Celeb no-shows put emphasis on films

MADRID — Some stars — Julie Andrews, Glenn Close, Mira Sorvino — will not travel. A few sidebars prints may not make it, though most directors look set to attend. The World Trade Center tragedy will inevitably cloud the 49th San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival. Nobody would expect otherwise. But if for nothing else, the festival will be remembered.

No, the jovial former Basque TV exec, who replaced Diego Galan in January, has not turned the event inside out– rather, the reverse is true. Save for new leadership and some minor adjustments — a new prize for preems in the Made in Spanish sidebar — the San Sebastian fest bears the hallmarks of Galan’s 1995-2000 term: well-crafted retrospectives; a cash-rich 150,000 euro ($135,000) New Directors award; Donostia awards — this year to Julie Andrews and the late Paco Rabal; a Made in Spanish showcase; Velodrome huge-screen kidpics; and big preems yanked from the maws of Toronto and Venice.

Seven of the 20 pics in San Sebastian’s official selection will have been at Toronto: Tim Blake Nelson’s “The Grey Zone,” about medical research at in Auschwitz; Rose Troche’s Glenn Close starrer “The Safety of Objects”; Carlos Saura’s young Bunuel romp, “Bunuel and King Solomon’s Table”; fraught friendship tale “Last Orders,” from Fred Schepisi, toplining Michael Caine; Mike Figgis’ ensemble comedy “Hotel,” with Salma Hayek and Burt Reynolds; Pierre Ameris’ death-bed drama “C’est la vie”; and fantasy piece “Magonia,” from Dutch first-timer Ineke Smits.

For Olaciregui, Toronto is something of a paper tiger.

“More than a festival, Toronto is a industry market with limited press coverage beyond the trades,” he argues. “It’s unjust that films which play Toronto because it’s the gateway into the North American market cannot also enjoy consumer and specialist newspaper coverage.”

And San Sebastian is no ordinary festival; it’s a delicate juggling act, dictated as much by diverse demand as supply.

“A festival has to serve the industry, discover new talent and present it to critics and the public,” While jaundiced industryites want new films, critics — especially Spain’s passionate local scribes — want good films. So San Sebastian mixes it up. World preems include Philippe Harel’s whimsical pro-cycling portrait “La velo de Ghislain Lambert,” plus the three Spanish competition players: Manuel Gutierrez Aragon’s “Visionaries,” a telling political parable of religious fervor in the Basque country; Vicente Aranda’s “Mad Love,” about 16th-century Spanish Queen Joan the Mad’s undying love for her dead husband; and Jose Luis Guerin’s “Work in Progress,” a docu on the local impact of an apartment block being built in Barcelona’s Chinese quarter.

International preems of regional B.O. hits include: multigenre — but coherent — period heist tale “The Escape,” from Eduardo Mignogna; Hong Kong vet Anne Hui’s relationship-ghost drama “Visible Secret”; and “A Cab for Three,” Chile’s Orlando Lubbert’s socially sardonic look at a taxi-driver’s capers to dig himself out of debt.

Least known, perhaps, but also making their international bows are Ake Sandgren’s Dogma pic “Truly Human,” turning on innocence and cruelty, and the Swiss-set Kurd emigrant drama “Escape to Paradise” by Nino Jacusso. He Jian Jun’s “Butterfly Smile,” which kicks off with a hit-and-run accident in Beijing, is also in competition.

Beyond its official lineup, San Sebastian showcases a huge spread of Spanish-lingo films, as befits the most important festival in Spain and Latin America.

The major Zabaltegi sidebar has four Spanish world preems, all directorial debs, three packing powerful thesp pairings: Gael Garcia Bernal (“Love’s a Bitch”) and Cecilia Roth (“All About My Mother”) team in Fito Paez’s tough “Private Lives,” in which a woman confronts her past under the Argentine dictatorship. Carlos Molinero’s “Salvajes” toplines Almodovar players Marisa Paredes and Imanol Arias in a tale of racism and social despair.

Luna’s “Stranded” is a bold departure for Spanish cinema, a Mars-set English-lingo sci-fi thriller with Maria de Madeiros, Joaquim de Almeida and Vincent Gallo. In “Un gos anomenat dolor,” Spanish singer-painter Luis Eduardo Aute ruminates on art.

From Latin America, unremiting Mexican street-kid drama “Streeters,” from Gerard Tort, won first prize at Guadalajara’s Mexican Film Showcase in March. “Caiman’s Dream” continues Mexican Beto Gomez’s absurdist portrayal of his country’s social underbelly, already admiringly served up in his debut, “The Hole.”

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