Moving waves on Spain’s film-TV scene when it launched in early May, Beta Fiction Spain has unveiled its first project as a producer, “Dolores,” a portrait of Spain’s Dolores Ibarruri, a worldwide icon of the workers’ movement and struggle against fascism .
The feature film is inspired by “Passionaria. The unexpected life of Dolores Ibárruri,” a question-posing non-fiction book by Spanish historian Diego Díaz Alonso published in 2020.
Underscoring Beta Fiction Spain’s ability to attach best-of-class Spanish talent, the screenplay for “Pasionaria” is being penned by two of Spain’s foremost film-TV scribes, Alejandro Hernández, co-writer of Alejandro Amenábar’s “While at War” and Mariano Barroso’s “What the Future Holds,” and Michel Gaztambide, a writer on Julio Medem’s milestone 1992 debut “Cows,” Enrique Urbizu’s best picture Goya winner “No Rest for the Wicked” and Freddy Highmore heist thriller “The Vault,” the second highest -grossing Spanish movie of 2021.
Díaz Alonso’s book attempts to explain how Ibárruri was able to rebel against the traditional destiny of a woman from a humble family of Basque miners. It also notes her status as a gender rights pioneer founding the Unión de Mujeres Antifascistas, the biggest female organization in 1931-39 Republican Spain; and, most polemically, how she battled fascism, colonialism, apartheid and racism while remaining for much of her life a public supporter of Stalin.
“Dolores,” the movie, may focus on a specific but significant period in Ibárruri’s life, in line with “While at War.”
The film will “show the real person behind the icon,” Mercedes Gamero, CEO of Beta Fiction Spain, said at Conecta Fiction & Entertainment, where a panel, Beta Film: Scripted and Unscripted Film for the World, served to present Beta’s fiction and entertainment and factual operations in Spain.
Ibárruri’s life jells with current gender issues, she added. “She wanted to become a teacher but she could not because she was a woman. That’s the angle we want to show, not so much her political side as that of a woman struggling against the rules of her day.
“Dolores Ibárruri fought for something which is universal: People living in better conditions than they are used to. That’s universal,” added Pablo Nogueroles, Beta Fiction Spain managing director. “We’ve just come from CineEurope, which had a lot of projects with strong women fighting to make the world a better place, no matter their political ideas.”
Though a film, “Pasionaria” could also yield a drama series or a documentary, Nogueroles observed.
Beta Fiction Spain: Strategy, Competitive Assets
BFS will release about 12 films a year in theaters in Spain, six acquired on the international market, another six Spanish features produced by BFS itself, Nogueroles said at the CF&E panel.
As the former head of Atresmedia Cine, one of Spain’s most powerful movie production houses, and SVP of Warner Bros. Pictures International Spain, Gamero and Nogueroles have respectively produced and distributed in Spain numerous and notable movie titles, often teaming, as on Alberto Rodríguez’s “Marshland” (2014), Oriol Paulo’s “The Invisible Guest” (2016) and Santiago Segura’s 2021 BO hit “Todo Tren.”
In line with many of their collaborations, BFS releases will be “quality commercial films.” It has acquired several titles for Spain, mostly for release in 2023 or one perhaps late 2022, Nogueroles said.
Beta Fiction can bring a lot to the table, Gamero and Nogueroles argued at Conecta Fiction.
“We’re a one-stop shop, can offer talent co-production, distribution in Spain and international sales, all under the same umbrella. Very few companies in Spain can match that,” said Gamero.
“Producing, we’ll be on projects from the very beginning,” she added. Having skin in the game, Beta Fiction will really want titles to be successful, she argued.
“We really want to maximize all windows and all platforms and really believe everything starts with the big screen. Most filmmakers want their films to be seen on the big screen,” Nogueroles said. A theatrical bow also “creates value for following windows,” he argued.
“It’s impossible to catch every film on streamers. People want to watch movies at home when they’ve heard about them because of their opening in cinema theaters,” Gamero added.
In series, BFS launches as the straightened circumstances of many broadcast networks and heightened ambitions of many series means that multiple projects now lack a 20% or so in completion coin.
Here BTS has step in with gap finance, as Beta Film did on Atresmedia series “Fariña,” Gamero observed. She also pointed to the example of “Atlantic Crossing,” glimpsed in a Beta showreel, a series backed by Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, and co-produced by Beta Film, Sweden’s SVT and Denmark’s DR and the US Public Broadcasting Service.
“We believe that BFS can open the door for Spanish creators to these kinds of organic relations, powerful European co-productions, so that they are more ambitious, not only in economic but also creative terms,” Gamero said.
Christian Gockel, EVP international operations and co-CEO Beta Spain, initiated the panel presentation with a sizzle reel which described Beta as the European independent group for content creation and distribution, making local content globally successful for over 60 years, from Europe about Europe and for Europe and the world:
Recent Beta Film titles highlighted in the reel back up the claim: “Generation War, “Gomorrah,” “Atlantic Crossing,” “Professor T,” “La Fortuna,” “1992,” “1993,” and “1994,” “ The Pier,” “The Shift,” “Hotel Portofino,” “Shame,” “Sisi,” “Babylon Berlin,” “Perfect Life,” and “Borgia.”
They feature some of the biggest and most successful European sales titles in the last decade. Best known as a distributor, Beta is now much more of a production force, grouping over 30 production houses, with three quarters of its revenues coming from production, Gockel noted.
It has expanded enormously over recent years, multiplying revenues by a factor of 10, I have added. That said, the Beta Group has set out to grow organically, building companies around European talent, betting on the longterm, creating and maintaining IPs.
“We’re a large company but we try not to be corporate, we’re a very independent family company and we don’t want to lose that DNA,” Gockel maintained.
With Beta in Spain, “we’re looking to strengthen distribution and find partners in Spain and Latin America and to connect Spanish talent with the talent we have at our production houses over Europe,” he added.
Beta Entertainment UK
Beta is also better known for its fiction – series and movies – but it is looking to build its entertainment and factual business, currently based out of Germany and Spain.
The Beta Group presentation wound up with a presentation by Javier Pérez de Silva, a former CEO of Fremantle Spain and Televisa partner La Competencia and now CEO of Beta Entertainment Spain, launched in 2019.
Pérez showcased a second sizzle reel of its current titles.
Just some are game show “The Vending Game,” currently in co-development with NBC; Mediaset docu-reality “My big gypsy wedding”; HBO Max doc series “Zero Waste Chef”; Prime Video-Mediaset docuseries “The Little Prince,”; an adventure docu-reality “Desafío Artico,” made for Andalusia’s Canal Sur; Mediaset docu-reality “Gypsy Kings”; soccer true crime series “11 Tiros FC”; and eco doc series “Around the World in 80 Days, Sustainable.”
“Making something local which can then be taken abroad has been BES’ strategy over the last year, though we’ve also teamed with the companies as big as NBC on a big primetime project, and with Mediaset, so as to be able to tell stories which would be difficult without them,” Pérez said.
BES’ strategy cuts three ways, he added: “Personality: Having a character or IP on which to work; “products based on true facts, elements from real life allowing the construction of a non-fiction product”; unique format elements, which make a show immediately recognizable.”