Posted by: michellemuldoon | October 25, 2019

Almeria Western Film Festival

I recently returned from the Almeria Western Film Festival in Tabernas, Spain where Last Stand to Nowhere received a great response. I grew up watching Spaghetti Westerns with my father and to screen in the home of the Sergio Leone classics was a dream come true.

Be prepared, this is going to be a long post!

It nearly didn’t happen. After a great festival summer for Last Stand, the coffers were bare but fifteen Facebook friends e-transferred me the cost of flights and before I knew it, I was booked and going. Why was it so important? The festival screened twenty-one films. One of the other shorts was a directing duo, with one of the duo being female. The only other woman director in the festival was me. Representation matters.

I arrived in Tabernas the morning of the festival opening. I was picked up at the Airport and driven to the village of Tabernas in time to meet my filmmaker liaison, Cristina, and then off to get my room at the hostel. The town was sold out and Cristina kindly found me a room in an apartment in a hostel directly across a narrow pedestrian street from La Puente Cafe. All I can say is, I miss the place every day; every morning began sitting outside with a coffee and a tostada of tomato and serrano ham for two euros. It was heaven.

I quickly learned that the festival is really a village wide event. There were free concerts, shows at the Western towns, and re-enactment fans from far and wide attending. The whole village took part, with the opening day films screened strictly for students. Tabernas is proud of its film heritage and the festival is a celebration of its Western roots. The full event kicked off with a parade to the plaza for the opening ceremony. Lucky me, the parade ran right past my hostel and La Puente.

Almeria Western Film Festival Parade on Vimeo 

From there it was off for lunch with approximately twenty other people, including festival honoree Alex Cox. Yes, the man who made Repoman and Sid and Nancy has a long relationship with the region. He not only lived in the area for a number of years, but has also filmed a number of other projects there.  I met and became fast friends with Daniel Camargo and his wife Rosa. Daniel hails from Brazil but now lives in Italy.  His film is an excellent documentary on Spaghetti Western star George Hilton called George Hilton, the World Belongs to the Daring.

I’m not sure if it was that day or the next but I had the great fortune of meeting two exceptional young animators from The Netherlands, Wiebe Bonnema was joined by Anselm Oettel. The five of us quickly became inseparable.  It helped we were the English speaking contingent but honestly, even if I could barely understand these guys I would still have hung out with them. I learned so much from them about European cinema, the industry and what it means to be an independent filmmaker in Europe.

I didn’t realize until the end of day that the volunteer that greeted me at the theatre was the Mayor of Tabernas, Senor Jose Dias, or that I was sitting next to the Festival Director, Senor Eduardo Trias, at lunch. Senor Trias told me he loved my film, thanked me for bringing it the festival and finished with, “We need more women in Westerns”. I still don’t think I’ve recovered.

When we say Representation Matters, this festival was proof of it. I did have one negative experience with an attendee. I met a gentleman that was there with a feature. He asked why I was at the festival and I told him that I had a film in the short film competition and the response was, “Good for you”. I’m proud to say that my new friends were quick to disappointment.  Every other man I met found the response both condescending and disappointing.  Filmmaker Alberto Romero, the director of the award-winning Argentinian feature film Infierno Grande, was quick to comment several days later that he wanted to know where the women filmmakers were.  I told him he was looking at her. The conversation that ensued gave me great hope for the genre and for women in Westerns. Alberto wanted to see more of us, and was as supportive as the other men I was spending my time with.

On the second day at the festival, I had a roommate move into my hostel apartment. I couldn’t have been more fortunate with who it was; Pierre-Alexandre Chauvat from France. Pierre-Alexandre quickly joined our group and as our table grew, so did the conversations over beer and tapas at La Puente. Piere-Alexandre, Wiebe and I all screened in the same block. It was a special feeling to have all three of us sitting in the theatre together, cheering for each other; something I never expected to happen in a theatre on the other side of the planet.

As an aside, I want to share my gratitude for how we were treated by the festival. I don’t think I paid for a meal in the first three days. There was a cocktail party each evening and the tapas were never ending. The festival had beer and wine sponsors and the El Gringo representatives were always around. We were never treated like emerging filmmakers, or independent filmmakers. We were treated like filmmakers, as professional as anyone with a big budget. It was amazing to experience.

Throughout the week I continued to meet people from all over the world who loved the genre and loved the idea of women asserting themselves into it. I was told by several women that making Last Stand was an act of bravery, and the actress that won Best Female Performer in a Feature lamented the fact she didn’t get to brandish a pistol and be that self-actualized character that you know I believe in. I was also told by someone that they thought that Last Stand to Nowhere and Pierre-Alexandre’s film The Legacy were the best of the bunch. There was an award for Best Western and Best Neo-Western. The Legacy won Best Western and I like to think we were right behind it.

We met a lovely couple, David and Carol, who had a great understanding of the European Western re-enactment community. I had no idea how big it was. There are Western towns in several places in Europe, including Great Britain, and the re-enactment community takes their costumes quite seriously as they travel to events at all of them. The community is less about re-enacting history and more about re-enacting Western Film, which I thought was fantastic.  I think this is a community that needs more exploration on my part and I was so grateful to learn more about how Westerns are valued on the Continent.

The first concert Wiebe, Anselm and I attended in the Plaza was by Sarah Vista and her band. David and Carol were enthusiastic about the concert so we knew we had to attend. Sarah hales from the UK and plays both country music and western music.  I appreciated that she has a clear point of view on how those two categories differ.  Meet Sarah Vista via her video for Killing Fever:


There are two Western towns in the area, both built by Sergio Leone. Oasys or Mini-Hollywood is the more commercial of the two. It has full buildings and is open to tourists with a show in the saloon. There’s also a cinema projection museum in the main building. It’s quite simply, spectacular. Fort Bravo is mostly facades but has a full saloon and cafeteria and group booking space. There are several cottage-like buildings on site so if you’re filming, you can also stay.

Fort Bravo was built for The Good The Bad and The Ugly but never used. Most recently, The Sisters Brothers filmed on location. All the performers at Fort Bravo and Mini-Hollywood were background performers in the film. You can’t help but feel the magic in both places. I’ve never wanted to film in a location more than I do Tabernas. To be a part of that heritage would be spectacular.

Oasys, Mini-Hollywood

Fort Bravo Western Show on Vimeo

Fort Bravo

Thoughts, lessons, experiences… too many to list so I’m going to itemize what comes to mind:

1.  We met some other young men from France who graduated film school then banded together to make film and grow a company. Their film was a neo-Western called Le Blizzard.  They were enthusiastic to talk about Last Stand to Nowhere and the process of making it. We chatted about the struggles to get their company going, how they run their collaboration and what the ultimate goal of financing and larger projects meant. They had a great relationship where they floated between duties. If one of them wanted to work more with camera, then they made that happen. It was refreshing to see people who were less focused on how they, as individuals, benefited than how, as a group, they could progress. Every young man I met from Europe was supportive of me and my project and open to hearing that many women are tired of the girlfriend/wife/harlot roles. I never felt talked down to, or ignored.  I have such great hope thanks to the young men I met.

2. Canadian filmmakers share issues around funding with our European and South American friends.  Financing is still connected to cultural relevance and there are also doors that open and close depending on where you went to school. What’s worse is that crowdfunding is scoffed at.  It’s considered begging for help, so many of my fellow filmmakers were making their films out of pocket and what investment they could raise. Everyone was amazed at how much we raised with crowdfunding and I found myself giving short lectures on how we ran a successful campaign. That being said, there is money in Europe and South America through government funding agencies but it’s just as hard to tap into as it is for us.

3. Spain has a longer history of film creation than I realized. The first production to film in Tabernas was Lawrence of Arabia. After that, Cleopatra arrived. Then came the Spaghetti Westerns after Sergio Leone built sets for his Dollars Trilogy. Most recently Tabernas and Almeria has been home to Queen of Swords, Game of Thrones and the latest season of The Crown. The skilled crews are there and they are hungry to bring production to the region.

4. People don’t talk about themselves or the industry in Europe. They talk about film, cinema and the masters that influence them. Not once did we talk in terms of status in the industry or the business of film, other than how we financed our own projects.

5. Women are starved for better representation in Westerns. This has been a building realization for me but when I add the voices of European women to those I’ve heard in North America then I know without a shadow of a doubt there’s an untapped market for women in Westerns.

6. It’s not just other filmmakers that matter at a festival. I learned about my market overseas from David and Carol and I made contact with someone attending the festival who passed along Last Stand to someone in the industry in Britain.

7. Which means… be open to everyone you meet at a festival. Don’t sleep unless others are sleeping. If other filmmakers are going to something, then you should too. You have no idea who you’ll meet or when. I slept maybe 4-5 hours a night thanks to events going on and jet lag. Either way, I was not going to miss a conversation at breakfast or a chance meeting at an event in the evening.

8. Don’t isolate yourself or assume that what you see, hear, experience at a local festival is how the world sees you. We must think globally, while acting locally to make projects move forward.

9. Status is not a replacement for a genuine relationship. It doesn’t matter how high up someone is, find your festival tribe and together build your network. I found mine and consider myself incredible fortunate to have met Daniel, Rosa, Wiebe, Anselm, Pierre-Alexandre and Alberto. It’s hard to put into words what I learned from them, but I think it can be summed up with; look at your choices with a global perspective, and strive for a sense of sharing and collaboration.

10. Off topic, let’s talk about climate change. The region is receiving less and less rainfall. When it does happen, it often results in flash flooding and you can see the gullies created by them. The desert is stunning, but we do need to be aware that this is one of those places that knows just how much we need to be more aware of our future use of the planet.

Spain and Tabernas caught hold of my heart and taught me I have a place in film. I don’t know if I ever felt a greater sense of belonging as I did on this trip. I went to AWFF acutely aware that I was probably the only female director there, but not once did anyone make me feel that way. If that isn’t a testimonial to how special the Almeria Western Film Festival and the international community it gathers is, I don’t what could be.



  1. Hi, there’s an often overlooked international production called OEIL POUR OEIL that uses the Tabernas Desert locations and predates LAWRENCE OF ARABIA by some six years. It’s worth a look.


    • I’ll look it up. Thanks.


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