An Interview with Fernando Lara, Director of SEMINCI

in 48th Valladolid International Film Festival

by Jean-Max Méjean

J.M.M. As the 48th edition of the festival is coming to a close, it seems the right time to make an assesment of this very congenial gathering of creation. Can you tell us something of the history of the festival, which is almost half-a-century old, and evolved out of a project centering on religion?

F.L. It started in 1956 as a week of religious cinema; by 1960 it had become a religious festival centered on human values, and since 1973 it is called SEMINCI, that is: Semana internacional de cine de Valladolid (International cinema week in Valladolid).

J.M.M. Can you explain the choice of this year’s poster, a work of 1963 by George Segal showing a man in white clothes facing a cinema entrance and posting a letter R?

F.L. We always choose a work of art for our poster, and we do not tamper with it; so the letter R is Segal’s choice, not Seminci’s. Since 2000, we have used reproductions of works of art which have something to do with cinema, such as Edward Hopper’s or Miguel Barcelo’s. We are establishing a tradition aimed at popularizing art in its relationship with cinema.

J.M.M. How many films do you see to make your selection each year?

F.L. Let me say first that I do not work alone; I am supported by a team, and we try to attend the major festivals, Cannes, Berlin and Venice; but we also work with the parallel sections, with the film makers, with the production companies. We receive many video cassettes. Our selection is made from among approximately one thousand films; yes, I must see around a thousand films each year, including shorts and documentaries, to construct the different sections of the programme.

J.M.M. How many films are programmed this year, all sections included?

F.L. 213, including shorts, documentaries and student films; we show the same respect to all categories of films… No : 214 since at the last moment we added one film to the Iranian section, “Teheran, city of cinema”.

J.M.M. A practical, perhaps an indiscreet question: what is the budget of the festival?

F.L. It is about a million and a half euros, a not exorbitant amount considering the number of guests, and the several activities scheduled; plus we have a programme of publications destined to further the general knowledge of cinema.

J.M.M. I have seen only (!) thirty six films, but I have been fascinated by the number and quality of the public. The Spanish love cinema!

F.L. We see to it that tickets remain inexpensive; I have been president of SEMINCI for almost twenty years and I am convinced that it is essential that the public participate. By “public” I mean every kind of public: everyone must have his/her section, must find what he wants. The public does come, and our one regret is that sometimes not everyone can get in.

J.M.M. Several of the films in the Spanish cinema section are excellent; it is a pity that so few of them are distributed in France.

F.L. I think that unfortunately, European films don’t travel well, they aren’t shared easily. Look at German cinema for instance; the problem with Spanish films is that the producers do not succeed in giving an international dimension to the films they let be made. I agree with you that the quality of Spanish films is high, but we do not yet succeed in giving them an international visibility. Almodovar, Bigas Luna, Ventura Pons are known outside Spain of course, but many others deserve to be known too. However, I think we are witnessing a deepening of the relations between cinema and television, and that is perhaps the way in which we shall go beyond our frontiers and succeed in making our films known in Europe and – why not – in the US.