Over the next few weeks the spirit of Franco will be looming large at HOME in Manchester – and no, that’s nothing to do with Robert Carlyle’s character in Trainspotting.
The venue is about to open the doors on this year’s ¡Viva! Festival celebrating Spanish and Latin American culture. A popular annual staple from back when HOME was Cornerhouse, 2017 sees the festival reach its 23rd year. Among other strands, such as a focus on women filmmakers and Basque cinema, the programme marks the 40th anniversary of La Transición, the wide-ranging Spanish aftermath of General Franco’s death when strict censorship laws were relaxed and many previously suppressed artists were able to flourish.
Selecting the films for ¡Viva! is a mighty, virtually all-year-round undertaking which falls to three people: Jessie Gibbs, the festival coordinator, Andy Willis, HOME’s senior visiting curator for film, and Rachel Hayward, HOME’s programme manager for film. Hayward explains the process: “It’s Jessie who has the perhaps enviable, perhaps not, job of doing the first watch of things. That can be just watching 20 minutes and completely discarding something, or watching 20 minutes and saying, ‘we need to watch this as a team’. Jessie’s estimate is that, give or take a few, she’ll have watched 150 films this year. Me and Andy will have seen slightly less.”
The end result is a array of 30 films, ranging from brand-new work to older pieces which emerged during La Transición, many of them UK premieres and complete with guests and special introductions. For the first time in the festival, there’s even a children’s film, the high-octane adventure tale Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang.
The festival isn’t confined to cinema screenings, though. In HOME’s exhibition space, there will be an exploration of the art of La Movida, the cultural wave in post-Franco Spain which is sometimes likened to punk. Meanwhile, the theatre spaces will be playing host to work by several major Spanish performers, among them One-Hit Wonders by leading dance company Sol Picó and Birdie by Agrupación Señor Serrano. There will even be a large outdoor tent space erected in Tony Wilson Place right outside HOME, presenting a range of live shows including hotly-tipped visiting Basque band Rural Zombies.
Back in 2015, when Cornerhouse closed and HOME opened, there was, Hayward says, an open discussion about whether or not to carry ¡Viva! across. “Because we’re quite pragmatic people, as well as being devoted to our art forms and culture in general, we looked at everything and what we should move with us. From my point of view, because ¡Viva!‘ has been so successful for so long, there was no question of not carrying it on. It was definitely going to happen. Also, from an audience point of view, there would be no reason to stop it. It certainly works. But what we felt we definitely needed to do was to make it for HOME instead of for Cornerhouse.”
“The opportunities that we get in this building here at HOME are so much broader in terms of space, dressing the building, interacting with audiences in a different way. It all lends itself to much bigger work. This year, I think we’ve absolutely hit our stride with that multi-art form approach. We’re really proud of how the festival looks, so the anticipation for how it’s going to be delivered is amazing. It’s really going to take over the building.”
For all this diversity though, Hawyard is confident that there’s no danger of the film element being sidelined.
“I think we’re in quite a privileged position in that we’ve got a really dedicated audience for ¡Viva!, so I don’t think that the other elements of the programme are going to be to the detriment of the film programme in any way. But I do think that having the other elements means that, for the film audience, we can feed into the other art forms and hopefully get people to try something else out.”
The La Transición-era films in this year’s programme have been specially curated by Andy Willis. Of the Spanish film directors who really made their mark in the aftermath of Franco, such as Vicente Aranda, Eloy de la Igelsia and Ivan Zulueta, some had been around for a while whereas others emerged a little later.
“In the immediate moment, it’s people who are already in the industry, established directors who have been working within the constraints of the industry, who suddenly don’t have those constraints,” explains Willis. “Then after that, in the very late 70s and early 80s, a whole new generation arrives.”
Arguably then, the ¡Viva! Festival and all that it celebrates might never have happened without La Transición – albeit in a roundabout sort of way. Willis says: “¡Viva! happens because of directors like Pedro Almodovar and Bigas Luna whose films were being released a little bit later, in the 80s. But without what was happening in this earlier period, those filmmakers would never have developed into the filmmakers that they did. They certainly wouldn’t have had the freedom to explore the issues, particularly around sex and sexuality and linking that to politics, that some of them did. Spanish cinema would wouldn’t be the Spanish cinema we know if Franco hadn’t died in 1975 or if there haven’t been this outburst of films that dealt with taboo issues, which is something that Spanish cinema later on becomes very much associated with, that kind of taboo-busting, risky, flamboyant cinema. That’s the direct result, I think, of the post-Franco period, letting it all hang out.”
The legacy of La Transición might be detected in the festival’s contemporary film offerings. Of these, Hayward selects a few personal favourites. There’s Distancias Cortas (Walking Distance), about a man with mobility issues who is drawn outdoors by a love of photography. “It’s about how, through small steps, he creates a better life for himself and finds an increased capacity for living. It’s really beautifully done.” There’s also Rara (Strange) about the spiky relationship between two young sisters being raised by same-sex parents, and La Puerta abierta (The Open Door) which follows a group of disreputable neighbours in a down-at-heel urban tower block.
Another of Hayward’s highlights is Almacenados (Warehouse) in which an older man on the verge of retirement trains up his young successor to shift boxes – for no readily apparently reason – around a storage area. “Again, isolation is a theme in here. It’s about new and old and how people approach life.”
Many of these films tell universal stories which have the ability to reach far beyond Spain and Latin America. The ¡Viva! festival is a celebration of other cultures, and in troubling times like these, that can only be a good thing. Willis says: “I think reflecting historically on a moment of great turbulence and change, where people were asking questions – what is democracy, how are people represented and how can a variety of different voices be heard – all of those questions which Spain went through in the late 1970s are very pertinent, I think, to what’s going on today across the world.”
Hayward adds: “In terms of understanding other cultures and the power of art and film to be a space for debate is, I think, incredibly important at the moment. There’s just so much to say and see of what’s out there beyond your own world, whether your world is your town, your city, your country or your language.”
By Andy Murray, Film Editor
Main image: El Amparo
The 2017 ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Festival is at HOME, Tony Wilson Place in Manchester from March 31 until April 17, 2017. For more information, click here.