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Festgoers Basque in the local light

Focus on regional film hopes to raise profiles

A stroll along San Sebastian’s La Concha beach suggests that the credit crunch has had little impact on Spain’s most cinematically beautiful city: Festival visitors from abroad return again and again, enamored of the atmosphere, the food — oh, and the movies.

In the words of fest director Mikel Olaciregui, it’s “the biggest Spanish-language festival in the world.”

Few could argue with him. Even at a day shorter than in previous editions, it’s expected to be a typically vibrant fest.

“I’d like to see people walking into cinemas through the whole year,” says Olaciregui, “not just during the festival.”

In other words, one function of San Sebastian this year is to help save Spanish cinema from the economic troubles from which it is under threat. On the artistic side, it should work, with the official section reflecting something for most tastes — from edgy to commercial with everything in between.

There are seven world preems, three of them Spanish, and they rep in microcosm the formal variety on display throughout the section: Isaki Lacuesta’s “The Damned,” which confronts the ways in which the political past impacts the emotional present; Alvaro Pastor and Antonio Naharro’s “Me, Too,” a crowdpleaser dealing with the relationship between a man who has Down’s Syndrome and a woman who does not; and Javier Rebollo’s more experimental “Woman Without Piano.”

Gaul supplies three heavyweight candidates: Bruno Dumont, Francois Ozon and Christophe Honore. Francophilia apart, the section casts its geographical net wide. Potential standouts include Lu Chuan’s emotionally draining chronicle of the 1930s Nanjing massacre, “City of Life and Death”; Juan Jose Campanella’s romantic thriller “The Secret in Their Eyes”; and Atom Egoyan’s “Chloe.”

Olaciregui believes that “international audiences are increasingly interested in Latin American films,” and 2009’s Horizontes Latinos sidebar, featuring films by Latin Americans or about Latin America, could be its strongest edition to date.

Topped by debutante Cary Fukunaga’s Sundance-winning trans-American immigration drama “Sin nombre,” produced by Mexico’s heavyweight Canana, the section features work from Argentine stars Santiago Loza and Israel Adrian Caetano,

and Uruguayan Adrian Biniez’s “Gigante,” from the team that made “Whisky.”

The spread of nationalities through the section reveals that the production stranglehold of Mexico and Argentina is loosening, with Colombia, Peru, Uruguay and Chile — the continent’s fastest grower, in production terms — also represented.

The Films in Progress sidebar keeps watch over upcoming Latin American productions, among them the debut of thesp Daniel Hendler (“Broken Embrace”).

Fest’s commitment to new talent continues in the Zabaltegi New Directors sidebar, where 14 more feature debutantes unspool, including 10 world preems.

In the glamour stakes, San Sebastian sometimes feels underpowered. But 2009 is looking strong with Brad Pitt and Quentin

Tarantino tubthumping “Inglourious Basterds,” as well as Saffron Burrows and Chiara Mastroianni.

One notable addition to San Sebastian this year is the mutation of the Basque Cinema Day into a fully fledged section of its own, Zinemira, reflecting the best of Basque film.

TIP SHEET

When: Sept. 18-26

Where: San Sebastian, Spain

Web: sansebastianfestival.com

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