World Report: Spain - Fest Travler: San Sebastian

Last September — three months after Jose Luis Rebordinos was named San Sebastian Festival director — Spain’s press wrung its hands over the fest’s future.

“Bigger black storm clouds” were rumbling into view, newspaper El Pais augured.

“Huge challenges — economic, cinematographic — await Rebordinos. He faces a titanic task, multiplying loaves and fish,” it thundered.

Rebordinos started his job in January, and nine months in, no disaster has struck the Basque festival — quite the contrary as observers note a sense of energy and direction to the Spanish meet.

Indeed, global upheaval and Latin America’s economic emergence may play into San Sebastian’s hands.

Rebordinos first tackled San Sebastian’s budget, noting that 2010′s annual €6.7 million ($9.6 million) was “little for a festival aiming for important industry and international press presence.”

He managed to get fest partner Guipuzcoa County to raise its investment by $208,800 to $1.4 million. Fest’s other partners — Sebastian Town Hall, the Basque regional government, Spain’s Ministry of Culture — all maintained $1.4 million annual funding.

By netting new sponsors, such as insurance company Mapfre Foundation (co-organizer of a frosh kids’ film workshop), Rebordinos upped the fest’s 2011 budget to $10.1 million: a small miracle indeed.

With the budget under control, critics claim that 2011′s competition is a 2010 redux.

Certainly a bevy of fest regulars return: Terence Davies, a 2008 retrospective recipient, with “The Deep Blue Sea”; past double Golden Shell winner Arturo Ripstein with “The Reasons of the Heart”; Ana Katz’s dysfunctional family comedy “The Marziano”; and Hirokazu Kore-eda, his fourth competition berth, with sibling drama “I Wish.”

Hallmark sections remain: Kutxa-New Directors’ competition, dangling a €90,000 cash prize; Films in Progress, a showcase for unfinished films; a retro of Jacques Demy; and the career achievement Donostia Award, this year given to Glenn Close.

But Rebordinos never claimed that he’s rebuilding San Sebastian from the bottom up.

“I’ve been on the festival’s management committee since 1995: this year’s changes are a logical evolution,” not a total break, he argues. He stepped into Mikel Olaciregui’s shoes, he adds, partly to preserve San Sebastian’s distinctive Spanish and Latin American pic bent.

That said, under Rebordinos San Sebastian is evolving fast:

  • Venice used to nab Spain’s biggest fall movies. This year, Spain’s biggest film, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s Clive Owen starrer “Intruders,” opens San Sebastian, post-Toronto.

  • Marking its strongest Spanish lineup in years, the 2011 fest boasts 17 world preems of local pics: in competition is Benito Zambrano’s post-Civil War women’s drama “The Sleeping Voice,” Enrique Urbizu’s crime thriller “No Rest for the Wicked” and Isaki Lacuesta’s “The Double Steps.”

  • Spanish films in the fest span more sections than ever, from intimate drama (David Trueba’s chamber piece “Madrid 1987″), radical cinema (“The Double Steps”), animation (Ignacio Ferreras’ senior citizen buddy comedy “Wrinkles”) and broad comedy (Telmo Esnal’s mother-in-law-from-hell tale “Urteberri on, amona!”).

  • Sidebars bowing this year: a Culinary Zinema showcase and Midnight Screenings.

  • Led by Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison doc, special screenings are up from four titles last year to 12, the basis, perhaps, says Rebordinos, for a standalone section in 2012.

  • There are more genre offerings: “Intruders,” “No Rest”; Eduardo Chapero-Jackson’s fantasy thriller “Verbo”; Nacho Vigalondo’s “Extraterrestial,” unfolding during a UFO attack; and Oren Moverman’s “Rampart,” about shady L.A. police dealings.

San Sebastian has two longer-term obsessions, Rebordinos says: “Building international press presence (and) becoming a Latin America-European industry meeting point.”

This year, San Sebastian hosts a Mexico-Basque producers‘ meet. Rebordinos is talking to Latin American film institutes about staging a Europe-Latin America co-production forum in 2012. A best case example, he says, though it’s a market rather than a co-production meeting, is Ventana Sur, organized by Argentina’s Incaa Film Institute and Cannes’ Market.

The timing is excellent: Two years ago, Latin American producers looked to Europe for finance; now European producers are beginning to look to Latin America.

A larger industry presence attracts more world premieres and more press. But a forum entails a larger budget. “I’ll be working on it starting in October,” Rebordinos says.

HIGHLIGHTS

Premieres

San Sebastian has locked up 36 world premieres this year, including 21 from Spain, six from Latin America and three from Asia.
World preems with major pre-fest buzz include Kim Ki-duk’s Europe-lensed “Amen”; paraplegic-themed closing night pic “Untouchable,” from Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache and acquired by the Weinstein Co. in July; Sebastian Cordero’s Ecuadorian road movie “Pescador”; Julie Delpy’s space station pic “Le Skylab”; and Filippos Tsitos’ Greek crime drama “Unfair World.”
International premieres include Martin Scorsese’s documentary “George Harrison: Living in a Material World”; “The Three Musketeers” by Paul W.S. Anderson (Europe’s biggest-budgeted film of the year); Sarah Polley’s family drama “Take This Waltz”; and Simon Arthur’s pscyhological thriller “Silver Tongues.”

Star Power

Stars expected to grace the red carpet include 2011 Donostia award recipient, Glenn Close; jury prez, Frances McDormand; Clive Owen and Daniel Bruhl (“Intruders”); Antonio Banderas (20-minute sneak preview of “Puss in Boots”); Matthew Macfayden and Logan Lerman (“The Three Musketeers”); Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy (“Untouchable”); Walter Hill; James Gray (takes part in a retro dubbed American Film Noir 1990-2010); Amy Canaan Mann (“Texas Killing Fields”); Agnes Varda; Rosalie Varda; and Mathieu Demy (“Jacques Demy”).

Main Industry Events

Sept. 15-16: 3rd Audiovisual Digital Forum
Sept. 19: European Film Promotion’s Latin America meeting
Ile de France-Madrid Film Commission co-production lunch and Spain Film Commission meeting
Sept. 19-21: EFP’s European Distributors: Up Next
Sept. 20-21: Films in Progress

WORLD REPORT: SPAIN
Play for the match | TV tacks in new direction
Fest Traveler: San Sebastian
Rookie bow scores big | Genre fare reborn under Rebordinos |
How to Shoot in Spain
Fair-weather filmmaking | Studio strives for parity with Euro rivals | Key players

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more