Salamanca conversations


Salamanca conversations
Conversaciones de Salamanca
   The 1955 gathering of film professionals known to film historians as the "Conversaciones de Salamanca" was an important turning point in Spanish cinema. This was the first opportunity for a group of young graduates from the Instituto de Investigaciones y Experiencias Cinematográficas (Spain's first official film school), to air their views on their situation as artistically ambitious and socially progressive filmmakers in a stifling cultural context. More broadly, this was among the earliest instances in which discontent was articulated by dissident intellectuals and artists. It was only one year later that signs of unrest appeared in universities.
   Several strands converged in the different panels and discussion groups. The framework that enabled the discussions to take place was the Salamanca University Film Club, run by director-to-be Basilio Martín Patino, but the main impulse came from communist critic producer and scriptwriter Ricardo Muñoz Suay, at the time editor of the journal Objetivo, and director Juan Antonio Bardem who drafted the main proposals. Other, less politically committed film-makers, like Fernando Fernán Gómez and Luis G. Berlanga, also contributed to documents and discussions. At the time, the debate would have been unthinkable without the participation of official representatives, who held tight control on the state of cinema. The main voice to represent the government was former (and future) General Director for film and theater José María García Escudero, as well as José Luis Sáenz de Heredia, an unequivocally Francoist filmmaker (he had helmed the Franco-scripted Raza in 1942), respected at the time by the younger generation and some intellectuals from the Falange movement (the Fascist party that gave ideological grounding to Francisco Franco's early dictatorship).
   Bardem's contribution famously stated that Spanish cinema was "politically useless, socially false, intellectually low, aesthetically negligible, and industrially ailing." This was a veritable declaration of principles that laid the foundations for a debate on what cinema should be and what measures could be taken to improve the value of filmmaking in Spain. Economic support measures were sought, but also clearer guidelines in terms of censorship (the practice was believed to be applied arbitrarily at the time) and more flexibility in allowing films that reflected social realities. The value of the outcome has been widely debated. Whereas for most historians this was the beginning of a new era of better cinema in the country, away from the empty, inane, and formulaic efforts by the previous generations, others, including Berlanga himself, have claimed that the approach resulting from the conversations made Spanish film too dependent on government support, to the point that the Spanish film industry never fully developed in relation to audience demands.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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