Black comedy tops somber San Sebastian

Event first major festival to run after attacks

SAN SEBASTIAN — As the 49th San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival closed Sept. 29, the overcast skies in the Basque beach town mirrored a downbeat mood in the Spanish industry and a more subdued atmosphere at the normally ebullient event, the first under new director Mikel Olaciregui.

In addition, San Sebastian was the first major international film meet to run in full after the terrorist attacks in the U.S., thus unsurprisingly making it all the more quiet than most years, with U.S. guests and ranks of visiting stars severely depleted.

Adding perspective

“The cancellation of scheduled guests like Julie Andrews, Glenn Close and Warren Beatty was merely a postponement for us, and I’m confident they’ll be here at future editions,” Olaciregui tells Variety. “It’s inappropriate to talk of this as a disappointment in view of the very real tragedy of all those who suffered irreparable losses.”

As to the films themselves, top honors went to “A Cab for Three,” a Chilean black comedy by Orlando Lubbert about an unlikely urban crime trio, a well received but modest Golden Shell winner in a competition with no clear critical standout.

Silver Shell for best director went to French helmer Jean-Pierre Ameris’ love story, set in a terminal illness clinic, “C’est la vie.” Catalan director Jose Luis Guerin’s docudrama about construction of a Barcelona housing block, “Work in Progress,” took the Special Jury Prize and Fipresci international critics award.

A Kurdish refugee heading a non-professional cast, Duzgun Ayhan won best actor for Nino Jacusso’s Swiss political asylum drama “Escape to Paradise.” Pilar Lopez took actress kudos for Vicente Aranda’s Spanish costumer “Juana la Loca.”

Screenplay nod went to Philippe Harel, Benoit Poelvoorde and Olivier Dazat for Harel’s cycling comedy “Ghislain Lambert’s Bicycle,” while lenser Roman Osin awarded for cinematography on Anglo-Indian newcomer Asif Kapadia’s epic adventure “The Warrior,” a recent Miramax pickup.

The New Directors Award of 150,000 euros ($136,500) went to Mexican Gerardo Tort’s drama about tough, marginalized youths, “De la Calle.”

Industry announcements, meanwhile, were low-key, centering largely on Spanish film financing:

  • Sony Pictures Entertainment unveiled new subsid Columbia Films Producciones Espanolas, which will bankroll three Spanish pics per year. Iona de Macedo, former VP of Columbia TriStar Intl. TV in Latin America, relocates from Brazil to Madrid as CFPE prexy.

  • Having pumped $61.6 million into national productions this year, Spanish film and TV outfit Sogecable upped acquisitions veteran Jacques Roldan to director of film distribution. Appointment coincides with distribution arm Sogepaq’s pickup of Spanish theatrical rights to Alex de la Iglesia’s hot project “800 Bullets.”

  • Satcaster Via Digital reconfirmed local pic support, earmarking $21.6 million for Spanish features this year.

International sales agents, distribs and local free-to-air TV execs were scarce. Sources say ad-strapped Spanish free TV is pushing back local film production commitment. And while nobody at San Sebastian was talking crisis, rumors of an imminent wave of retrenchments typified the austere mood for national industryites.

John Hopewell contributed to this report.

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