Antonio De La Torre, Alfonso Tort and Álvaro Brechner in Valencia Photo: Courtesy of La Mostra De Valencia
Some film critics hate screening Q&As - but there's nothing like attending one to get a sense of the real vibe of a festival. Sure, sometimes the questions can be non-questions ("I just love your movie!") or hoary old horrors (take a bow, "What was your budget?") but just as often, someone asks something oblique that a journalist might not think of and they give you a real sense of who is attending and how engaged they are.
In the case of the reborn and revitalised Mostra De Valencia in Spain, the answer to how engaged cinemagoers are is - very. I can't remember the last time I saw both a member of the audience and a member of the film's cast in tears at the Q&A of a fiction feature, but it happened at Sunday night's packed screening of Álvaro Brechner's A Twelve-Year Night (La noche de 12 años) at the city's arthouse Cines Babel. The subject of the movie - the real-life solitary confinement of future Uruguay president Jose “Pepe” Mujica and his fellow prisoners Mauricio Rosencof and Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro - might be on the melodramatic side in places but it struck an emotional chord with an audience member for whom it was close to home. His reaction, in turn, led to tears from Alfonso Tort (Huidobro in the film), who was comforted by a firm pat on the shoulder by his co-star Antonio de la Torre (Mujica).
De la Torre proved not to just be a star on screen, but also an upbeat an winning presence off it, ordering the doors to be barred initially when no questions were forthcoming and then, along with Tort and Brechner, happily being grilled by the no longer shy audience for almost an hour, with none of them showing any signs of flagging. You can see them having a whale of time with the audience in Brechner's tweet below:
The same sense of enthusiasm was in evidence over at the city's plush Filmoteca, where a slightly younger crowd gathered for a Masterclass with Greek screenwriter Efthymis Filippou earlier in the weekend (read more about that here).
This idea of the old and the new, along with a mixture of different cultures coming together is reflective of the city as a whole, where the Valencian version of Catalan can be heard mingling with Castilian at almost every turn. The city boasts a historic heart with its 15th Century World Heritage Site Gothic Silk Exchange and enormous art nouveau Central Market in contrast to the striking modernity of the City of Arts and Sciences, while its port and beaches offer links to other Mediterranean countries and a haven for modern-day sunseekers.
Also, excellent, although on a much more sombre theme is documentary hybrid Another Day Of Life, which premiered in Cannes. This snapshot of the Angolan War, based on the memoir of Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski blends animation and real-life recollection of events to gripping and emotionally wrenching effect.
Spanish language films, including Fishbone and A Twelve-Year Night attracted long queues and sold-out screenings, but so did retrospective showings, including Yorgos Lanthimos and Filippou's Dogtooth, showing an willingness to embrace the whole programme.
This may be the first edition of the festival since 2012 but it has hit the ground running - with an ambitious line-up, critically acclaimed guests and, most importantly, audience numbers and enthusiasm suggesting there has been no lessening in the appetite for diverse and challenging cinema. In a first year, you can't ask for much more than that.