Helmers unveil pix at socially progressive fest

SAN SEBASTIAN — The public may remember the 52nd San Sebastian Film Fest as the year Woody Allen returned to his old form with “Melinda and Melinda.”

But San Sebastian 2004 will also be remembered, like Cannes and Toronto, as the year the documentary broke out.

Of helmer heavyweights, Oliver Stone unveiled a new, 65-minute, theatrical version of the HBO-screened “Looking for Fidel,” a far more aggressive and tightly focused work than “Comandante,” with Stone drubbing Castro for his political crackdown in Cuba.

Oscar-winning Spanish director Fernando Trueba (“Belle Epoque”) unveiled “The Miracle of Candeal,” a vibrant, color-splashed portrait of Brazilian bandleader/musician Carlinhos Brown, who has transformed a humble district of Salvador de Bahia by bringing music to the people.

Montxo Armendariz’s “Moving Scenery” follows a folk music group around the foothills of Spain’s poverty-stricken south.

Much talked-about, after winning the Venice Film Days best film award, was “Darwin’s Nightmare,” by Tyrolese documaker Hubert Sauper.

Set in Tanzania, it probes the disastrous ecological consequences introducing the pig-ugly, hog-sized Nile perch into Lake Victoria, and builds into a mortifying metaphor of how big fish eat small fish in social, economic and political terms, on a global scale.

Equally tongue-wagging, for Spaniards at least, was Manuel Palacios’ “Bars in the Memory,” a pioneering film expose of Franco’s concentration camps, which housed some 500,000 political prisoners between 1937 and 1962.

Eterio Ortega’s “Persecuted” is a simple chronicle of the curbed lives and social ostracization of two Basques under ETA death threats. On a lighter note, Basque helmer Juan Miguel Gutierrez Marquez’s weird and wandering “Tabula Rasa” used people’s attitudes toward their skin to discuss what he calls his “little world.”

Always a socially and politically progressive festival, this year San Sebastian showcased a record-breaking seven docs in its main Zabaltegi sidebar.

“There are just more, better and bigger documentaries than before,” explains Spanish distribber Adolfo Blanco, at San Sebastian to unveil new distrib shingle Notro Films, which has three docs on its first slate.

Some San Sebastian docus are carrying large sales expectations. “Looking” and “Darwin” are handled by two of the most significant artpic sales companies around: Wild Bunch and Celluloid Dreams. “Miracle” was picked up by Lola Films for worldwide sales.

And distribs report prices on select titles have risen in the last few years, since docs now have proven theatrical track records. With TV and DVD rights usually included in rights packages, docs finally may be getting on solid financial footing.

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