It’s taken almost a decade of planning, but the Filmoteca de Catalunya has finally moved out of Sarrià and settled into its brand-new headquarters in the Raval. With a modern asymmetrical design in pale grays and dusty browns, the 6,000 m² building appears rather bulky and almost awkward in its seat at Plaça Salvador Seguí. Inside, however, the center – designed by Josep Lluís Mateo of Mateo Arquitectura – is beautifully airy and spacious, with wall-to-wall windows, bright skylights and decorative glass panels in Catalan yellows and reds.
In addition to two cinema screens totaling 555 seats, the new Filmoteca houses offices, a film library, a bookshop, a café and ample space for exhibitions. This big, bright building is totally lacking that cozy darkness traditionally associated with movie theaters, but then again the Filmoteca is much more than just a cinema. It’s first and foremost a film archive, and the type of cultural center that the Catalans seem to do so well. Since its recent move to the Raval, however, the Filmoteca is also being hailed as the marker of a cultural turning point, a symbol of social innovation for its new neighborhood.
Vibrant and colorful but a hotbed for pickpockets and prostitutes, the infamous Raval was long seen as Barcelona’s diamond in the rough. Previous efforts by the Ajuntament de Barcelona have cleaned up the district considerably, but it remains one of the city’s seedier and more dangerous areas. The Filmoteca’s relocation comes as part of an ongoing “Raval revival” project, an attempt to establish the barri as sort of cultural goldmine for Barcelona and for Catalunya. Along with the Filmoteca, seven of Barcelona’s most important cultural institutions have signed an agreement aimed at strengthening links between artistic organizations in the area: representatives from MACBA, the Gran Teatre del Liceu, CCCB, the Biblioteca de Catalunya, Arts Santa Mònica, the Virreina Centre de la Imatge and the Institut d'Estudis Catalans will meet three times a year in order to exchange ideas for collaborations between institutions.
Spurred on by the Filmoteca’s recent move, the project will see cinema take a leading role in these cross-artistic creations; for example, the Filmoteca has restored a silent film by Fritz Lang, The Nibelungs, with a score composed by the Liceu orchestra. While the above institutions vary considerably in terms of artistic outlook, their representatives meet in their aim to create a cultural network with the Raval as its nucleus, and in their eagerness to establish the area as one of Spain’s most influential cultural centers. The project could potentially revolutionize the Raval, and on an international scale should certainly consolidate Barcelona’s reputation as a focal point for auteur and independent cinema.
Judging by the response to its reopening, the public certainly shares this enthusiasm for the Filmoteca and its forthcoming projects. The center drew in large crowds when it was unveiled at its Open Doors day in mid-February, with lines of film fans pouring into the streets as they waited to view the building. The latest program of movie screenings and film cycles also began last month, with the Argentinean El hombre de al lado opening the program on February 21st, followed by a celebration of fifty years since the release of West Side Story that same evening.
The Filmoteca now has an array of screenings and exhibitions lined up for the year ahead, with festivals and other special events in the pipeline. Among those of particular interest are El Raval al Raval, which will explore the cinematographic landscape around the Filmoteca’s new center with screenings of films set in and around the area; Cinema in Times of Crisis, which will take a look at depictions of corruption and fraud in cinema; and sessions exploring the work of filmmakers such as the Catalan Bigas Lunas and Jacques Tourneur.
Over in the exhibitions, the first exhibit to be displayed in the new Filmoteca is Imatges confrontades, running until the end of March and examining the role of cinema during the Civil War, a period which (as the recent indictment of Baltasar Garzón would suggest) remains incredible significant to modern-day Spain despite approaching its 75th anniversary. With a varied lineup of innovative and interesting cinema and tickets for screenings or exhibitions costing just €2 or €4, 2012 will no doubt prove to be a fruitful year for the Filmoteca – and hopefully for the Raval.