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CANNES: Spain's Low-Budget Pics Come with High Ambitions

Since 2012 the number of low-budget movies in Spain has surged, becoming a way for a new generation of filmmakers to overcome the paucity of financing.

Some of Spain's most exciting movies of late have cost under €1 million ($1.39 million) and snatched fest prizes and business abroad.

The country's low-budget production reflects the constriction of public-sector funds. Since 2011, Spain's ICAA Film Institute's Protection Fund -- its main film subsidy source -- has shrunk 56% to $46.5 million.

Average Spanish film budgets fell a dramatic 50% over 2009-14 to $2.1 million; 43% of the 28 Spanish films released during this year's first-quarter are budgeted under $1.39 million, per provisional figures from producers association Fapae.

"Film producers are dropping budgets to continue producing," says Fapae president Ramon Colom.

"The crisis has encouraged the emergence of new talents impulsively shooting their movies, often without waiting for institutional or TV support," says Apaches producer Enrique Lopez Lavigne.

Some recent low-budget highlights:

* Carlos Marques-Marcet's love story "Long Distance" ($418,000, pictured), which nabbed acting prizes for leads Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer at SXSW, plus five key awards, including best film, at Spain's Malaga Festival.

* Fernando Franco's drama "Wounded" ($908,000), which claimed prizes for actress (Marian Alvarez), first-time director and original screenplay at February's Goya Awards. Alvarez, who plays a 30-year-old ambulance driver, also won a trophy at San Sebastian.

* Rodrigo Sorogoyen's "Stockholm," with its crowd-funded $297,990 budget, was awarded for breakthrough performance for Javier Pereira at the 2014 Goya Awards. The romantic drama also won lead actress (Aura Garrido), director and new screenwriter at 2013's Malaga Festival.

Lower budgets don't necessary entail lower ambitions.

"We wanted to produce a risky movie, in line with U.S. indie films, aiming to reach the largest audiences possible," says Lastor Media's Tono Folguera, producer of "Long Distance," a co-production with L.A.-based La Panda.

As Spain's market contracts, international is becoming more crucial than ever for low-cost filmmaking. Sales and deals are no pipe dream.

"These movies usually represent riskier, fresh ideas that interest international buyers," says Vicente Canales at Film Factory.

New York's Visit Films acquired world sales rights to "Distance" before SXSW; L.A.-based Outsider Pictures has picked up "Stockholm" before Cannes.

"Distance's" producers also raised the film's international profile by tapping actress Tena ("Game of Thrones," "Harry Potter") to co-star.

Producer of "28 Weeks Later" and "The Impossible," Lopez Lavigne is testing this niche market with tightly budgeted films, having also produced Juan Cavestany's "People in Places," which made waves at Sitges in 2013, and Norberto Ramos del Val's paranormal comedy "Faraday."

"A film producer must know how to develop new business models and establish new relationship structures with new filmmakers," Lopez Lavigne says.

Lacking public subsidies, which require theatrical openings, these films test alternative distribution models.

Thesp-turned-helmer Paco Leon's $278,000 mockumentary "Carmina o revienta" became Spain's first multiplatform hit in 2012. The sequel had a more conventional release.

"There is no one distribution standard for low-budget films," says Juan Carlos Tous, CEO at indie distributor Cameo.

"Low budgets are helping to launch a new generation of well-trained Spanish filmmakers, but they don't minimally strengthen our cultural industry," says producer Luis Minarro, whose fiction debut, period drama "Falling Star," weighs in under $1.39 million.

"They are fantastic for new directors," Tono Folguera agrees, "but we can't idealize low-cost filmmaking nor establish it as a model."

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