Upon entry (Alberto Ammann & Bruna Cusí)

Source: Óscar Fernández Orengo

Upon Entry

One of the most successful Spanish films of the last few years in terms of festival recognition and international sales is the psychological thriller Upon Entry by first-time Venezuelan directors Alejandro Rojas and Juan Sebastián Vázquez.

In February 2024, it garnered three Independent Spirit Award nominations, for best first feature, best first screenplay and best editing, a first for a Spanish production.

Produced by Spanish outfits Zabriskie Films, Basque Films and Sygnatia in Spain and sold by Paris-based Charades, Upon Entry is about a young couple trying to enter the US on a lottery green card visa. Rising star Alberto Ammann plays urban planner from Venezuela who’s been living in Spain with his Catalan girlfriend, a contemporary dancer, played by Bruna Cusí.

The pair leave Barcelona bound for Miami via New York but in New York they are subject to a long and tense interrogation session at US border control. Laura Gómez, best know for Orange Is The New Black, and Ben Temple, co-star.

The screenplay was inspired by personal experiences of the writer-directors, both born in Venezuela and now living in Spain.

Shot in English, Spanish and Catalan at the end of 2021, Upon Entry began its festival journey at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in November 2022, winning the Fipresci award and catching the eye of Charades which acquired sales rights. It partnered with Anonymous Content ahead of Upon Entry’s US premiere at South by Southwest in March 2023, with streamer Tubi acquiring the rights for North and South America.

To date the film has sold to Exit Media in Italy, Njutafilms in Scandinavia, Imagine in Benelux, Megacom in ex-Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, Alambique in Portugal, Pictureworks in India, Shochiku in Japan, Falcon in Indonesia, and Pioner for CIS. Release in France by Condor Distribution is scheduled for May. And the sale to Poland has just been closed with Gutek.

“We like to discover new voices. It was love at first sight. We have a first feature film every year in Cannes,” says Yohann Comte, CEO of Charades, pointing ot Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun in 2022. “In the case of Upon Entry, starting at a festival like Tallin, that does not have the same exposure as Cannes but is great for discovering new talents, it was a bit more challenging. But we thought the story was compelling enough for the distributors who trust our taste.

“The cast is known in Spanish-speaking countries, and for us the main aspect was the efficiency of the narration and the talent of the directors,” continues Comte. “Upon Entry has something very relatable to a large part of the audience; it has twists and turns in the story, and it’s a thriller, so the genre aspect of it makes it also more marketable.”

That said, Comte notes, it’s always difficult to know how the market will react to a first film. “But being a very diverse company and seeing how all of us, from the youngest to the oldest, fell in love with it, we thought: why wouldn’t the rest of the world fall in love with it too?”

Comte compares it to the experience Charades had with Boiling Point, a first film by Philip Barantini.

In addition to Tallin and South By Southwest, Upon Entry also played festivals in Shanghai, San Sebastián (in the Made in Spain section), Transylvania, Raindance, Malaga (where Ammann won best actor) and Kolkata (where it won best film).

The film qualified for the Independent Spirt awards thanks to its selection at SXSW. 

“Qualifying the film was a tour-de-force for the producers of Upon Entry because you are competing with US productions,” says Comte. “There was not a big campaign for the selection. The film spoke for itself. Even if you lose, and you look at the people you lose to, you don’t feel like a loser”.

In Spain, where Karma Films handled distribution, Upon Entry won the Gaudí for best screenplay at the Catalan Film Academy Awards as well as three Goya nominations for best new directors, best screenplay and best actor.

In terms of story appeal, producer Carles Torras of Zabriskie Films believes the film has universal appeal. “At the festivals and audiences we have encountered all over the world in the past year, there has been a common response: empathy for the two main characters struggling with the harsh interrogation of US border officers,” he says.

The filmmakers agree. “I think a lot of people have had similar experiences, and because we showed something that usually happens behind closed doors,” says Rojas. “ At South by Southwest in Texas, it was very warmly welcomed. I particularly remember the debate there; many people empathised and expressed their anger and frustration they had experienced themselves in similar situations. And some members of the audience even apologised.”

“As a migrant like myself, the best thing that can happen to you is that your film travels so well,” adds Vázquez. “No visas required.”