Xavier García Puerto: “REC is a festival for non-conformists”

Xavier García Puerto / ©Rafael Ló—pez-MonnŽé

Xavier Garcia Puerto is not the kind of person in this country that goes to bed at ten o’clock. He wasn’t, back as a child, when he would stay awake to watch Fritz Lang on TV. And he is not now, since he is a member of the jury of a number of film festivals, and he can watch up to seven movies on the trot every day. Those many hours in front of the screen make him immensely happy, but Tarragona does also get the rewards. Garcia Puerto is REC Festival’s director, a contest specialised on discovering new talent, which has cleverly managed to get over recession to become a true pillar on the city’s cultural autumn agenda.

Despite the modest budget, REC has built up a well-known reputation for being able to anticipate future stars. The director Steve McQueen could not release “Hunger” (2008) in Spain, but when he was awarded with an Oscar for the best movie, Tarragona’s faithful audience were already richly familiar with him. And another similar case; the scriptwriter Borja Cobeaga is still getting new jobs and awards thanks to the festival. He was not that famous some years ago, but with the première at the REC Festival of “Éramos pocos” (2006) and “Pagafantas” (2009), he got the doors wide open to work in “Ocho apellidos vascos”, the Spanish film with the highest earnings in history.

The REC Festival will exhibit, between the 3rd and the 8th of December, around twenty movies, a selection of the best young cinema that is being made in Catalonia, Spain and the world. What it began as a festival designed by some friends, and that even back in 2001 managed 1,500 spectators, has evolved to a contest that is specialised in making almost miracles with such a small budget, thanks mostly to experience and an increasing list of professional contacts. The event is very appealing and helps Tarragona become known to both film and festival producers from all over the world.

Thanks to a budget much higher that this year’s, more sections and scheduled films, the showing got to its highest level in 2011, with over 10,000 spectators. The financial crisis has reduced both the structure and the number of films shown to a third, and yet the festival has lost neither the international repercussion nor the support of a faithful and heterogeneous public that can’t help experiencing high-quality cinema in their very same city. “The REC Festival is for non-conformists, curious people that demand a top-notch cultural programme. We’ve got spectators from Tarragona, and the whole region, but also from El Garraf and Barcelona”, says Xavier Garcia Puerto.

Tarragona, “Europe’s California” according to the director Bigas Luna in reference to their similar number and quality of daylight hours, has become a prominent studio set in recent years. However, a part from a few movie-related projects, like some original version movies programmed by the cultural association “Anima’t” or URV’s “Aula de Cinema, it is very difficult to attend as spectator in Tarragona to a film festival, which is not the REC, which can gather such high number of movies and producers that are not found in regular cinemas.

I like those movies that punch you in the face, that trigger some sort of reaction on the spectator. I like cinema that provokes and communicates”, says Garcia Puerto. A little bit of all this is to be expected by people attending this festival. “Any director’s talent should arise in the very first film. If he or she does not show a strong personality, or does not stand out, there might not be a second chance”, he states. According to Xavier, opportunities don’t come to you; you have to go and chase them, even if you have to cross the entire world.

Like, for example, that occasion when he was invited as part of a jury in a festival in South Corea providing he purchased the plane tickets himself. “I made a personal investment but it was well worth it. I met a person who then allowed me to become a member of the jury in the Berlinale last year” he explains. Palic, Yakutsk, Berlín… Each year, Garcia Puerto attends to a couple of film festivals as a member of the jury, and does not miss the best of Cannes, Venice and Rotterdam.

All in all, besides his collaboration with Tallinn’s Festival, does help Xavier discover over 400 films per year, meet new contacts and design REC’s programme. That is some experience right there; a lot of work and many decisions to make in just one year for a single-weekend film festival.

Spot del REC. Festival Internacional de Cinema de Tarragona 2014 from REC International Film Festival on Vimeo.

Text: Oriol Margalef (@OhMargalef on Twitter)
Photos: Rafael López-Monné (@lopezmonne on Twitter)
Translation: Artur Santos (@artur_1983)