Despite having its spiritual home at the picturesque art-deco picture dome, Teatro Alameda, the majority of screenings for the Seville Festival of European Film (SEFF), take place at the peak of the Centro Comercial Nervión Plaza, a glass-concrete hulk of a shopping mall. The setting is nothing a kitsch coating of red carpet can´t cover. In this cultural desert, there appears an oasis of a vibrant, strongly branded festival, to rival the jarring environs. Spread over eight days (7-15 November), the eleventh edition of this small festival is devoted to upcoming directors and Spanish premieres, with a particular focus on resistance. The Romanian short, Art reveals all. The subject is two directors’ desperate bid to get to Cannes by any means. With many of the films already airing at May’s Cannes Festival, the Seville schedule is a scaled down version of that most prestigious event.
Though lacking the star-sprinkled spectacle of a grand festival, Seville broadcasts some special films to a Spanish audience. Within the Cannes category come the Slovenian, Class Enemy, (2.06mil citizens, one made a film) British, Mr Turner, and Ukrainian, The Tribe. The Tribe, set within an institute for deaf teenagers, coupled with Norwegian feature Blind, a real find, focused on the fantasy world of a thirty-something professional who has lost her sight, form an excellent interpretation of the theme of resistance. The organisers reject the obvious, for an oblique, all the more rewarding rendering of resistance, bringing to screen often marginalised stories untold in the mainstream.
Some films are visions, ideas that an individual wants to tell, such as the homosexual heartbreak of British Lilting, others simply have to be told. Among the latter, the most harrowing example is the torturous ninety minutes of Silvered Water, Syria Self Portrait: a compendium of 1001 images and videos of Civil War, centring on the siege of rebel-held Homs in 2011. The film presents the reality of human suffering and the true evil of which mankind is capable. Silvered Water leaves the other political documentaries pale by contrast: The Term, which stalks opposition leader Alexei Navalny during the 2012 Moscow mayoral elections and Maidan, the full detailing of the popular Ukrainian uprising against plutocrat Victor Yanukovych. The schedule would certainly have benefitted from placing these documentaries, before their natural, national partners, The Tribe and Leviathan, to provide the relevant political context that inspired the directors. Though The Turist wins the main award, Giraldillo de Oro, Leviathan looms large, while The Tribe is a truly unique experience, devoid of dialogue except frantic sign language, its visceral, visual impact living long in the memory, but somehow garnering no nod from the awards panel.
Though the festival offers a broad scope across the spectrum of contemporary European film, from Norway to Italy, Catalonia to the Caucasus, parochialism creeps in as the premiere of spongy Spanish spy thriller, La Ignorancia de la Sangre, set in a glossy Seville, proves a hit with the locals, drawing the biggest crowds of the week. An extra screen is required for Mr Turner due to popular demand, and most, if not all (09:30 screenings are not natural for siesta Seville), films are very well attended. The festival avoids the standard octogenarian audiences with a fifteen films for €20 offer to students. A nice flourish is offering punters the power to award a €20,000 grant towards one film’s distribution within Spain. This goes to the highest rated public premiere; with little voting slips and a ballot box, the mini-plebiscite makes a winning detail. Such inclusivity dovetails with the intimacy of a small festival, bridging the customary divide between director and audience. There is the opportunity to congratulate a jovially moustachioed Eugène Green after the Spanish premiere of La Sapienza. It is a pretty ditty of a film in which the French actors speak Italian and the Italian French on an architectural voyage of self-discovery through the buildings of Francesco Borromini. Though slight, it is a welcome soft note to offset the gravity of the weightier films.
As the credits roll on the final Saturday night and the crowds disperse into the crisp Autumnal air, a smug, smog of satisfaction appears high above. A cloud of enlightenment, floating softly, follows them off into the night.