The director and producer of Spain’s record-setting box-office hit talk about why the film has connected with audiences, what’s next for them and potential awards consideration.

The Impossible has not only succeeded in Spain, it has made history. Juan Antonio Bayona’s drama set against the 2004 tsunami has become the most successful opening in the year at the local box office with more than 1.4 million tickets sold and $13.5m grossed.

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The new English-language feature — by the director of The Orphanage, with a cast led by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGergor, produced by Apaches Entertainment (Intruders) and Telecinco Cinema — has at least doubled analysts’ predictions and created a path for an astonishing final result: “We are just very happy,” Bayona tells ScreenDaily. “I really feel this success as one of the Spanish cinema. Nobody expected that and I am sure this will help bring people to cinemas not only to watch this film”.

A sociological phenomena in Spain, Bayona thinks that “people has understood that it is an interesting story and at the same time is something very different so there is an extra curiosity. There has been a very good marketing campaign and it has been key that the public knew that it is based on a real story. It has been a very good communication about the real family [who inspired the film]. Beyond that, it has sure helped a lot that the film had such a warm reception in San Sebastián and Sitges. A lot of people saw the film there and their good reactions, added to the great critical response, has created the better buzz around the film.”

Producer Enrique López Lavigne adds: “Since day one we have tried to show the film as much as we could because we are so proud and we are sure that this is the best publicity we can have. At the first screening for buyers, who are always the most complicated ones, we felt this great reaction. Then we have been in Toronto, Zurich, San Sebastián and Sitges and everywhere we had a great public response.”

The triumph marks a great success for Madrid-based Apaches Entertainment. Enrique López Lavigne, its co-head alongside Belén Atienza, has though a darker mood than Bayona: “We are sure enthusiastic about this success in Spain. This is a film that opens new paths to wake the ‘sleeping cinemagoer’. But the reality is that the situation of cinema in Spain right now is very, very bad and at this point the only thing we have are debts.”

The reality is that the success of The Impossible has arrived in the worst moment in decades for Spanish cinema. The cuts on Government spending have hit production: “It’s not only a question of less money but of uncertainty. We really don’t know what financing model is going to be implemented and like this is very difficult to build up projects and convince international players,” Lavigne adds.

On Tuesday, producers’ representatives and the secretary of culture had a crucial meeting regarding the multimillion debts that Spanish government has with production companies, estimated to be around $73.5m. “The paradox here”, says Lavigne, “is that when revenues of The Impossible get to us maybe we will no longer exist. It’s very hard to survive when the state owes you so much money”.

Lavigne is concerned that films like The Impossible might be the only ones that can be produced in Spain: “It will be very sad if we cannot produce films in Spanish of some of the great auteurs that we have here. The fact is that we have released already four films and the Spanish-language ones, Verbo (Eduardo Chapero Jackson) and Extraterrestrial (Nacho Vigalondo), have lost money while the English-language ones, Intruders and The Impossible have done very well”.

Despite this complicated situation, Apaches Entertainment is currently producing two films: Three More Weddings, a new comedy by Javier Ruiz Caldera with Inma Cuesta as a single woman who does not find her soulmate and begins to receive invitations for her ex boyfriend weddings; Quim Gutiérrez is also in the cast. Shooting began last Monday in Barcelona and Antena 3 Films co-produce. Next Monday, Nacho Vigalondo will begin shooting Open Windows, a thriller about vouyeurism and new technologies set in Austin, Texas with an international cast to be announced soon. Wild Bunch is on board on this project to be shot in Madrid.

Also in the Apaches slate is The End, an Apocalyptic thriller directed by Jorge Torregrossa with Maribel Verdú, Daniel Grao and model Andrés Velancoso based on a same title Spanish best seller. The film is a co-production with Mod (Agora) and Antena 3.

Lavigne considers The Impossible a 100% Spanish film: “This is not a Hollywood production as some might think and does not try to copy that. Bayona has this influence of Spielberg and he’s a master on epic, but this a more spiritual, minimalist approach to a natural disaster. It is also very important that we have worked hard on very detail thanks to the collaboration of the family the film is inspired in. This really is a film about the triumph of the spirit.”

Emotion might be the key factor of The Impossible’s success: “People really get touched by the story. We had a sense of that on the very first screenings when even the usher ended up crying.” Bayona adds: “We have really connected with people inner feelings and I am sure that’s what has created this phenomena”.

The film was sold by Summit and is yet to open in major territories such as the US (Dec 21), UK (Jan 2), France (Nov 21), Brazil (Dec 21) or Australia (Jan 24), Bayona is sure that the Spanish box-office success will have an effect on foreign territories. The director says: “We already had a call from Los Angeles congratulating us. Distributors all around the world are telling us that they have now even more confidence in the project and that will translate in better promotion campaigns.”

Atienza is now busy in Los Angeles working with US distributor Lionsgate preparing the launch and also discussing Oscar chances. Lavigne says: “In Lionsgate they think we can run in this competition. We are very wary because we know that after all this is a Spanish film and is very hard to compete against fully American productions.”

Regarding the future, Bayona wants to keep working in Spain with Apaches: “I really would like to work with Spanish actors in Spanish and my next film will be probably like that, for sure with Apaches”. Bayona, though, has an agent in Los Angeles who is also getting him scripts to read. For now, he seems happy to keep working with script writer and friend Sergio G. Sánchez, who now have the hits of The Orphanage and The Impossible on their record.