Twenty years ago today: Manchester film festival, Viva, marks two decades of film in 2014

Kevin Bourke

As the Spanish-speaking Viva gears up for launch, we talk to the organiser of one of the north’s most specialist – yet popular – film festivals.

Twenty years ago, the very idea of a Spanish Film Festival in Manchester might have seemed loco. Yet in those two decades Viva has become one of Cornerhouse’s most popular events. Last year’s three week-long festival welcomed 9,000 cineastes from all over the country to what is now the UK’s largest, most popular Hispanic-languages film programme. Part of that popularity may well be due to a decision taken a while back to expand the festival to cover films from all over the Spanish-speaking world; this year’s festival, opening on Friday with the traditional gala screening and party, boasts an outstanding bill of comedies, documentaries, blockbusters and indies from right across Spain and Spanish-speaking Latin America, including countries such as Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, Cuba and Peru.

“Two decades worth of amazing films! It’s an achievement to get to twenty years and to still have regular, loyal audiences, who start asking you what’s happening and when they can book a couple of months before. It’s the audiences that are keeping us fresh,” says Festival Manager Rachel Hayward. Does that sort of longevity help at all in the fast-moving, yet cyclical, world of filmmaking and distribution, though? “It gets somewhat easier in that we know what’s likely to work, but there are always surprises, with films that seem to really strike a chord with people,” she admits. “We try not to be complacent or formulaic and one way of keeping it fresh is making sure that we’ve got different voices on the selection panel. This year, for example, we’ve had four young people working with us, and having their opinions in the mix has changed some of our views about what people might want to watch.”

We’re medium in size but big in ambition, with the best films from the Spanish-speaking world

It’s an approach that clearly works, as Viva regularly pulls in punters from across the region. “If you’re from Spain or Latin America and you’re living in England, this might be your one chance to get to see that film that all your family and friends back home are talking about,” says Hayward. “Special events – like sessions with directors, some of whom are incredibly famous in their home countries – bring people from all over to Manchester and mean there’s a real connection between Manchester and the whole of the Spanish-speaking world.” Even if you have no prior knowledge of Spanish and Latin American film, though, the breadth of the programme means that it’s likely to spark your interest. “This is a festival that’s medium in size but big in ambition, and it’s a panorama of the best films from all over the Spanish-speaking world,” says Hayward. “You can see our programming or curatorial personalities, I suppose, coming out in the selections – but it’s absolutely the films, and their quality, that are at the heart of it all.”

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