After a heartening rally in 2022 which saw Spanish movies punch some €75 million ($79.5 million) in its domestic market, after just €35 million ($37.1 million) in 2021, how will 2023 shape up for Spanish cinema? One hope is for more standout feature debuts, following on this year’s “Lullaby” and “Piggy.” Here one of the most awaited first fiction feature titles is “20,000 Species of Bees,” a Berlin Co-Production Market and Madrid Incubator title from Basque director Estibaliz Urresola (“Polvo Somos”). She has just shared with Variety the most substantial sample to date of her latest short, “Cuerdas”, a Cannes Critics’ Week Rails d’Or winner in May and best short Forqué Award winner this month.
Now bound for Clermont Ferrand, Europe’s premier short film festival, “Cuerdas” turns on the local women’s choir in a town sluiced with pollution from a local refinery.
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When their municipal subsidy ends, they must decide whether or not to take a sponsorship from the corporation inflicting the most damage. Personal struggles influence a rift in friendships that once held the group tight and what seems a simple enough decision on the surface is complicated when ethics and morality come into view.
“The seed of this project germinated in a conference where Sara Ibáñez, a retired gynecologist, spoke about the toxic effects of living a few meters from a huge refinery. Thanks to this doctor, I interviewed many people with different experiences and thoughts on the company. It was evident that the debate touched the entire community,” said Urresola, part of a burgeoning Basque Country new talent hub.
Merging seasoned actors with local theater and choral troupes, Grupo de Teatro de Damas and Grupo Coral de Mujeres de San Fuentes, the film captures the true-to-form struggle with vigor and an accelerating urgency.
“The arguments and reflections of those I interviewed were so passionate, deep-rooted and true that I found it very tempting to have them, the majority of whom were women over 70, tell this fictional story,” Urresola relayed.
“It was a huge challenge, but it ended up being one of the differential values of the project. Had it not been so, we would’ve run the risk of the story becoming detached from the reality from which it was born. They’re the ones who give all the energy and veracity to the story, and I’m very happy to have them because, in addition, I feel that “Cuerdas” contributes to rethinking the archetype of “older woman” that we’re accustomed to in cinema.”
A Spanish production backed by Urresola’s Sirimiri Films, Gariza Films (“Nora”) and Katz Estudio (“Prioridades”), with distribution rights handled by Marvin & Wayne Short Films, the project packs an abundant storyline into half an hour, unspooling the film’s message wholly and adding to the global discussion on the disastrous ramifications that trickle down to earth from each ever-looming smokestack.
“It was one of the biggest challenges of this project, to use the short film format and not simplify a complex reality. The history, the landscape and the interviews could have led me to a documentary story, but I felt that fiction could help me tell more in less time if I was able to build ad hoc characters that would allow me to portray several of the layers that I needed to address, like family, care, working conditions, crowdfunding, the deterioration of friendships,” relayed Urresola.
By lending an auteur’s voice to the human aspects of the subject, she accomplishes an intimate, solemn account of the people at the other end of these pressing news-cycle narratives, writing them in such pronounced ways they can’t be ignored.
“This documentation work, which has allowed me to meet many people with different reflections, has led me, naturally, to a fairly choral form of telling a story, where the diversity of opinions or ways of inhabiting the world find their place. Allowing that space for different voices is my way of honoring all life stories and experiences,” Urresola stated. “In ‘Cuerdas’ and’ ‘20,000 Species Of Bees,’ this dialectic between the individual and the collective [creates] stories of interdependence where we must find our own voice within the group.”
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