Hola! Manchester’s liveliest film festival returns to Cornerhouse

Kevin Bourke
VIVA film festival, La Vida empieza hoy (Life Begins Today), 2010

Manchester cinema gets a Spanish and Latin American infusion as Viva sets out its cinematic stall.

Viva fever hits Manchester again this spring, as the Spanish and Latin American film festival returns to Manchester for its 19th run. Presented with the Instituto Cervantes, the film festival bill features an impressively diverse selection of Spanish and Catalan language films, often otherwise unavailable in the UK and including blockbusters, independent features and documentaries, as well as directors, actors and other film experts heading up talks, Q&A sessions and workshops. The festival also takes on the first UK solo exhibition by the Mexican video artist, Yoshua Okón.

It is a hugely popular event – last year’s festival had more than 18,000 visitors over three weeks – but the financial crisis in Spain has, inevitably, affected its film industry, observes Programme Manager Rachel Hayward. “There has been a revival in films about unemployed youth and disaffected young people. We could have had a whole festival of those films if we’d wanted to – but we didn’t.” There are in fact a few such films, and a talk dedicated to the impacts of the economic crisis on the Spanish film industry, but the inclusion of Latin American cinema – first brought into the Viva festival a few years back – means that it isn’t dominated by them. “We definitely go for a variety, rather than reflecting a narrow view of Spain or Spanish-speaking cinema,” says Hayward.  “To get to our final programme of 24 films, we watched three times that number, from a database of over 100 films.”

“It’s about reflecting a breadth of cycles, trends and productions, not confirming a stereotype of what Spanish-language cinema is,” says programmer Andy Willis. “Because it is in its 19th year, the festival has built relationships with certain directors. Some of them, such as Alex de la Iglesia [whose 2011 film, La chispa de la vida, is widely agreed to be a major return to form] have been two or three times.”

She’s like the Spanish Judi Dench – if Judi Dench had been in the Communist party and done some racy stuff in later years

“Distributors know Viva and the filmmakers know it and they tell their mates. So there are high expectations for the nights out and the parties,” says Hayward.  “The audiences too have got a reputation for not just being loyal to the festival but committed and thoughtful in their questions.” If they had to recommend just a couple of films, Willis is keen enough on Lobos de Arga (Game Of Werewolves) to supplement the screenings with an event offering a potted history of celluloid werewolves. “That one is everything you think it’s going to be – very gory and very, very funny,” he says. “People don’t realise there’s a strong tradition of werewolf movies in Spain, many of them based on local myths.”

Hayward, meanwhile, points out that “one of the genres that’s always popular is period dramas, and Infancia Clandestina (Clandestine Childhood) is excellent. The story’s interesting, and the production values are great. Documentaries also do quite well, and Violeta se fue a los cielos (Violeta went to Heaven) is about the Chilean songwriter, folklorist and visual artist, Violeta Parra. Spanish speakers will certainly know who she is but it doesn’t matter if British audiences aren’t familiar with her work because hers is such a remarkable story. But one of my personal favourites is La vida empieza hoy (Life Begins Today), a comedy about older people looking to rekindle their sex-lives. It has Javier Bardem’s mum in it, who I now think of as the Spanish Judi Dench – if Judi Dench had been in the Communist party and done some racy stuff in later years.”

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