San Sebastian faces budget crisis

Festival chief and staff threaten to resign

The head of the San Sebastian Film Festival is threatening to resign if his budget is slashed.

If festival director Mikel Olaciregui ankles, he’ll be followed out the door by his entire management team.

Olaciregui’s threat, made in a letter on the fest website, is an attempt to dissuade four public-sector partners from removing coin.

The fact that Olaciregui has thrown down the gauntlet in public should set off alarm bells at other fests.

With commercial partners already backing off costly sponsorship deals, the threatened mass resignation at San Sebastian points to a new source of fiscal pressure for fests in Europe: tumbling support from cash-crunched public institutions, which often put up the bulk of finance.

Set in Spain’s Basque Country, San Sebastian got 52% of this year’s E7.5 million ($9.5 million) budget from three state entities — the Basque regional government, the Guipuzcoa County Council and the San Sebastian Town Hall — plus Spain’s Ministry of Culture.

Though no final decision has been made, the Guipuzcoa County Council has announced plans to slash fest funding by 9% to $1.15 million.

San Sebastian’s Town Hall is contemplating freezing fest coin at 2008 levels.

While studying belt-tightening measures, the fest management “will not continue at the festival if circumstances don’t allow it to hold a festival in appropriate conditions,” the website note said.

Facing rising costs — such as renting multiple digital format projection systems — the fest ran up a $570,000 debt this year, which it will meet from its own funds.

One cash-guzzler is the cost of flying in and accommodating Hollywood stars.

San Sebastian hiked sponsorship by 23% this year, repping approximately 25% of total revenues, but Olaciregui has been tubthumping for more public funding for years. His budget is dwarfed by the Rome fest’s $23 million war chest, while Venice’s budget runs around $15 million.

(Emiliano de Pablos contributed to this report.)

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