The 2023 Spanish Film Festival opens in Brisbane on Wednesday 14 June with a line-up of 32 Spanish language films made up of around 20 features from Spain and 12 from Latin America including Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay and Colombia, several of which are co-productions. Celebrating 25 years this festival features a range of genres from drama-mysteries and thrillers to romantic-comedies and documentaries.

Notable — and a focus for me — is the Carlos Saura retrospective, ‘Lord of Dance’, showcasing six movies from the filmmaker. Full of a passion for music, art and dance, Saura’s work reveals a lively dedication to Spanish culture. In Walls Can Talk (Las paredes hablan), his final film before his death earlier this year, Saura uses the documentary to portray the evolution of art with the wall as a canvas, travelling from the first graphic representations in prehistoric caves to avant-garde urban expressions. This movie will be preceded by Saura’s short film Goya: May 3, which offers a cinematographic recreation of Goya’s iconic painting.

J: Beyond Flamenco (Jota de Saura) captures the vivacity of the jota, a waltz-like castanet dance originating in the province of Aragón, Saura’s birthplace. Fusing scenes of daily life in Aragón and footage of local festivals, the combination of fresh cinematography with the vibrant colours of the costumes and scenery creates an alluring portrayal of the jota tradition.

Still from J: Beyond Flamenco (Jota de Saura), 2016. Directed by Carlos Saura. Best Documentary, Premios ACE 2018.

The other three films are: Saura’s big international box-office success, Carmen (closing night special), a self-reflexive meditation on Bizet’s popular opera featuring innovative choreography with renowned dancers Antonio Gades and Laura del Sol; Fados, a compelling film experience for all those who love fado — the traditional Portuguese music genre dating back to 1820 — and featuring the top artists and dancers from Portugal, Brazil and Cape Verde; and The King of All The World (El rey de todo el mundo), a cinematic collage exploring the folkloric tradition of the extraordinary music and dance of Mexico.

Still from Fados, 2007. Directed by Carlos Saura. Best Original Song Goya Awards 2008.

There’s also plenty of lively music in most of this year’s feature films including in the opening comedy Two Many Chefs (La vida padre). Set in Bilbao’s world of high cuisine, this Spanish box office hit stars Karra Elejalde and Enric Auquer as a father and son whose unexpected reunion after 30 years apart puts their ideas about cooking and life to the test.

Festival centrepiece Alcarràs has been a critical and audience success in Spain, winning the coveted Golden Bear at Berlinale 2022. Carla Simón’s personal ensemble drama follows a family of Catalonian farmers who, after generations harvesting the same land, face eviction and an uncertain future.

Still from Alcarràs, 2022. Directed by Carla Simon.

The five-time Goya Award-winning thriller from Alberto Rodríguez, Prison 77 (Modelo 77) is one of two Special Presentations; the second is Colombia’s award-winning drama The Kings of the World (Los reyes del mundo).

‘Mexican Fiesta Night’ (Thursday 22 June at the Palace Barracks) offers a tequila cocktail and Mexican snacks followed by the romantic comedy My Father’s Mexican Wedding (La novia de América). Inspired by director Alfonso Albacete’s own story it follows two Spanish siblings as they travel to Mexico to attend the wedding of their father to a woman he met online.

The 2023 HBSC Spanish Film Festival is in Brisbane at Palace James Street and Palace Barracks from 14 June to 5 July.

More information:

Cover image: still from My Father’s Mexican Wedding (La novia de América), 2023. Directed by Alfonso Albacete. Australian Premier.