¡Viva! returns to HOME for a venue wide, 18 day, celebration of Spanish and Latin American culture. The annual event is now in its 23rd year, and the line-up looks as varied and interesting as ever. Featuring theatre, performance, parties, live music, food and language tasters, alongside a full blown exhibition and, of course, an extensive cinema programme, this huge, three week festival should bring a welcome injection of life and colour to Manchester’s First Street this Spring.
Film-wise, the festival promises a roundup of the best new Spanish and Latin American filmmaking, and it’s not light on special guests, with a huge array of UK premieres and filmmaker Q&As from ten different countries – Spain, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. It’s a festival ripe for exploration, and there’s often a chance to discover some of the year’s big films before everybody else — last year’s festival included an opportunity to catch the Oscar-nominated documentary Embrace of the Serpent months before the general public.
As in previous years, the films also vary significantly in form and content, with a range to suit everybody from the discerning cinephile, to those looking for something more mainstream. The festival opens with Daniel Calparsoro’s stylish Valencia-set heist film Cien años de perdón (To Steal from a Thief), which promises a twisting exercise in tension with a timely political dimension. There’ll be more political thrills with Pasaje de vida (Safe Passage) which details the deadly transition from peaceful protest to clandestine armed struggle, and the intriguing sounding “contemporary environmental western” La Tierra roja (The Red Land).
The global net cast by the festival programmers means that ¡Viva! attendees are afforded a window into myriad different cultures, and there are no shortage of films which highlight social issues both local and global. Look out for Ana Cristina Barragán’s Alba; a restrained take on the growing pains of an 11-year-old girl coming to terms with the plight of her terminally ill mother. Rara – the debut feature from director Pepa San Martín – also looks at the struggles of a young girl, with a tale of first crushes, playground politics and the insidious homophobia felt by 13-year-old Sara and her non-traditional family.
On a lighter note, Nely Reguera’s María (y los demás) (María (and Everybody Else)) finds comedy in an ex-homemaker’s increasingly desperate attempts to stay front and centre in the lives of her friends and family. Meanwhile, La Puerta abierta (The Open Door) from director Marina Seresesky takes a witty, darkly comic look a community of prostitutes, whilst Camino a La Paz (Road to La Paz) puts a bluesy soundtrack atop a laugh-out-loud odd-couple road movie that offers a fascinating glimpse of an Argentinian Muslim community.
The festival does a great job of surveying the current state of Spanish and Latin American cinema, but there’s also a chance to look backwards with a series of retrospective screenings which commemorate the 40th anniversary of the abolition of censorship in Spain. The series, which investigates the transition to democracy era known as La Transición, includes Pedro Almodovar’s flamboyant sex-n-drugs-n-roc-n-roll debut Pepi, Luci, Bom (Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls on the Heap), El Diputado (The Deputy) from prolific gay socialist filmmaker Eloy de la Iglesia and Juan Antonio Bardem’s lengthy Siete días de enero (Seven Days in January), which reconstructs the 1977 Massacre of Atocha.
For those of us unfamiliar with the history of Spanish politics, the retrospective screenings are accompanied by contextualising talks from Professor Rob Stone from University of Birmingham, Andy Willis of Salford University and Dr Carmen Herrero from Manchester Metropolitan University. Herrero will also lead ¡Viva!’s panel on Contemporary Female Filmmakers in Spain, which will address current industry debates which surround female filmmakers and assess the strength of the work by women discovered during the programme selection process.
¡Viva! is the kind of cross discipline celebration that HOME pulls off so well. The position of the bulging (25+) film programme alongside exciting theatre and a full exhibition allows for an all too rare dialogue between the arts. As a wide-angle snapshot of the state of the Spanish and Latin American creative scenes, the festival is one of the highlights of Manchester’s cultural – and cinematic – calendar, and it’s only getting bigger and better with age.