San Seb has sights on ‘Sight,’ ‘Cash Back’

More competitors may be unveiled soon

MADRID — Mexican Ruben Imaz Castro’s “Turtle Family,” Sean Ellis’ Cannes market hit “Cashback” and David Straitharn-starrer “The Sensation of Sight” figure among an eclectic mix of 14 just-announced competitors for the Altadis New Directors Award at the 54th San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival.

More competitors may be unveiled when San Sebastian announces its Official Competition. Currently, unlike last year, when Lee Daniels, Jeremy Thomas and Steve Woolley presented pics, this year’s New Directors lineup has no name directors.

But some are promising enough to attract sought-after actors: “Sight,” for instance, an oddball rendition of a teacher’s mid-life crisis, is the debut of New Hampshire-based Aaron Widerspahn.

And a clutch are beginning to carve out some international cache. “Turtle Family,” Mexican Imaz Castro’s sharply-observed family drama, proved a stand-out at March’s Toulouse Work in Progress showcase; Brit Sean Ellis’ playful, time-stopping romcom “Cashback,” a feature-version of his Oscar-nommed short, was a hit at this year’s Cannes market.

With only two to date — “Cashback” and “The Art of Crying” — screening at Toronto, section looks set to offer genuine discoveries.

Offering a large cash-prize of Euros 90,000 ($115,000), San Sebastian’s New Directors skews slightly Nordic this year. Section pics unveiled Thursday include Dane Peter Schonau Fog’s deb “The Art of Crying,” in which a child tragically tries to aide his psychotic father, Icelandic Ragnar Bragason’s Reykjavik-set “Bastards: Children,” which turns on damaging children-parents relations, and “Sons,” from Norway’s Eric Richter Strand, about a troubled anti-pedophile crusader.

Some offbeat humor counterpoints this northern angst. German Sven Taddicken, who debbed memorably with the virginity-shedding comedy “My Brother the Vampire,” pulls off a romance between a cancer victim and frumpish femme pig farmer in “Emma’s Bliss,” in Lionel Bailliu’s “Fair Play,” a firm’s employees thrash out their work tensions at squash and other sports.

Oliver Paulus and Stefan Hillebrand return to New Directors, where they won a mention in 2003 with “When the Right Man Comes Along,” about a German cleaning lady in love, with “So Long,” a film about waiting for happiness.

New Directors spotlights three promising Asian directors. In the sly “Singapore Dreaming,” from Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh (“Talking Cock”), a family confronts the costs of its material ambitions. Chinese-born Chen Daming’s second pic “One Foot off the Ground” turns on three pinkslipped traditional Chinese opera singers, hapless in the modern world.

Also unspooling in New Directors: Jorge Duran’s “Proibido proibir,” a student love triangle drama, which won San Sebastian’s Work in Progress showcase last year; “Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong,” Mes de Guzman’s tale of two children in the lush Philippine mountains; and Argentine Daniela Goggi’s pointedly minimalist “Visperas” captures a separated woman’s solitude.

Five Spanish New Directors competitors were announced early August. The San Sebastian Film Festival runs Sept. 21-30.

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