By Blanca Rodriguez
MADRID (Reuters) - Spain nominated a film in Catalan for the first time ever on Wednesday as its candidate for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Academy Awards, ahead of a picture by two-time Oscar winner Pedro Almodovar which stars Antonio Banderas.
The Spanish Cinema Academy chose "Pa Negre" (Black Bread), which is set in northeastern Catalonia shortly after the 1936-39 Civil War, and all of whose dialogue is in the regional Catalan language.
Other films that had been short-listed for Spain's official entry were "The Skin I Live in," Almodovar's first film with Banderas in more than 20 years, and "La Voz Dormida" (The Sleeping Voice), another film dealing with the Spanish Civil War's brutal aftermath.
"It's great news. 'Pa Negre' depicts diversity and wealth as positive values and not damnable handicaps," producer Isona Passola told journalists after hearing the Spanish Academy's decision.
"I think it's laughable to say there have been many (films) about the Civil War. Wars provide great material for cinema because in them the world's great ideals come into play," she added.
"Pa Negre" was the surprise winner in February of nine "Goyas" -- Spain's equivalent of the Oscars -- after it had been seen by a modest audience of 500,000 and grossed just 2.6 million euros ($3.5 million) at Spanish box offices.
One of those Goyas went to the film's Agusti Villaronga for best director, and he went on to recently win the National Cinematography prize in Spain. Villaronga, 58, has also won seven Ariel prizes, awarded by Mexico's film academy, for his 2002 work "Aro Tolbukhin."
The film's title refers to low-quality bread many had to eat after the war, if they ate at all, and is seen through the eyes of Andreu, a boy whose parents were on the losing side in the conflict which stirs controversy to this day in Spain.
As well as Francesc Colomer, in the role of Andreu, the film stars Sergi Lopez, who also acted in the 2006 Oscar-nominated picture "Pan's Labyrinth" -- in which he spoke Castillian.
Multilingual Lopez has also acted in English -- in "Pretty Dirty Things" (2002) and French, in "An Affair of Love" (1999).
"Pa Negre" has opened in France and has plans to hit cinemas in China and Japan, as well as be re-released in Madrid and Barcelona due to renewed interest following its candidacy for the Oscars.
($1 = 0.735 Euros)
(Writing by Martin Roberts; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)