HSBC Spanish Film Festival – our top ten picks of the program

The Spanish Film Festival returns this June with its biggest-ever selection of feature films from Spain and Latin America.
Still from The Movie Teller. Image: Unifrance

The Spanish Film Festival, presented by Palace, returns this June and July with the biggest-ever curated selection of films from Spain and Latin America.

This year’s Centrepiece screening is The Teacher Who Promised the Sea (El Maestro que Prometió el Mar), winner of the Audience Prize at the 2024 Gaudí Awards. The acclaimed drama features Enric Auquer (Two Many Chefs) and Laia Costa, and tells the true story of Antoni Benaiges, a teacher who brought progressive teaching methods to a small village in 1930s Burgos.

The 2024 HSBC Spanish Film Festival takes place nationally from 11 June to 10 July (dates vary) in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra, Brisbane, Ballina and Byron Bay.

Here are our top ten picks of what to see at the fest.

What to see at the 2024 Spanish Film Festival

1. Jokes and Cigarettes, dir. David Trueba

Barcelona, the mid 1960s. Young jeweler Eugenio meets Conchita on a bus, and it is love at first sight. He learns to play guitar to accompany her in her musical career, and despite stage fright, they start to play together as ‘Els dos’. When Conchita leaves Barcelona for two weeks, she convinces Eugenio to perform solo. With her help, he creates his alter ego.

Read: Revelation Perth International Film Festival: top picks of the program

2. The Movie Teller, dir. Lone Scherfig

A moving tribute to cinema and the magical power of storytelling, the star-studded new film from multi award-winning director Lone Scherfig (An Education) follows a young woman’s coming-of-age in the rugged heart of Chile’s Atacama Desert in 1966. In a mining town, a little girl reveals an amazing talent for film storytelling. Maria Margarita will become the storyteller of the village, where most of the inhabitants cannot afford a cinema ticket.

3. The Holy Mountain (retrospective), dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky

The film follows a character known only as The Thief, played by Horacio Salinas, who encounters an enigmatic alchemist, portrayed by Jodorowsky himself. The alchemist leads The Thief on a spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain, where a group of powerful and eccentric individuals seeks immortality and enlightenment.

4. Rioja: The Land of A Thousand Wines, dir. José Luis López Linares

Documentary. Featuring over thirty interviews with representatives of both big brands and artisan wineries, historians, journalists, cultural representatives and award-winning oenologists, and never before seen access to the entire wine making process, the contribution of new generations to the historic wineries of Rioja is evident.

Read: Hispanic migrants in Victoria – a chat with Our Voices director Diana Páez

5. Saturn Return, dir. Isaki Lacuesta and Pol Rodríguez

In the late 1990s, art and culture are at their height in Granada and an indie rock music group is on a quest to record their third LP, which will either propel them to stardom or see them fade into oblivion. Their idea is to have the recording take place in New York, but everything becomes complicated, and the creative process turns into an ordeal.

6. Totem, dir. Lila Avilés

In a large, bustling Mexican household, seven-year-old Sol (Naíma Sentíes) is swept up in a whirlwind of preparations for the birthday party being held for her father, Tona. Seen mostly through Sol’s eyes, the preparations are led by her mother, aunts and other relatives at her grandfather’s home.

7. Something is About to Happen, dir. Antonio Méndez Esparza

A thriller with black comedic touches. Lucia (Alterio) lives an uneventful life as an IT specialist in Madrid. When the company she works for goes bankrupt due to embezzlement, she decides to make a radical change in her life.

8. Memories of a Burning Body, dir. Antonella Sudasassi

Weaving together the past and the present, this drama is centered on the experience of women and how they understand their sexuality at the different stages of their lives. From sexuality to love, and delving into education, repression, pleasure, motherhood and liberation, it tells the story of a quest to understand themselves as women in a world that limited them.

9. The Girls Are Alright, dir. Itsaso Arana

A writer gathers four actresses at a converted old mill, now a country house, for a week in summer to rehearse her play; two are established actresses and two are newcomers. Over the first few days, the group settles into the environment, the town, the house, the play, and to themselves. As part of rehearsals and the creative process, the girls begin to share their yearnings and their own personal stories. Gradually, a spell takes hold.

10. The Practice, dir. Martín Rejtman

When Gustavo (Esteban Bigliardi), an Argentinian living in Chile, and his Chilean wife Vanessa (Manuela Oyarzun) separate, they need to agree on how to manage their shared lives as both are yoga instructors. So, when Vanessa takes the apartment and leaves the studio they shared, Gustavo is left with a yoga studio but nowhere to live.

When does the HSBC Spanish Film Festival take place?

Canberra 11 June – 3 July:  Palace Electric Cinema
Adelaide 12 June – 3 July: Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas
Brisbane 13 June – 3 July:  Palace James Street and Palace Barracks
Perth 13 June – 3 July: Palace Raine Square Cinemas, Luna Leederville and Luna on SX
Melbourne 14 June – 3 July: The Astor Theatre, Palace Cinema Como, Palace Brighton Bay, Palace Penny Lane, Palace Westgarth, The Kino, Palace Balwyn and Pentridge Cinema
Byron Bay 21 June – 10 July: Palace Byron Bay
Ballina 21 June – 10 July: Ballina Fair Cinemas
Sydney 19 June – 10 July: Palace Norton Street, Palace Moore Park, Palace Central and Chauvel Cinema

For tickets and more information, head to the Spanish Film Festival website.

Silvi Vann-Wall is a journalist, podcaster, and filmmaker. They joined ScreenHub as Film Content Lead in 2022. Twitter: @SilviReports