Catalan Film Festival artists cook for audience while performing

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MUSICIANS, poets and artists from Scotland and Catalonia will perform while cooking a paella for the audience as part of a festival celebrating cinema and culture from the autonomous community in north-east Spain.

The one-off “paella performance” in Edinburgh will see people “entering as individuals but leaving as a collective” through the tasty shared experience, say organisers of the Catalan Film Festival (CFF).

Now one of the biggest festivals of its kind on the planet, the CFF brings Catalan classics, modern favourites, documentaries and award-winning short films to audiences in Scotland, where hosts CinemaAttic started their independent cinema collective over a decade ago in a “secret Edinburgh attic”.

CinemaAttic programme co-ordinator Alberto Valverde, who runs the CFF with director Rafael Cueto, says this year’s selections share an interest in blurring fiction and documentary and investigating the complexities of romantic and familial bonds.

Showing over the coming days will be In Diamond Square, a 1982 classic based on the novel by exiled Catalan author Merce Rodoreda and the Scottish premiers of Golden Shell-winning drama Entre Dos Aguas (Between Two Waters) and Journey To A Mother’s Room by Celia Rico, who also gives a script masterclass at the festival.

Themes of parenthood and the passing of time are also reflected in Els Dies Que Vindran (The Days to Come), an intimate portrait of an expectant couple by Goya award-winning director Carlos Marques-Marcet which stars real-life partners David Verdaguer and Maria Rodriguez Soto.

“With this festival, which we are saying is our ‘third and a half’ edition, we wanted to mix what was best from last year with films which are even more fresh,” says Valverde. “Els Dies Que Vindran was released earlier this year and won three awards at the Malaga Festival. Between Two Waters was the winner of the Golden Shell at the San Sebastian Film Festival last year and Journey to a Mother’s Room picked up lots of awards too – but surprisingly neither picked up a UK distributor, so this will be the first time they will be shown in Scotland.”

With funding for productions coming from the EU and both Catalan and Spanish governments, Valverde says it may be tricky to speak of Catalan filmmaking as something distinct in industry terms.

But stylistically, films made in the region often bear the influence of the Barcelona School of Film, a 1960s group of avant garde filmmakers keen to move away from the social realism then associated with Spanish cinema.

And the region consistently still punches above its weight, as consecutive festival selections show.

“Every year, every time we organize a Catalan retrospective, we ask these questions of ourselves – and our audience,” says Valverde. “What is Catalan cinema? What makes it unique and distinctive? Normally Catalan cinema is considered as that being produced by a company based in Catalonia but this year we have stories from Cadiz and Andalusia too.”

He continues: “Though the Catalan film industry is so rich and varied, there is that thing of making films which feel closer to reality, closer to the base of a story where sometimes a gaze, an atmosphere, is more important than a twist in the plot or a magical special effect. In our programme, you see a new generation of Catalan filmmakers, especially Catalan female filmmakers doing this in brilliant, brilliant films.”

CinemaAttic is a collective, not of Catalan exiles anxious about the future of their home, but of professionals mostly from Spain.

The festival, says the group of programmers, designers, photographers and filmmakers, “aims to be a platform for debate and a bridge for mutual understanding” in regards to Catalan-Spanish relations – no bad thing considering the tensions inflamed by harsh sentences imposed on nine Catalan politicians by Spain’s Supreme Court for their role in the independence referendum of 2017.

“We’re not Catalans – Rafa is from Madrid and I’m from Segovia,” says Valverde. “But we think it is necessary these days to demystify the tension between Spain and Catalonia. We love Spain and the mixture of cultures, contradictions, peoples, languages, and traditions that coexist within the country.”

He adds: “And there are plenty of Spaniards who love Catalonia and the Catalan language. We started this festival as a love letter from us to Catalonia and Catalan cinema.”

At around 25 separate events, the Scottish festival is now the biggest celebration of Catalan film in the world, easily surpassing similar festivals in Copenhagen and Cambridge in size.

THIS year sees organisers dig deeper too, with a move to include events exploring the connections between cinema and other art forms.

A performance by Edinburgh-based band TuFlamenco will precede a screening of Paloma Zapata’s recent documentary on the “bombastic life” of Pedro Pubill Calaf aka “King of the Catalan rumba” Peret, while the city’s Lauriston Hall will host an evening of poetry, music and performance to the mouth-watering aroma of a traditional paella being prepared.

The one-off night sees two art collectives, Compartir Dona Gustet from Barcelona and locals Neu! Reekie!, team up to entertain and inspire audiences while the rice is cooking.

“In English their name is ‘sharing is caring’,” says Valverde of Compartir Dona Gustet. “Traditionally in Spain, you would sit together in a circle to eat a paella from a circular plate, whereas now, we often eat alone in this very individual society. We’ll be sharing something, which is what this is all about.

“We’ll enter as these hyper-rational individuals but hopefully with the magic of this event we can have a collective, communal experience.”

Until December 14, venues in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness.


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