Delegates up and biz brisk at Spanish fest

SAN SEBASTIAN — Suggesting little cause for cheer in the run-up to Mifed, the implosion of art pic sales to European broadcasters overshadowed biz at the 51st San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival, which wrapped Saturday.

Marking a trend that began last year, there was a smattering of sales just before or at the festival, both to Spain and international territories. Prior to 2002, a few deals were done at the fest, for Spain at least, but in a far less organized way.

Industry attendance rose this year: per fest stats, 1,000 industry pros attended the fest; 300 used its mini-mart sales office, including 200 buyers. Compared to 2002, the number of sales have also increased, Alicia Luna, head of the San Sebastian sales office, told Daily Variety.

But more attendees and increased sales don’t necessarily point to a general market upswing. Some sales deals may have been pushed through because, in an increasingly tough market, sales agents are willing to accept terms on any reasonable offer.

San Sebastian isn’t so much about closing deals as creating factors that trigger accords weeks or months later. So many films may close deals as a result of, rather than during, the festival.

“For two years now, because of the slowdown in sales to TV, distribbers have been buying fewer films, many have a large backlog of product. So it’s taking longer to sell films,” says Bavaria Film Intl. managing director Michael Weber.

“Festivals can help film sales as pre-filters, as can a prize at a festival, good reviews and a not-bad B.O. in a film’s country of origin,” he adds.

Sales agents concur that a San Sebastian berth can significantly aid sales to Spain at a time when, as Thompson points out, the country’s one of the most complicated markets in Europe. International acquisition execs attending San Sebastian were primarily lured by its huge spread of upscale Spanish-lingo product.

“San Sebastian is always very useful to catch up with what’s going on in Spanish and Latin American cinema, whether projects or finished films,” says Alexandra Rossi, Fine Line Features’ VP, European acquisitions and productions.

At fest end, there was a good buzz on Manuel Martin Cuenca’s critically-acclaimed “The Weakness of the Bolshevik,” Mexican low-life crime thriller “Nicotina,” Argentine Gaston Biraben’s debut pic “Captive, “Joaquin Oristrell’s portrait of Spanish actors’ opposition to the war in Iraq, “Los abajo firmantes” and Korean “Memories of Murder,” which, with three big prizes — best director, best new director and the Fipresci award — was regarded by many as confirming the emergence of a significant new young auteur.

Deal highlights at San Sebastian include:

Bavaria Films Intl. sold Spanish rights on Kim Ki-Duk’s “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…And Spring” to Luis Angel Bellaba for Festival Films. Bavaria also closed Argentina, Uruguay and Chile on Cesc Gay’s San Seb competish player “In the City,” which got generally upbeat crits from the local press at San Sebastian, to Pascual Condito’s Primer Plano Film Group.

Primer Plano also took the same three territories on BocaBoca’s sales office-showcased “Fourth Floor” from vet Antonio Mercero.

Reaping good crits and a best cinematography plaudit at San Sebastian, Pathe Intl. is fielding various offers from Spanish distribbers on competish player “Girl With A Pearl Earring,” said Pathe Intl. head of sales Alison Thompson.

A front-runner for the fest’s Youth Award, Colin Farrell-starrer “Intermission” will also close Spanish rights, per Portman Film & Television managing director Tristan Whalley.

The Sogepaq-sold critics’ competish fave “Take My Eyes,” which took best actor and actress and reportedly came within a whisker of adding the fest’s Golden Shell, has signed off on Israel with Shani Films and, rolling off its subject of domestic violence, has interest or offers from a swathe of territories including France, Switzerland, Argentina and the U.K.

Fest competish opener “Suite Habana” has closed France (Ocean), Switzerland and Austria (Trigon), Scandinavia (Angel), Argentina (Walter Achugar) and Mexico (Daniel Birman).

(Deborah Young contributed to this report.)

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