Fest-goers debate event's future

MADRID — Spain’s San Sebastian dawned Friday under grey skies, but with little threat of immediate rain.

The same could be said for its festival.

Fest opened Friday with Mexican competition player “Chicogrande,” from vet Felipe Cazals (“Las vueltas del citrillo”), about the heroic loyalty of a Pancho Villa soldier.

Portraying U.S. General John J. Pershing’s ultimately unsuccessful incursion into Mexico, a U.S. major’s torture of Villa prisoners, and American troops hopeless disorientation in a foreign culture, “Chicogrande” bears “evident” parallels with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Cazals said Friday.

“Chicogrande” received a so-so reaction.

A second Mexican film, Diego Luna’s Sundance hit “Abel,” fared better. Opening Horizontes Latinos, it was greeted as a promising debut for the thesp-turned-helmer.

But with fest director Mikel Olaciregui handing over in January to Jose Luis Rebordinos, a fest exec since 1996, early fest table talk turned as much on the festival’s longer-term future as its 58th edition.

According to El Pais, Spain’s most influential quality daily, San Sebastian’s shareholders — the Basque and Guipuzcoa governments, San Sebastian Town Hall and Icaa Spanish film institute — will scythe Euros100,000 ($130,000) from their 2011 investments. The festival organization declined to comment.

Working with a $7.8 million budget, roughly half of Venice’s, San Sebastian has little room for manoeuvre.

A second dark cloud on the horizon is competition with Toronto.

San Sebastian currently turns down Spanish Toronto players. So Iciar Bollain’s buzzed “Even the Rain” hasn’t made this year’s cut, much to local frustration.

Cutting costs, most foreign distributors make Toronto, but skip San Sebastian, as indeed Locarno, Montreal, Rio and even Venice.

Their absence makes it increasingly hard for San Sebastian to pull down big world preems.

But business still gets done.

In San Sebastian’s run-up, FilmSharks took international on Spanish Competition player “Aita”; and France’s UMedia will rep overseas on “The Colors of the Mountain,” from Colombian first-timer Carlos Cesar Arbelaez.

Dipping into Competish titles, Golem has closed Spanish rights to Bent Hamer’s “Home For Christmas” and Alta to “The Great Vazquez.”

Going into San Sebastian, Spanish rights still looked open to two anticipated Competition titles, Kim Jee-woon’s “I Saw the Devil,” handled by Finecut, and the Rezo-sold “Amigo,” from John Sayles.

With 15 French sales agents attending San Sebastian, more than at Venice this year, plus Fortissimo and Match Factory, deals look just a matter of time.

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