A lost opportunity for Madrid

I’m sad. Truly. I had great expectations in the experience of DocumentaMadrid. Here’s an opportunity to bring another level of excitement and engagement to the city, with a selection of 60 social issue, personal, environmental, educational documentary films, spread around the city in some of its more interesting cultural centers (such as the Matadero, down near the city’s “river”–a renovated slaughterhouse and other nineteenth century buildings, with beautiful design and lovely surrounding garden), and it feels as if nothing has changed. If I didn’t search out information about the film festival myself, I would never know it was taking place. Not a peep in the newspapers, not a sign on the streets.

I went to the inauguration of the festival this past Thursday evening, and had to walk out in the middle. The theater was barely filled, and only with the usual suspects–hip and hippy types in their 30s and 40s, left-leaning, dreadlock-baring, sandle-wearing. The presentation, read from endless sheets of a paper by a representative of the local public television station, was lengthy though amusing, interspersed with surrealistic bits of entertainment like a musician with mini instruments who tried to liven up the crowd and strange shorts that felt too long. Where was every one? There should be a broader, more international swath of people attracted to the festival–with their teens in tow. There should be an older generation, as well, still curious and vital. And the inauguration should be a buzzing event, with a promise of spectacular films to come. Especially when the event is free!!

The DocumentaMadrid film festival is funded by the city. And this year funds are at a historic low. And it shows. So it’s the time to be creative. So you can’t put banners around the city announcing the festival, so you can’t put ads in the principal newspapers–get the journalists on board with you, get a high profile celebrity to showcase the festival. Where’s Javier Bardem?? Ok, I’m being rhetorical. I know he’s busy being a father. And if not him, why not his famed mother, Pilar, who was a star in Spain on stage and on the screen way before him. Her sexy throaty voice and large masculine and charismatic presence are still sure to draw crowds. And, more importantly, funders.

Spain’s creative scene is still so dependent on public money and the paper pushing of bureaucrats, that events such as this one, with all its promise, just don’t get off the ground. This is oddly ironic, as for all intents and purposes Spain’s main industry (especially now that the construction and real estate bubble has burst), continues to be tourism. What a wonderful opportunity, with a film festival that is already in its eighth edition, to attract people from around the world for a full ten days and revitalize the city’s cultural scene even more. What a wonderful opportunity to look to different organizations and businesses who need to attract consumers from around the world to their brand and their products. But the festival seems to me to be no more than a fizzle. I hope I’m wrong. I hope when I attend some of the films this week I’ll be pleasantly surprised and encouraged. Because one day I’d like to proudly bring one of our client’s films here.