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An old genius in the middle of a storm

December 5, 2007

The end of the shooting of Vicky Cristina Barcelona last October in the Catalan city should have been good news. For the Spanish public, it meant that they wouldn’t have to wait much longer to see a new piece by 72 year-old Woody Allen, one of their most worshipped foreign filmmakers. For Barcelona, it meant that soon, not only iconic images like La Sagrada Familia but also other parts of the city would become even more international. However, something overshadowed their enthusiasm.

Last week, Catalan production company Mediapro, in charge of the film, announced on a radio program that the other two titles included in the contract between the firm and Allen would not have Barcelona or Spain as a set. The director of the company, Jaume Roures, explained that Mediapro had taken that decision after receiving “mean pressures” during the shooting.

On the 9th July, a day before Woody Allen shouted “Action!”, the representative of the opposition in the Council of Barcelona, Alberto Fernández, asked Mayor Jordi Hereu to clarify to what extent the local government had contributed to the production of the film.

According to Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia, Fernández said the Council spent a lot of money in subsidies for Allen´s project when at the same time, it had problems to offer public financial support to Catalan and Spanish movies.

Hereu replied that he saw the contribution as an investment and assured that it was not superior to a million euros, which represented around 8% of the 12 million budget.

The production company had access to that quantity through “Barcelona Empren”, a venture capital society created by the Council to promote biotechnological and innovative firms. According to the institution, this was not the first time that an investment of the sort was made in communication-related projects.

On his part, the Culture delegate in the Council of Barcelona, Jordi Martí, assured in July that there was a possibility of recovering the investment “in part or in whole”, Spanish news agency EFE reported.

The controversy around the funding also reached Catalonia´s Government. Although The Guardian published last week that regional authorities had pledged 500.000 to the film, EFE reported that the Department of Innovation, Universities and Companies would contribute with 350.000 euros, while the Deparment of Culture would  make a non-defined contribution.

The Catalan Institute of Cultural Industries (ICIC), in charge of the awarding of subsidies in a regional level, pointed out that subsidies are normally conceded to films in which  Catalan production companies are involved, and specified that the amount given depends on the percentage of the co-production´s capital belonging to the local firm.

Apparently away from the political fuss, Woody Allen commented on the Spanish press that he had felt “very comfortable” in Barcelona and claimed that both the Spanish Government and the ordinary people had made it easy for him to shoot the film.

The Catalunya-Barcelona Film Commission also considered the experience to be very positive. The organization, which aims to promote Barcelona as a filming location and acts as a link between the production companies and the local institutions, referred to “the great relationship between the production team and all the departments involved”, and said they hoped they would be able to work with Allen in the future.  The wish was shared by Barcelona’s Mayor, who nevertheless insisted that the shooting had created “excessive fuss”, Spanish news agency Europa Press reported.

Woody Allen´s relationship with Spain aside, a permanent return to the States seems unlikely, given the funding possibilities he has found in Europe in the last few years. “The first film I shot in London was Match Point, and I did it there because it was where the money to do it came from”, the filmmaker admitted to the Spanish press.

The profile of the audience that has followed him throughout the years might also have something to do with his choice of locations.

According to the Californian online database Box Office Mojo, Match Point (2005) obtained a $ 23,15 million box office in the States, a number inferior by far to the European box office. Italy and Spain were the main contributors with $10,79 and $9,14 million respectively, while Germany contributed to the results with $6,38 million. The UK, Ireland and Malta added another $4,37 million.

Beyond the dollars, Allen has repeatedly acknowledged the influence of European film-making in his work. “The most important films for all of us were the European films of Truffaut, Fellini, Bergman, Buñuel, De Sica, they were a big inspiration”, said the director in a statement later reproduced by the Council of Barcelona´s website. “I didn’t just want to make films, I wanted to be an European film-maker”, he said.

And for the looks of it, he has already achieved his goal. Although he was born in Manhattan, he has managed to reflect in his films a very peculiar version of the European culture.

As the Vice-Chancellor of Catalan Pompeu Fabra University, Josep Joan Moreso, pointed out this summer after conceding the director a recognition for all his career, Woody Allen “is part of our sentimental education”.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona will hit the Spanish screens in September 2008.

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