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Spain cinema faces #MeToo moment at Goya awards

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Spain cinema faces #MeToo moment at Goya awards
Spanish director Carlos Vermut delivers a speech during the 62nd San Sebastian International Film Festival in 2014. Allegations of sexual assault have been directed at the filmmaker. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP.

Spain's cinema elite gathered in the northern city of Valladolid Saturday for the Goya film awards ceremony, with allegations of sexual assault directed at an independent Spanish filmmaker overshadowing the event.

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Two weeks after three women told El Pais newspaper they had suffered sexual violence at the hands of filmmaker Carlos Vermut, the story was still making news. 

All have asked to remain anonymous and none has filed a police complaint for fear of the effect on their careers. Interviewed by the newspaper, the filmmaker denied the allegations.

One of the presenters at the ceremony, actor Ana Belen, acknowledged Saturday that the issue was going to be "present" at the four-hour event, which honoured films directed by J. A. Bayona and Justine Triet.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, arriving for the awards, told journalists: "We have to change many things. Violence against women is structural violence."

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On Friday, US star Sigourney Weaver, who was honoured at the event, addressed the affair at a news conference.

"I'm very sorry to hear about this case, and my heart goes out to the women," said the three-time Oscar nominee.

"It is women who speak up about this situation and abuses, that are making it safer for all women to work in this industry."

Weaver, 74, was presented with a lifetime achievement award for a string of films, including the Alien franchise and "Gorillas in the Mist".

American actress Sigourney Weaver receives from Spanish film director Juan Antonio Bayona the International Goya Award for her career at the 38th Goya Awards ceremony

American actress Sigourney Weaver receives the International Goya Award for her career at the 38th Goya Awards ceremony in Valladolid from Spanish film director Juan Antonio Bayona, on February 10, 2024. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

The award for best film went to Bayona's "Society of the Snow", about an amateur Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes Mountains in 1972.

Triet's "Anatomy of a Fall" won the prize for best European film.

'A serious problem'

On Friday, Spain's Culture Minister Ernest Urtasun pledged to open a unit to tackle such abuse allegations within the sector. 

"We have a serious problem with sexual assault and violence within the world of culture and we as institutions need to take action," he told La Sexta television.

READ ALSO: Spanish film director accused of sexual assaults

Ahead of the ceremony, the Spanish Film Academy also said it would fight against such abuses in the industry.

"Sexual violence and abuses of power have no place in the world of cinema or in Spanish society as a whole," said the academy, which runs the awards.

A rising star in Spain's independent cinema, the 43-year-old director -- whose real name is Carlos Lopez del Rey -- won two top prizes at the 2014 San Sebastian film festival for "Magical Girl", his second feature.

Citing the three women, El Pais said the alleged assaults happened between May 2014 and February 2022. The report sparked anger in a country that has taken a leading role in fighting sexual violence.

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One woman accused Vermut of immobilising then choking her and forcing her to have sex, saying she tried to stop him both verbally and physically. Another, an aspiring director, said he lunged at her to kiss her and ripped her bra off.

The third said she had entered a consensual relationship with him but he had subjected her to frightening rough sex to which she had not consented.

'Rough but consensual'

Interviewed by the newspaper three times, Vermut said he had not been "aware of having exercised sexual violence against any woman.

"I have always practised rough sex in a consensual manner," he said.

Since the emergence in 2017 of the #Metoo movement, a string of major figures from the world of cinema have been accused of sexual violence. 

Director Pedro Almodovar and actor Penelope Cruz will present several awards at Saturday's ceremony.

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