Harrowing dramas and horror films, including the like of Pan's Labyrinth, (Rec) and The Orphanage, are enjoying their success at the Spanish and international box office. Now Jose Luis Cuerda's The Blind Sunflowers (Los Girasoles Ciegos) has emerged to join that illustrious group.

The drama, about a persecuted Republican family in Spain during the Second World War, has taken $5m in the territory since its release on August 29.

'I want the largest number of people all over the world to see this film, because I believe it is worthwhile knowing the reality it depicts,' says Cuerda. 'I saw the film three times at the Toronto film festival (where it premiered) and the international audience was as knowledgeable and understanding as the Spanish.'

Based on the book of the same name by Alberto Mendez, The Blind Sunflowers focuses on the mother of a Republican family (played by Maribel Verdu) whose husband (Javier Camara) must hide in a secret room to avoid capture by General Franco's army, while their pregnant daughter is forced to flee to Portugal.

'The book is an excellent literary work, but was very difficult to adapt cinematographically. We took elements of the narrative drama and the characters' circumstances. But inevitably the structure of the script and the dialogue are different to the text of the novel,' explains Cuerda, who co-wrote the script with renowned writer Rafael Azcona, who died at the end of filming.

'Above all, we wanted to highlight the repression of the period and the fact people's real voices and lives were suppressed. The only way to survive was through lies,' Cuerda adds.

Fernando Bovaira, a producer at Sogecine, originally recommended the film idea to Cuerda, and came onboard as a producer alongside Cuerda's film company Producciones A Modino, with Emiliano Otegui's Eopc and Javier Alen's La Barouta as co-producers.

But the producers struggled to raise the $5.7m (EUR4.5m) budget. 'It is very difficult to finance films in Spain, and The Blind Sunflowers was particularly difficult,' admits Cuerda. 'We had to rely on the financial support of Sempre Cinema, a public-private organisation run by the Galician government and the financial institution Caixa Galicia.'

Most of The Blind Sunflowers was shot last year in Galicia, where Cuerda's previous Franco drama, Butterfly's Tongue (1999), was also based. That film, about how a boy's life is transformed by the outbreak of civil war, was a winner at the Goya awards and featured in competition at the San Sebastian film festival.

Cuerda is also well known for his comedies, including On Earth As It Is In Heaven, Tocando Fondo, La Marrana and The Animated Forest.