San Sebastian plugs in star-wattage

Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. among guests

SAN SEBASTIAN — The San Sebastian Festival, the biggest confab in the Spanish-speaking world, bowed its 56th edition Thursday morning blessed with sun, above-par star wattage, and the moviethon’s gathering importance as a talent showcase and launchpad for Spanish distribution.

Two Spanish homeboys made good in Hollywood — Antonio Banderas and Javier Bardem — dominated at least local media coverage.

Banderas, who’ll receive a Donostia award from the hands of Pedro Almodovar Friday, arrived early morning Thursday to tubthump the official fest opener, Richard Eyre’s “The Other Man.”

Bardem was in town from Wednesday for Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” opening the fest’s major Zabaltegi sidebar. Set in Spain, and made by Allen, who enjoys rock star status in Spain, “Vicky” inevitably stole much of “Man’s” thunder.

Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr. are due in for a Saturday screening of “Tropic Thunder.”

Though still not a major A-List catwalk, San Sebastian’s star power makes for one of the glammest editions in years. “Star avalanche” brayed Thursday’s edition of Basque daily “El Diario Vasco.”

Its industry quotient, though not spectacular, is at least holding.

Here, San Sebastian’s benefiting from the sol y sombra state of the Spanish film industry.

“Spain’s video market’s terrible, the theatrical market is not very good. Spain’s a very tough market to buy for,” said Louis Tizne, Pathe Productions director, international production.

“But in terms of creative talent, in Europe, it’s the country where more talented directors have come from in the last two or three years,” he added.

As the Spanish market gets tougher, sales agents are only too pleased to have a film in Competition at San Sebastian, sometimes triggering a buy for Spain from increasingly picky Spanish distributors.

Sagrera TV bought Spanish rights to Courtney Hunt’s Sundance winner “Frozen River,” sold by France’s Rezo Films, in late August; last week, Wanda Films pounced on Michael Winterbottom’s “Genova,” another San Seb competish player.

Talent-scouring or tracking potential movie break-outs, a sizeable suite of exes look set to be in town, including reps from Paramount, the Match Factory, Fortissimo and a swathe of Gallic sales agents such as Elle Driver, Rezo, Wide Management, Memento, Funny Balloons, Coach 14, Orly, Le Pacte, TF1 and MK2.

From outside Spain, Competition world preems are led by Kim Ki-duk’s dream-like chamber-piece “Dream,” though Kim will be a no show at San Sebastian, alleging personal reasons, the Mathieu Kassowitz-produced “Louise-Michel,” a femme factory workers revenge drama, and Christophe Honore’s “The Beautiful Person,” a contempo redo of “The Princess of Cleves.”

Competish jury prexy Jonathan Demme will present “Neil Young Trunk Show” as a work-in-progress.

Of Spanish Competition world preems, Jaime Rosales’ “Bullet in the Head,” nailing Basque terrorism, and “Camino,” an Opus Dei put-down, will surely spark polemics. Produced by the Almodovar bros’ El Deseo, with Pathe handling international, Belen Macias’ “El Patio de mi carcel,” turns on women prisoners mounting a theater production.

Fest’s New Directors section features a bevy of unseen, largely social-issue Spanish pics: Juan Vicente Cordoba’s “Night Flowers,” Santiago Zannou’s “El Truco del manco,” “Ordinary Boys” from Daniel Hernandez, and Gabriel Velazquez’s “Amateurs.”

In Films in Progress, a Latin American showcase, there’s buzz on redemption drama “El Arbol,” with Rosales and Mexico’s way-left-of-field Carlos Reygadas among producers; and “Artico,” from Argentina’s Santiago Loza, admired for two hangdog features, the Rotterdam Tiger-winning “Strange” and “4 Women, Barefoot.”

Cinema in Motion, a Maghreb/MidEast sidebar, affords sneak peeks of two awaited Arab world feature debuts: “Pomegranates and Myrrh,” from Palestine’s Najwa Najjar, and Moroccan Mohamed Chrif Tribak’s “Le Temps des camarades.”

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