San Sebastian to showcase first-time, star helmers' films

SAN SEBASTIAN — The biggest film festival in the Spanish-speaking world gets under way today, bolstered by the strongest selection in several years.

The official competition for the 52nd San Sebastian Film Festival boasts a prominent turnout of Spanish-lingo helmers.

This year, however, fest director Mikel Olaciregui has attracted an intriguing roster of international indie auteurs for the main program.

Woody Allen will world preem his “Melinda and Melinda” tonight when Pedro Almodovar presents him with the Donostia Award career achievement award. Allen will be accompanied by the film’s thesps Chloe Sevigny, Radha Mitchell, Amanda Peet and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

There are also the international preem of Tod William’s “The Door in the Floor;” and a world preem of the theatrical version of Oliver Stone’s “Looking for Fidel,” 13 minutes longer than the HBO-screened version.

San Sebastian’s strength is due in part to the shifting sands of major festivals’ selection policies.

‘Overcrowding’ at other fests

“At Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto there’s such overcrowding that, to get any kind of notice for more challenging, substantial crossover films is very difficult. That gives other ambitious festivals the chance to offer an alternate launch platform for these pictures,” said Federation of Film Producers Assn. director general Bertrand Moullier.

Venice’s Hollywood-heavy main program limited its slots for other fare. That may have been to San Sebastian’s benefit: It found competish slots for Goran Paskaljevic’s Serbian post-war themed “Midwinter Night’s Dream” and Bahman Ghobadi’s Kurdish refugee camp-set “Turtles Can Fly.”

San Sebastian will unveil a larger quotient than usual of non-Toronto players in its main program, led by “Inguelezi” from French vet and prior San Sebastian Golden Shell winner Francois Dupeyron.

Many industry execs will roll into town to troll the fest’s main sidebars, Horizontes Latinos and Zabaltegi, which showcase scores of smaller or unknown Spanish-lingo and first-time directors’ films. The latter are attracted by the $110,000 Altadis New Directors Award, one of the biggest cash prizes offered by any festival.

San Sebastian, which closes Sept. 25, will have a fair share of star power.

Star power

Annette Bening and Jeff Bridges will receive the career achievement statue later in the fest.

The fest also expects M. Night Shyamalan (to present “The Village”), Oliver Stone (for “Looking for Fidel”) John Sayles (for “Silver City”), Michael Winterbottom (“9 Songs”), Susanne Bier (“Brothers”), Robert Guediguian (“My Father Is an Engineer”), Claude Chabrol (“The Bridesmaid”), Fernando Trueba (music docu “The Miracle of Candeal”), Morton Spurlock (“Super Size Me”), Stephen Frears (“Prick up Your Ears”), Maria de Madeiros (“Je t’aime … moi non plus”), John Leguizamo and Leonor Watling (“Cronicas”), and Vanessa Redgrave (star of Carlo Nero’s “The Fever”).

With a lineup like that, San Sebastian, like Venice, should see salvos of Bush bashing.

(Jonathan Holland contributed to this report.)

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