San Sebastian Debates Burgeoning Spain-China Axis

SAN SEBASTIAN —  On Monday afternoon, leading figures from the Chinese and Spanish industries gathered to discuss future plans, sitting for a panel called “China/Spain: The Belt and Road Initiatives: The New Era for Co-Production.”

Moderated by producer Ying Liu, the panel brought together executives Marta Ezpeleta (The Mediapro Studio), Lu Wei (Beijing East Purple Cloud Film Company) and Mercedes Gamero (Atresmedia Cine), producers Miao Xiaotian (former director of the China Film Co-production Commission) and Joan Antoni Gonzalez Serret (founder of the Catalan Film Institute), actress Nora Navas (“Pain and Glory”), director Sonthar Gyal (“Lhamo and Skalbe”), and the ICAA’s Jaime Alejandre, who handles international relations and partnerships for Spain’s publicly funded film agency.

The panelists began by reflecting on the recent Middle Kingdom success of Oriol Paulo’s thriller “Mirage,” a Spanish production that earned more than $16 million at the Chinese box when it opened earlier this year. “I’ve never been seen by so many people,” remarked actress Nora Navas, who played in the film and serves as V.P. of the Spanish Academy.

“Mirage” producer Gamero said that her Atresmedia Cine outlet fully intends to build on its existing relationships with distributors and fellow production houses within the Chinese industry, noting that the her film’s recent success in the Chinese marketplace should open the door to future co-production opportunities.

In fact, Artesmedia Cine is already involved in the most ambitious Chinese-Spanish co-production to date. Together with partners from Dragoia Media, Movistar Plus and China Film Animation, Gamero’s outfit is currently working on “Dragonkeeper,” a CGI family film set in a mythical China that Atresmedia sees as a potential franchise starter.

The panelists touted this €20 million ($22 million) animated adventure, which has Spanish and Chinese co-directors, as the two countries’ flagship co-production title, but cautioned that it won’t be ready for another few years. The feature was admired at a Cannes Festival-Annecy sneak-peek this May.

Of course, all involved hoped for more collaborations going forward. ICAA’s Jaime Alejandre walked panel attendees through the recently ratified Chinese-Spanish co-production treaty, noting that while the two countries came up with provisional agreement in 2014, the final version only went into effect in 2018.

In Alejandre’s view, now that the heavy lifting of working out this treaty and developing durable partnerships across the two countries had already come to pass, the next goal was to develop an audience, to cultivate a viewer base for these kinds of transnational projects.

Chinese producer Miao Xiaotian pointed out one project in particular that could easily lend itself to this kind of partnership, noting that Spanish outfits Ikiru and Contracorriente Films were looking to adapt one of Taiwanese author Sanmao’s books. The Chinese-born author found fame living in and writing about Spain, so as Miao Xiaotian saw it, anything she wrote could be a co-production opportunity waiting to happen.

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