The internationally-renowned Cornerhouse has been bringing the best of world cinema to the people of Manchester for over two decades.
Providing a stage for contemporary and international artists that may otherwise go unnoticed, the Oxford Road venue is a hub of alternative and underground entertainment.
With these credentials it is the perfect venue to host the 20th annual ¡Viva! Film Festival, a two-week celebration of Spanish and Latin American film-making.
Running from March 7-23, the festival aims to showcase the cream of motion pictures from Spain and South and Central America.
The festival features an eclectic programme ranging from established directors to up-and-comers making their full-length debuts.
The wide variety of films on offer means that every year is different – a point that Rachel Hayward, the festival’s film programme manager, is keen to drive home.
“The festival has huge importance for Cornerhouse,” she said.
“We also see that throughout the rest of the year, outside of the festival, that Spanish language films do particularly well here in Manchester and at Cornerhouse because of the festival.
“We look for a balance of independent films against some mainstream comedies or documentaries for a really broad appeal.
“We’re finding real gems of films that have struck a chord with us.
“It’s also an opportunity to get together with fellow film fans in a social setting and learn about the history and social context of the films.”
Rachel believes that Spanish language cinema is often overlooked by mainstream cinema-lovers due to Hollywood’s dominance over the film market, which she puts down to two key reasons.
“I think it’s a historical aspect, and also a language aspect, but the money is very important as well,” she said.
“But with the Cornerhouse’s artistic remit and the strategy we use, we don’t see Hollywood as a threat because it is just so different to what we do.”
And with Manchester being a cultural hive of activity, from its influential role in gay rights to the ‘Madchester’ music scene, Rachel sees it as the ideal city to appeal to wide-ranging tastes.
“Certain Spanish language films do much better here in Manchester than they do in other cities outside of London,” she said.
“In Mexico, Argentina or even Spain everyone in the industry everyone tends to know each other.
“So you know that, if someone has an amazing experience here and enjoyed the Manchester audiences or the Q&As that we have, then those directors or producers will go back and tell their friends or colleagues about the festival.
“It’s all part of growing the reputation of not just Manchester, but the Manchester film audiences as well.”
Rather than your stereotypical crowd of avid film-buffs, the audience that the festival attracts is a mix of those looking for a helping hand with their education and people with an interest in foreign language and independent films.
“The audience is really varied,” Rachel said. “We get a large number of students, particularly those studying Spanish and a lot of film students.
We get Spanish and Latin American people who live in Manchester or around the north west, people who have been on the lookout for certain films but haven’t been able to watch them either back home or in Manchester.
“There is also the regular Cornerhouse core audience – mainly film fans who are interested in foreign language cinema from a variety of countries.”
Far from being a pick-and-mix programme, there is long planning process and concerted thought that goes into deciding which pictures will make the cut each year, with Cornerhouse management working with a variety of outside parties.
“We have people from Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Salford and Instituto Cervantes (a non-profit organisation that aim to the Spanish language) who are viewing the films throughout the year, and this year we also had four people from our young people’s programme ‘LiveWire’ working with us,” Rachel said.
“So there’s about ten or 12 of us at any time who watch the films and discuss whether we want to put them in the final programme. It’s a real collaborative affair and it’s important that we’re getting a lot of different opinions.”
Rachel says that this year’s festival features works from a number of well-known names, including Agustin Almodovar, Roberto Flores Prieto and Roger Gual.
“We also follow directors through their careers and the audiences really enjoy being able to recognise a previous film and then come back for the next one and so on,” she said.
Equally, ¡Viva! is about providing directors who are either making their feature debut or are not known in the UK with a platform to showcase their work.
“It’s a feature of ours to give films a first shot, particularly when we are really confident that there is an audience for them,” Rachel said. “We’re keen to show the new generation of filmmakers.”
However, alongside the emphasis on fledgling filmmakers, Rachel stresses that the most important aspect is giving the people of Manchester the chance to enjoy the finest new films that Spain and Latin America has to offer.
She said: “¡Viva! gives us as a city, as well as a cinema, the opportunity to experience some of the best and most interesting Spanish language films.”
To see the full calendar of events visit: http://www.cornerhouse.org/viva2014?no-redir
Image courtesy of trash world, with thanks