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San Sebastian opens with ‘Arbitrage’

Gere, Sarandon open star cavalcade

SAN SEBASTIAN — Film festival milestones don’t always coincide with great editions, but the 60th San Sebastian, which opened Friday with “Arbitrage,” looks like it may well prove an exception.

It certainly got off to a good get-go. “Arbitrage” brought Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon to San Sebastian, the biggest festival in the Spanish-speaking world and, with Venice, one of the two A-class events this month.

Nicholas Jarecki’s tony directorial debut, with Gere playing a charming, if adulterous, billionaire hedge-fund manager with serious cash-flow challenges, screened to general press applause, which augurs well for its Spain bow, via Tripictures on Oct. 5.

But the presser went over even better, with Gere, Sarandon and a smiling Jarecki demolishing cliches about what the film is really about.

Though written in 2008-09, when the U.S. financial crisis was going down, Jarecki explained, it was not really about greed, Gere added.

His character Robert Miller “is not in it for greed but the game, the risk, going to the edge,” Gere explained.

Sarandon and Gere kick off a 60th San Sebastian A-list cavalcade. Honoring Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Stone, Ewan McGregor, John Travolta and Tommy Lee Jones with lifetime achievement Donostia Awards, and also expecting Benicio del Toro, Ben Affleck and Alan Arkin, San Sebastian boasts its biggest U.S. presence in years.

Joel Coler, the festival’s U.S. delegate, who has represented the festival passionately in Hollywood for years, can step down this year, wreathed in glory.

Meanwhile, on paper, “the selection this year looks strong,” commented Josetxo Moreno, at top Spanish arthouse distributor Golem. Few industry execs would disagree with him. Many, in and outside Spain, have rallied around fest director Jose Luis Rebordinos to bring quality fare to San Sebastian’s lineup. Golem has eight titles at the festival; Wild Bunch has four in competition alone.

In his second year, Rebordinos has also brought down the traditional number of competition titles, and added major out-of-competition firepower, such as Affleck’s “Argo” and Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Impossible,” both big Toronto Fest hits.

The biggest innovation at the 60th San Sebastian, however, is the 1st Europe Latin America Co-production Forum, a Rebordinos brainchild, organized in strategic alliance with Cannes’ Market and premier Latin American film mart Ventana Sur.

Carlos Morenos’s “Que viva la musica!,” Javier Fuentes-Leon’s “The Vanished Elephant” and Ana Katz’s “Mi Amiga del parque” feature among 17 projects pitched next week.

For Rebordinos, the Forum and Cannes/Ventana Sur alliance are “the biggest things we’ve created since I’ve come on board.”

They have already had knock-on effects: San Sebastian industry participation looks set to rise to about 1,100 execs, 10% up on 2011, per Rebordinos.

Remarkably for Spain, San Sebastian’s budget is also up 3.5% vs. 2011 to Euros 7.34 million ($9.2 million) — thanks to the Basque government’s extra $337,500 backing for the Forum.

Amid Spain’s gloom boom, San Sebastian projects a widening chink of light.

Fest runs Sept. 21-29.

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