)  and Vicente Casanova’s Compañía Industrial Española SA (CIFESA), produced over 60 movies. But on July 18 1936, the eruption of the General Franco-led revolution and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War all but shut down film production for three years.

Under Franco, censorship was rife. Films were the tool of the governing body – Franco himself wrote the script for José Luis Sáenz de Heredia's Raza (Race, 1942, pictured, right), the rousing tale of a faithful soldier who rises to lead a great revolution. Productions were primarily simple, melodramatic rural stories espousing the joys of simply being Spanish or embellished stories about saints and sinners - Manuel Augusto García Víñola's Inés de Castro (1944), José López Rubio's Eugenia de Montijo (1944), Rafael Gil's Reina santa (Saintly Queen, 1947), and Juan de Orduña's Misión blanca (The White Mission, 1946) are classic examples of this period.  

The 1950’s brought a sly sub-genre of social comedy that commented on Franco’s rule with a incision. Despite the establishment a film office in the Ministry of Information and Tourism charged with ensuring film output was nationalistic and celebratory, films such as Esa pareja feliz (That Happy Pair, 1953), the enormously popular Bienvenido, Mister Marshall (Welcome, Mister Marshall, 1953), Los Jueves, milagro (Miracles of Thursday, 1957), Plácido (1961) and El verdugo (The Executioner, 1963) took subtle but effective shots at Franco’s social policies. These films were all the work of Luis García Berlanga (pictured,left), now regarded as one the period’s great satirists. This light neorealism took a decidedly darker turn with Carlos Saura’s Los golfos (The Delinquents, 1962), in which Madrid’s disenfranchised youth’s turn to crime to survive. The ‘new wave’ of audacity in Spanish film was fanning the flames of social unrest and dissatisfaction with Franco’s reign.

A refreshing liberalism came to the Ministry of Information and Tourism with the appointment of the free-thinking Manuel Fraga Iribarne in the early 1960’s. He ushered in an era of young filmmakers who were eager to tell new Spanish stories to both the national population and world audiences. From this blossoming of Spanish talent came such respected filmmakers as Saura (La caza/The Hunt, 1965; El jardín de las delicias/The Garden of Delights, 1970; La prima Angélica/Cousin Angelica, 1974; Cría cuervos/Raise Ravens, 1976), Basilio Martín Patino (Canciones para después de una Guerra/Songs for After a War, 1971), Miguel Picazo, Mario Camus, Manuel Summers and Victor Erice (El espíritu de la colmena/The Spirit of the Beehive, 1973, pictured, above).

By the mid-1970’s, the idiosyncrasies of a young underground filmmaker were being talked about in the cafes and campuses of modern Spain. Pedro Almodovar was creating bold experimental films of striking originality and they were being noticed. As Franco’s constraints disappeared and creativity and vibrancy was restored to mainstream thinking, Almodovar embraced it with both hands, premiering his first film, the bawdy comedy Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (Pepi, Luci, Bom) in 1980. By the time his second feature was released (Laberinto de pasiones/Labyrinth of Passions, 1982, featuring the film debut of a young actor named Antonio Banderas), Almodovar was the darling of the Spanish film scene, each of his subsequent films becoming a media and cultural event - Entre tinieblas (Dark Habits, 1983); Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto!! (What Have I Done to Deserve This?, 1984); Matador (1986); La Ley del deseo (Law of Desire, 1987); Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, 1988); Tacones lejanos (High Heels, 1991); Kika (1993); Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother, 1999, winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar); Hable con ella (Talk to Her, 2002, winner of Best Original Screenplay Oscar); La mala educación (Bad Education, 2004); Volver (2006). His mix of melodrama and sexuality and his effortless transition from light to dark in his themes, scenes and imagery has seen him assume the mantle of national treasure in his home land and reverence as one of the great modern international filmmakers.

Spanish filmmakers of note are impacting international commercial cinema in greater numbers than ever before – Fernandi Trueba (the Oscar-winning Belle Epoque, 1992; Calle 54, 2000; Chico & Rita, 2010); Isabel Coixet (Cosas que nunca te dije/Things I Never Told You, 1996; My Life Without Me, 2003; The Bookshop, 2017); José Juan Bigas Luna (Jamón, Jamón, 1992, the film that introduced international audiences to the charms of future Oscar winners Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem); Julio Medem (Los amantes del círculo polar/The Lovers of the Arctic Circle, 1999; Ma Ma, 2015); Alejandro Amenabar (Abre los ojos/Open Your Eyes, 1997, pictured, right; The Others, 2001; The Sea Inside, 2004); Juan Antonio Bayonas (El Orfanato/The Orphanage, 2008; The Impossible, 2012; Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, 2018); Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (Intacto, 2001; 28 Weeks Later, 2008).

In 2000, the film Amores Perros introduced the world to Alejandro González Iñárritu, a master of visceral and emotional cinema who would dominate the global film scene with films such as 21 Grams (2003), Babel (2006) and Biutiful (2010), before winning two Best Director Oscars for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014) and The Revenant (2015). The door was now open for the unique visionaries of Spanish cinema, festival and arthouse audiences seeking out such names as Paula Ortiz (The Bride, 2015); Álex de la Iglesia (Witching and Bitching, 2013); Pablo Berger (Blancanieves, 2012); Jaume Balagueró ([Rec], 2007; Sleep Tight, 2011; Muse, 2017); Cesc Gay (A Gun in Each hand, 2012; Truman, 2015); Fernando León de Aranoa (Princesas, 2005; A Perfect Day, 2015); Cala Simon (Summer of 1993, 2017); and, Rodrigo Cortés (Buried, 2010).

Having survived the hardships of an oppressive regime determined to silence free thinking, the Spanish film scene emerged stronger for the experience. The confidence and passion of the nation and its people is on the screen for all to see.

Key Events:
San Sebastian International Film Festival – Donostia, San Sebastian, Spain; September.
Launched on September 21, 1953, Spain’s premier film event was conceived as a non-competitive ‘International Film Week’ for the purpose of screening and marketing films; within two years it was recognised as a competitive festival of global standing. This marked the emergence of the "Concha", or shell – the now-iconic award handed to those films and filmmakers whose work is deemed to honour the ideals of the festival – the ongoing liberalisation of cinema and to serve as a showcase for each year's most innovative films.

Escuela de Cinematografia y de la Audiovisual de la Communidad de Madrid (ECAM)
C / Juan de Orduña, 3 
City of the Image 
28223 Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid
Tel: (+34) 915 121 060

(All effort has been made to ensure content is comprehensive and accurate at time of publication. No claim to ownership on any visual material; please contact the site directly with issues regarding copyright for immediate resolution).

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>