San Sebastian Festival closed Sept. 28

MADRID The Spanish-speaking world’s biggest film event, Spain’s San Sebastian Festival, unspools just a half-hour south of the French border.

The fest’s 57th edition, which closed Sept. 28, almost seemed like it was taking place in France. The Spanish fest hosted 19 Gallic sales companies, while 14 attended Venice.

Nearly half the attendees — org reps, agents, distributors — at Films in Progress, a showcase for rough-cut Latin American pics, were French.

Most of the Gallic attendees were top execs from important French companies.

The fest usually concentrates on promoting business between Spain and Latin America, but this year marked the arrival of the French biz in force.

The international festival and market scene is evolving, says Nicholas Kaiser, head of video and TV sales at Memento Films Intl. Most foreign distributors make a point of getting to Toronto, buyers were down 6% at last year’s AFM.

“There are fewer bigger markets. There aren’t many markets where you can meet everyone. So you need to get out and reach them,” Kaiser says.

The bigger fests with a market structure like San Sebastian are the ones to target, Kaiser adds, citing also Haugesund, Rome and London.

Buyers and sellers registered for October’s Rome Fest, also with a growing market component, are tracking 16% up from 2008.

San Sebastian allows French sales agents to target Spain, where business conditions have gotten more difficult.

Spanish DVD sales were down 16% in 2008. TV sales are difficult. Enrique Gonzalez Kuhn at Alta films, Spain’s biggest arthouse distributor, says he buys only against theatrical.

“Spain’s an important, but bad, market. When a territory’s not in the best possible shape you have to put more effort into talking to distributors,” says Funny Balloons manager Peter Danner.

A San Sebastian competition berth can also trigger a Spanish sale.

Francois Ozon’s “The Refuge,” which won him the director prize, was taken off the market by Karma just before the fest.

“Spain’s main daily newspapers cover the festival a lot. Having a film in competition is almost a sure way of finding a Spanish distributor,” says Rezo acquisitions head Laurent Danielou, who cites Rezo sales on “Frozen River,” John Sayles’ “Honeydripper” and Stephane Brize’s “I’m Not Here to Be Loved” after their San Sebastian screenings.

Agents from other Euro territories also like doing business in San Sebastian.

“San Sebastian is growing in status. I had extremely useful meetings there,” says Nicole Mackey, senior VP at Fortissimo.

“It is a fabulous opportunity to meet most Spanish distributors, whose home offices are in at least three different cities, in one place.”

The next event to benefit from the shifting sands of market attendance could be Nov. 27-30’s Ventana Sur in Buenos Aires, the Cannes Market’s first full-fledged foreign bazaar.

For Ventana Sur’s first edition, its organizers, Argentina’s Incaa and the Cannes Market, are flying in 200 international buyers — theatrical distributors, sales companies and TV buyers — and also paying for accommodations.

At San Sebastian, Cannes Market director Jerome Paillard announced more than 75% of buyers had been confirmed. “We will, without difficulty, reach our target in October,” Paillard says.

Emiliano de Pablos and Nick Vivarelli contributed to this report.

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