Spanish-lingo features top San Seb

De Aranoa's 'Sun' nabs Golden Shell, Fipresci

SAN SEBASTIAN — Spanish-lingo features took top honors at the 50th San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival, which wrapped Saturday, reinforcing the event as a showcase for quality national features and Hispanic co-productions.

The international competition jury, headed by director Wim Wenders, awarded the Golden Shell to Spanish helmer Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s bittersweet drama of unemployed shipyard workers in a northern coast town, “Mondays in the Sun.” The film also earned the Fipresci international critics’ award.

Special jury prize went to Argentinean director Carlos Sorin’s humorous chronicle of three Patagonians’ journeys of self-fulfillment, “Minimal Stories,” also given a special mention by the Fipresci jury.

The fest’s other widely applauded Spanish-lingo entry was Argentinean Adolfo Aristarain’s “Common Places,” about an aging couple shut out by society who find momentary peace in their twilight years.

The Argentine-Spanish co-prod earned Mercedes Sampietro the Silver Shell for actress, a prize the thesp dedicated to the suffering people of Argentina. Aristarain and co-writer Katy Saavedra also took screenplay honors.

The award was shared with Russian scripter Gennadiy Ostrovskiy for “The Lover,” director Valeriy Todorovsky’s story of two men in love with the same woman. Sergey Mikhalchuk won the cinematography nod for the film.

Given the tradition of volatile reactions from the press in San Sebastian, the awards were enthusiastically received aside from some minor ripples of dissent over two to Chen Kaige’s “Together.” The story of a teenage virtuoso violinist drew a tepid response from critics, but the jury awarded its Silver Shell for director to the Chinese veteran and actor honors to Liu Peiqi as the protagonist’s father.

Shut out of the awards in what was considered one of the stronger competitions of recent years were Neil Jordan’s stylish heist thriller “The Good Thief,” Danish director Susanne Bier’s Dogma entry “Open Hearts,” Paul Schrader’s dark sex-addiction drama “Auto Focus,” Carlos Carrera’s Mexican box office smash “The Crimes of Father Amaro,” and New Zealander Niki Caro’s magical tale of clashes within a Maori family, “Whale Rider,” one of the lineup’s major audience hits.

In addition to underlining San Sebastian’s continuing evolution as a fest whose heart is in Spanish-lingo arthouse production, the main competition awards focus attention on the films’ growing international impact.

Many in San Sebastian felt the commercial success of films like “Y tu mama tambien” and “Son of the Bride,” plus the Hollywood inroads of directors Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo Del Toro have lured more reps from U.S. companies to the fest. These included Miramax, Fine Line, Sony Pictures Classics, Focus Features, Lions Gate and HBO.

The fest’s sales office says negotiations are proceeding on European and U.S. distribution deals for “Minimal Stories,” with strong interest from key territories in “Mondays in the Sun” and “Common Places,” as well as a handful of other titles screened in the Made in Spanish annual roundup section.

In the fest’s parallel New Directors competition, a separate jury awarded its 150,000 euro ($148,000) top prize to Czech director Alice Nellis’ family drama “Some Secrets,” with special mentions to Korean Lee Jung-Hyang’s “The Way Home” and Hungarian Gyorgy Palfi’s “Hukkle.”

The youth jury award went to Patricia Cardoso’s tale of mother-daughter conflict in a Los Angeles Mexican family, “Real Women Have Curves,” while Michael Moore’s acerbic gun control documentary “Bowling for Columbine” took the audience award.

Other prizes include the ecumenical jury nod to “Mondays in the Sun” with a special mention to “Minimal Stories” and a New Directors award to “The Way Home.”

Top prize in the Made in Spanish section went to U.S. director Peter Sollet’s “Raising Victor Varga” (aka “Long Way Home”), with a mention to Argentine Ana Katz’s “The Musical Chairs.”

The Intl. Confederation of Arthouse Cinema award went to “Minimal Stories,” while the Spanish Screenwriters Guild honored “Mondays.” Basque gay and lesbian association GEHITU gave its prize to Sri Lankan transgender tale “Flying With One Wing,” by Asoka Handagama.

(John Hopewell contributed to this report.)

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