L’Alternativa is among Spain’s finest film festivals. With 22 years of experience championing quality independent cinema, it promises to delight cinephiles and layman alike. But navigating its bewildering array of screenings, venues, and activities is a daunting task. From auteur films to low-cost screenings, we highlight its best offerings.
Best in competition
Ten feature-length films are in the running for the first prize and €3000—tickets to the screenings at the CCCB cost €6 each. Many are experimental; several straddle the porous border separating fiction from documentary. Although the two strongest offerings belong firmly in the latter category, both in their own way seek to reshape the form. A German Youth (Une jeunesse allemande) has already scooped up five festival awards. A provocative look at the Red Army Faction in post-war West Germany, it’s crafted entirely from archive footage and tracks the communist organisation’s slow path to terrorism. The Iron Ministry (铁–道) too examines a whole society through a precise lens. It was shot alone and over three years by its remarkable director, J. P. Sniadecki, across China’s gargantuan railway system; gradually, accretively, it yields an intimate portrait of a people still little-understood in the West.
Devotees of fiction might prefer Stranded in Canton (Nakangami Na Guangzhou). This largely-improvised tragicomedy centres on a Congolese businessman marooned in a Chinese urban jungle, and looks at global commerce through deeply human eyes.
Regular screenings are €6; a festival pass for €22 includes five real-life screenings and one online film, saving €13 from the full price. While most screenings take place at the CCCB, several works from veteran documentary-maker Hubert Sauper are showing at the Filmoteca for €4 (concessions €3). Value-conscious cinemagoers should also consider free Hall screenings, or those at the French Insitute, also free, showcasing collaborations with the Independent Film Lab Collective.
Argentinian writer-director Lucrecia Martel’s last film, The Headless Woman (La mujer sin cabeza) premiered at Cannes. The enigmatic story of a middle-aged dentist’s breakdown, it inspired comparisons to Hitchcock and Antonioni. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called it “the the work of a genius, or at the very least one of the most talented film-makers in the world.” The Holy Girl (La niña santa), Martel’s sophomore work, was nominated for the Cannes Palme d’Or; and she’s won several awards elsewhere. Yet to a remarkable degree she remains a controversial artist—scorned by some as tedious and vague; hailed by others as a visionary auteur. Catch screenings of her three features and shorts to decide for yourself.
Hubert Sauper, winner of over 50 international festival prizes, is the subject of another filmmaker-focused series. His latest two documentaries have received near-unaminously admiration: Darwin’s Nightmare was nominated for an Oscar, and We Come As Friends received 96% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Both are critical expositions of the troubled linkages between Europe and Africa, which Sauper dubs a ‘pathological dialectic’, and screen at l’Alternativa this week. Fans of the Austrian cinema verité-proponent can also attend his masterclass, The Art of Nonfiction Filmmaking, on Friday—entrance €20.
L’Alternativa runs from November 16th to November 22th, with competition screenings beginning Tuesday November 17th.