Salamanca Conversations


Salamanca Conversations
   The Conversaciones Cinematográficas de Salamanca was the name given to a conference held in that city in 1955, to discuss the much-needed revitalization of the Spanish cinema. The organizers represented a broad spectrum of opinion, ranging from the journal Objetivo, which included on its editorial staff clandestine members of the Spanish Communist Party, to the SEU (Sindicato Español Universitario), the state-sponsored student union. The fact that the participants included Catholics and members of the Falange, and that the event enjoyed official sponsorship, with the presence on the platform of dignitaries from central and provincial government and the university, gave it a moderate and pragmatic character, which did not, however, protect it later from official criticism.
   Although the inaugural address by Basilio Patino and a later paper by Juan Antonio Bardem contained trenchant criticism of the intellectual and artistic sterility of the Spanish cinema, there was no demand for the abolition of censorship, which would have been both futile and politically risky in the circumstances of the time. Attention focused rather on the need to ensure transparency and consistency in the operation of the system. The main complaint was that in the current situation it was impossible to know which subjects were taboo, especially since Spanish films seemed to be subjected to more stringent criteria than foreign productions.
   The conclusions adopted at the end of the conference included demands that film professionals should be involved in the drafting of a new censorship code, that there should be a clear statement of guidelines as to what subjects were permissible, that an appeal procedure should be instituted, and that decisions on individual films should be binding. This was to avoid the all too common situation which arose when films permitted by the state authorities were subsequently censored as the result of intervention by the church or by private interests on the extreme right. Despite the moderate nature of these demands, the very fact that sensitive topics were discussed in a critical atmosphere provoked an adverse reaction from the authorities. Some of those who had participated, such as the former Director-General of Cinema and Theatre, José María Escudero, began to speak of a "communist plot". A virulent campaign against the organizers was conducted in the state-controlled press in Spain, and the current Director-General, Manuel Torres López, was dismissed for "tolerating" the event. The journal Objetivo was banned. The accusation of communist infiltration was predictably wide of the mark, for the PCE itself dismissed the Conversations as a piece of timid "bourgeois" reformism. Limited as the impact of the Salamanca Conversations was, they are important for illustrating the tense and polarized atmosphere of Spanish cultural life during the Franco period. They also represent the stirring of a critical spirit which would in the long run prove irresistible, and would bring about a significant relaxation of restrictions even in Franco's lifetime.
   Further reading
   - Gubern, R. (1981) La censura: Función política y ordenamiento jurídico bajo el franquismo (19361975), Barcelona: Ediciones Penísula (an excellent and well-documented general study).
   EAMONN RODGERS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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