Focus on Festivals

The Evolution: Mallorca International Film Festival

Festival founder and director Sandra Seeling Lipsky

Cannes, Venice, Sundance: film festivals and holiday resorts have a natural affinity, the milieus of cameras, beauty and parties. Yet, one of Europe’s favourite tourist spots, the spectacularly scenic island of Mallorca (also called Majorca in English), about 200 kilometres off the eastern coast of Spain, was until the last few years, festival-deprived.

Mallorca and its sister Belearic islands aren’t strangers to celebrity. The poet Robert Graves hosted movie stars like Ava Gardener, Peter Ustinov and Alec Guinness in his village on the north coast of the island in the 1950s. Michael Douglas, Colm Meany, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Claudia Schiffer own villas on the island and the nearby island of Ibiza is a paparazzi-draw for sitings of the likes of Justin Bieber, Kate Moss, Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton and Jared Leto.

But a genuine film festival didn’t start until 2012, when Sandra Seeling (Lipsky) a German-born, Majorca-raised, Los Angeles-based actress and short film director, decided to bring a festival back to her childhood home. Now in its fifth year, the Evolution! Mallorca International Film Festival (EMIFF, Nov. 3-12) lays claim to being the fastest-growing festival in the Mediterranean and a highpoint on the cultural calendar of the medieval city of Palma de Mallorca.

Rather than a celebrity schmooze-fest, the Evolution! Mallorca International Film Festival, emphasizes words like “innovative” “provocative and “socially-relevant” in its branding. “When a radio host referred to it as the Mediterranean’s Sundance,” says the 33-year-old founder, “I thought, ‘That’s it.”

That emphasis draws both from Seeling’s own multi-national background and training as an indie short filmmaker at Los Angeles Film School. When she first planned the festival as a film school grad, Seeling, along with two Egyptian classmates, intended it as a travelling cross-cultural film festival, moving between L.A., Mallorca and Cairo. But following the Arab Spring and Egyptian revolution of 2011, the Cairo friends went home, so Seeling decided to carry on alone.

Though sponsors such as real estate companies, boutique hotels, foreign exchange services and Mercedes (who provides car services), reflect Mallorca’s moneyed residential set, the festival’s orientation favours the unconventional. Seeling says there’s no conflict: Sponsors look at the festival as “as a breath of fresh air for Mallorca,” a chance to celebrate culture and be on the cutting edge.

Palma de Mallorca

Each year, she holds a mini version of the Evolution festival at the Los Angeles Film School in August or September, showcasing the previous year’s winning films. Then, six weeks before the festival starts, she returns to Mallorca to finalise the programming and planning. This year, out of more than 725 submissions, she personally approved the final list of about 80 films, including 17 international and Spanish features, documentaries, shorts, children’s films, animated and experimental films and music videos. Five juries pick awards.

There’s also a five-day screenwriting lab aimed at encouraging new filmmakers to shoot on the island with its mountains, interior plains and miles of beaches and hidden coves. (Much of the recent UK-US mini-series, The Night Manager, sold to 180 countries, was shot there.)

After the 2007 economic crisis, Mallorca, like many places in Spain, was anxious to diversify its tourist economy away from the sun-and-sea package tours, to more sustainable cultural off-season attractions. The first festival, in the fall of 2012, drew 450 visitors and lasted five days. Last year, it had 2200, with films from more than 20 countries.

Although EMIFF is not a star-oriented festival, this year they have a celebrity guest, American actor-director and producer Danny DeVito. Seeling says that DeVito, as a supporter of indie film, was “very excited” about being invited to festival. It was also a showcase for his own indie director side.

The EMIFF will not only be screening DeVito’s 1989 comedy, War of the Roses, but, perhaps more importantly, his new short, Curmudgeons, which played this year’s Tribeca festival. The film, which costars DeVito and the late David Margulies, as a pair of old bickering lovers in a nursing home, is a natural fit for the alternative spirit of the festival.

Curmudgeons from Jersey 2nd Avenue on Vimeo.

The Documentaries

As part of its emphasis on social relevance, EMIFF gives about a third of its feature slots to documentaries, both Spanish premieres from the international festival circuit and local productions. Given Mallorca’s geographical position, and this year’s European headlines, Seeling said she saw more than one film that involved a cruise ship “of rich Europeans encountering a boat full of refugees.”

In the end, she opted for one major refugee documentary, which has already appeared at other festivals, In Europe’s Shadow, a German production directed by Florian Schnell. It centres on German journalist and human rights activist, Ellias Bierdel, who takes Schnell’s film crew on a tour of the external borders of Europe, meeting with refugees and activists from different countries.

In Europe’s Shadow
Photo: Dominik Berg

Another German selection which has been making the festival rounds is Where To, Miss?, Manuela Bastian’s portrait of a young Indian woman’s battle with her family to fulfill her dream of becoming a taxi driver. Seeling is also high on Crossings (Inbar Horesh, dir., Israel) a 40-minute documentary about three drag queens in Jerusalem, who are preparing for their final show. Each of them offers an impersonation of their mothers, before the real mothers are interviewed.

Another festival crowd-pleaser Welcome (Bienvenidos), from Spain’s Javier Fesser, follows the arrival of the internet to school in a remote village in the Peruvian Andes. And British director Mat Galloway’s band documentary Oasis: Supersonic makes its Spanish premiere at the festival.

On the Spanish homegrown front, the standouts include a film about women’s history and two about the legacy of Catalan art.

From Lola to Laila (directed by Milena Bochet, Belgium)
Since the end of Franco’s dictatorship, Spanish society has subscribed to what has been called a “pact of forgetting” in its transition to a new democracy. But in the new millennium, leftist politicians, journalists and historians have begun exposing the brutal legacy of the Franco regime. Director Milena Bochet’s graceful first-person film is part of that movement to recover historical memory, focusing on the women of her own family. The director’s mother, great grandmother and one of her grandmothers had variations of the name Dolores (Lola or Lolita), a word that means “pain”. Both her own name, and her daughter’s (Laila), signify a break with the wounds of the past. Interweaving her own and her mother’s narrations with home movies and archival footage, Bochet paints a picture of a bizarre political-religious system that saw women’s sexuality as threat to the social order. A recurrent shot of a girl’s feet dancing in the surf suggests both continuity and hope.

teaser lola laila master from GSARA asbl on Vimeo.

The Karamazoffs: A Walk in the SoHo Years (directed by Juan Gamero and Carmen, Spain).
Mallorcans are part of Spain’s Catalan minority, a culture that has produced some of the most visionary modern artists of the last century — Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Antoni Gaudi, and, arguably, Pablo Picasso, who spent his formative years in Barcelona. As this freewheeling film demonstrates, the experimental-visionary Catalan sensibility also helped shape the post-modern era of video, conceptual and performance art, when a group of nine Barcelona artists, refugees from Franco’s regime, arrived in New York’s SoHo art scene of the 1970s. With interviews with the godfather of avant-garde film, Jonas Mekas and Argentinian video pioneer, Jaime Davidovich, the film includes clips of Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono and The Velvet Underground The title is a joke, a collective name the group gave themselves, over a vodka toast to their friendship and common history.

THE KARAMAZOFFS (A Walk on the SoHo Years) trailer from 3boxmedia on Vimeo.

The Key to Dalí (directed by David Fernández, Spain)
Fernández’s film documents an eccentric Mallorcan science teacher and amateur artist, Tomeu L’Amo, who bought a painting in an antique shop a quarter century ago. He believed it was a Dali painting, though unfortunately, the painting was dated eight years before Dali’s birth. The “key” of the title refers to L’Amo’s elaborate analysis of Dali’s numerological system to prove the painting’s authenticity. Fernández teases out the film with a mischievous ambiguity: L’Amo is a likeable kook, which doesn’t mean he’s wrong; in fact, it appears he’s accurately tuned to his Dalí‘s freak-quency.

The Evolution: Mallorca International Film Festival runs Nov. 3-12 in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Please visit the festival website for more information.