Iciar Bollain’s Movistar Plus+ Original ‘I’m Nevenka’ Secures First Pre-Sales as Premium Feature Wraps Production (EXCLUSIVE)

“I’m Nevenka,” a Movistar Plus+ original film and the awaited next feature from Spain’s Iciar Bollaín (“Take My Eyes,” “Maixabel”), has closed its earliest pre-sales, struck by Film Factory Entertainment, including a bellwether deal in France.

The deals come as “I’m Nevenka” has wrapped production, shooting in the Basque city of Bilbao before transferring to rural Zamora, western Spain.

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Daniel Chabannes’ Epicentre Films, a classic 30-year-old distributor and producer of non-English language art pics, especially from Europe and Latin America, whose recent acquisitions take in San Sebastian Gold Shell winner “The Rye Horn” and Amos Gitai’s “It’s Not Over,” has acquired French rights.

A distributor of both big Cannes winners – “Triangle of Sadness,” “Rosetta,” “The Child” – and slightly more out-there propositions, such as Pablo Berger’s silent movie “Blancanieves,” Xenix Film Distribution has clinched rights to Switzerland.

Iciar Bollaín: A Broader Audience Auteur

The early pre-sales are hardly surprising. Since her big breakout, third feature “Take My Eyes” (“Te doy mis ojos,”), few Spanish art film/crossover directors have so often commanded an audience in their native Spain as Iciar Bollaín.

Described as “a captivating Spanish drama,” penned by Bollaín’s partner, Ken Loach scribe Paul Laverty, and introducing Anna Castillo (“Nowhere,” “A Perfect Story”) to broader film audiences, “The Olive Tree” grossed €1.7 million ($1.8 million) for a tale of a young woman who conceives an apparently madcap mission to retrieve her family’s 2,000 year-old olive tree, sold to a Dusseldorf energy company.

2021’s “Maixabel,” released at a still pandemic-whammied Spanish box office, did even better, ending up as the fourth highest-grossing film of the year, punching €2.8 million ($3.0 million) at Spanish cinemas.

Upping the Ante on Authenticity and Relevance 

For years, one of the few standard bearers in Spain of a top-notch social issue cinema, which once flowered during its transition to democracy, Bollaín now has several tail-winds behind her.

Co-written with Isa Campo, a scribe on two San Sebastian Golden Shell winners, 2011’s “The Double Steps” and 2018’s “Between Two Waters,” “Maixabel” was based in part on true events, the reconciliation between Maixabel Lasa, widow of Gipuzkoa civil governor Juan María Jauregui, killed by ETA, and one of the men who took part in his assassination.

To write the screenplay, Bollaín and Campo met and interviewed Lasa and her daughter, allowing “Maixabel” to carry a larger force of truth.

They adopted the same method for “I’m Nevenka,” based on the real life case of Nevenka Fernández, a member of the Ponferrada City Council who became the first woman in Spain to win a court case, taking place in 2001, against a politician – her ex boyfriend and all-powerful Ponferrada mayor Ismael Alvárez – for sexual abuse. This was years before #MeToo.

“With everything against her, Maixabel Lasa had the courage and bravery to meet her husband’s killers. Nevenka Fernández’s case was almost the same, that of a pioneer in a hostile environment,” said Kowalski Film’s producer Koldo Zuazua. “These stories paying tribute to people who take the first steps are fundamental because these are fundamental steps.”

Instilled with the real life protagonists own observations, the film also gains in a sense of authenticity.

The world, also, has become more social issue. One of Bollaín and Campo’s key points is that Fernández would never have been subjected to such abuse if her work-mates had not turned a blind-eye. “Bullying happens because of other people’s silence,” Bollaín tells Variety.

That accusation could well prove a conversation driver. “We feel the film could be exceptional for many reasons, such as its exceptional screenplay and that it could have a relevance beyond the screen: You note there’s a necessity to generate contents which drive a conversation. Just three or four years ago, that wasn’t so clear,” said producer Juan Moreno at Feelgood Media.

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Starring Mireia Oriol (“The Girl in the Mirror,” “The Art of Return”) and Urko Olarzabal (“Maixabel”), “I’m Nevenka” is also the first title that has gone into production of five features on the first movie slate from Movistar Plus+, the biggest Spanish pay-TV/SVOD operator, backed by Telefónica, which was announced in January.

Others titles are from “The Beasts’” Rodrigo Sorogoyen, “Marshland’s” Alberto Rodríguez, Cannes winner “Fire Will Come’s” Oliver Laxe, and “Cardo” co-writer and star Ana Rujas, produced by Javier Ambrossi and Javier Calvo’s Suma Content –  a stunning line-up.

Movistar Plus+’s backing will enable these films to be made at a budget which fulfils their filmmakers’ artistic ambitions. “This story happened 24 years ago but feels close because of the reflections and social changes experienced over the last years,” says Guillermo Farré, Movistar Plus+ director of originals and Spanish Cinema. “Part of a local Spanish company is to relate who we are [as Spaniards] to our audiences, explaining that with one foot in reality.”

Variety talked to Bollaín on set as she wrapped production on “I’m Nevenka,” ahead of a September premiere.

How did the project come together and how would you define “I’m Nevenka”?

The producers, Juan Moreno and Koldo, were at the origin of it all. They proposed the idea to us [Isa and me] and we thought it was a great story. We wanted to tell a story about harassment, about power. We did think, though, that it was interesting to set the story in a different time context, in the past. Bullying happens because other people say nothing, and we also wanted to talk about that. As well as what this woman goes through, the entire process: her descent into the hell of harassment, then how she gets up again, and pulls herself out of that. Very interesting.

“Maixabel” was your latest project. How did it affect this project.

“Maixabel” went very well, in many ways. There are many things we learnt from having done “Maixabel,” others we learnt as we went along, about dealing with the persons around whom everything centres. In this sense, both projects have a lot in common. First of all, the producers, then Isa and I, went to meet the person. And had many long conversations with her. That was during the writing stage. She was free to tell us what she could, and to ask us whatever she wanted. In this sense, both projects have much in common. I had the feeling it had worked and we could proceed like that again.

Looking back at your previous films, the film’s point of view becomes very important for you as a filmmaker. Can you talk about it?

I decide to take on a story because I think there’s something interesting there, that they are real stories. There’s something magical to Nevenka’s story. Harassment comes in many shapes and forms but the harassment that takes place here is a type that’s there, openly visible to all: David vs Goliath. This woman, taking on that man with so much power, so much influence, a very powerful network of people beholden to him. A man who had a great deal of weight even within the heavyweights of Spain’s Partido Popular apparatus. Highly regarded by all, if he hadn’t crossed Nevenka, he might easily have ended up being a minister in the national government. He would have carried on, had a long and powerful career in politics, because he was a popular mayor, with massive popular support. The fact that she had the strength to stand up to him, against his social milieu, makes her even more outstanding. And she won. It ends bitterly, because she had to leave. She ended up alone, but she’s become a reference.

How did you find the right tone for this film?

It’s very difficult. First of all, in terms of point of view, we are with her, but she has to be seen within her context. You can’t make the type of film where you’re always on top of the character. There are many films like that. We should not lose the context she’s in. The spectator must also see and think “Good God, look what she’s getting herself into!” That, most of all. He’s older, his entire way of being, his fundamental outlook, are so diametrically opposed to hers. She is pretty and he comes from a world that’s very machista. So, it was important for the spectator to see that, and understand what this girl is getting into. That had to be there. Tone usually is the most complicated thing. Even in one of these scenes we did today. He is playing with her, even though he is angry, because she’s already given him the brushoff, rejected him.

Nevenka came ahead of the #MeToo movement, in fact in Spain she was the pioneer on feminism and the fight against harassment.

With all the topics involved, which are you focusing on most?

The abuse of power, how it works with someone. When the abuser paralyses that person, renders that person defenceless. And how the entire milieu is part of it, another component. We forget that. Bullying happens because others say nothing.

“Maixabel” and “I’m Nevenka” are two different stories but both true stories…. 

When you do a true-to-life story, you have to find many ways of bringing fictional elements into it. Otherwise it would be a documentary and dramatically, that’s too much of a long haul in 90-120 minutes. It can make it difficult to follow and understand. Reality usually is a lot longer, with all sorts of twists and turns, going off here, going off there, you go on holiday, return, and so on. We condensed all of that. That’s one of the challenges. To make sure that in condensing everything, there is nothing forced or too precipitate, no unwieldly jumps.  Give it time, though you might not have time.

In your films we can find a relation between truth and fiction. What’s the key to that?

Well, there are real events that happen both in reality and fiction, but even if you have a record of what happened in real-life, you need to stand with your fictional characters rather than use the real recording. You need to trust your character, not fall back on reality.It’s nice, because there is such a moment which happened during a press conference which really did take place, when Señor Alvarez is saying something. The same tone was adopted. But now, we have created our own mayor. Now we have to be faithful to our Ismael. We can’t revert to reality.

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