Fest kicks off with atypically low-key 'Suite Havana'

This article was updated at 3:37 p.m.

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain — Local vet actor Alfredo Landa stole the show at the opening ceremony of the 51st San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival, which kicked off Thursday.

The star of many popular comedies in the ’60s and ’70s, Landa picked up the Aisge 2003 actor prize, awarded by Spain’s actors’ rights collection society, and received a standing ovation from the largely Spanish audience at the ceremony.Suit

Landa shared an actor plaudit at Cannes for “Los santos inocentes” (The Holy Innocents).

Also at the characteristically sober ceremony, Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Denmark’s Christopher Boe picked up Grand Prixs from the Fipresci international critics org for, respectively, film — “Uzak” (Distant) — and new director for “Reconstruction.”

Fest competition kicked off with an atypically low-key opening film, “Suite Havana.”

Presenting the pic, its director Fernando Perez said he was initially shocked when his film was chosen.

The choice, however, was widely seen as a statement of principle by fest director Mikel Olaciregui regarding the evolving event’s attractions.

An affecting street docu offering a fresh take on daily Cuban life, pic is already being called a classic by Cuban critics. It played to an appreciative audience at its Thursday morning press screening.

“Havana” is one of the few international preems competing for this year’s Golden Shell. Much official section fare unspooled at Toronto a few days ago.

But producers and sales agents seem to be getting a handle on this situation: San Sebastian, they argue, allows films to play in front of Euro auds and to measure up in an official competition.

“Havana” opens a fest that is consolidating its profile as a launch pad for Latin America art pics through its new Horizontes Latinos section. It also has a large New Directors section. Both sidebars boast many preems, world, international or European.

San Sebastian has faced a few road bumps: a no-show from jury prexy Chazz Palminteri (who alleged unexpected work commitments on “Noel”); a political furor over Julio Medem’s feature docu “The Basque Game: Skin against Stone”; and a strike at the fest’s main Maria Cristina hotel.

Glamour may come to the rescue Friday with Charlize Theron and Mark Wahlberg tubthumping “The Italian Job.”

Harvey Keitel will talk up “The Galindez File,” and Isabel Huppert, Sean Penn and Robert Duvall will pick up Donostia career awards. Kevin Costner will present fest closer “Open Range” on Sept. 27.

Word is Jerry Bruckheimer will be making an appearance to promote “Veronica Guerin” in the absence of Cate Blanchett.

(Deborah Young contributed to this report.)

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more