San Sebastian Film Festival @ 60

the San Sebastian Film Festival presented its Spanish pic lineup July 27 in Madrid at the most crowded press conference for the local film biz in recent memory.

Fest director Jose Luis Rebordinos claimed to being “overwhelmed” by an audience spangled with so many top Spanish film execs, but he shouldn’t have been surprised.

Since taking over the festival reins in 2011, Rebordinos has strengthened Spanish industry links. “In the best sense of the phrase, we are a marriage of convenience,” he tells Variety. “San Sebastian would be meaningless if it were not essential to the Spanish industry. The Spanish industry would create San Sebastian if (San Sebastian) didn’t exist.”

The fest has played a major role in the fate of local product. In the past, a critical panning at San Sebastian has killed some films, but the fest has also been a top launchpad for some pics’ theatrical release.

Bowing immediately after winning 2002′s Golden Shell award, Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s unemployment dramedy “Mondays in the Sun,” toplining Javier Bardem, scored a standout €9.8 million ($12.3 million) B.O. for Warner Sogefilms.

One year later, Iciar Bollain’s domestic abuse drama “Take My Eyes” snagged actor (Luis Tosar) and actress (Laia Marull) prizes and a $6.3 million local B.O. for Alta Classics.

Even sans awards, in 2011 the fest propelled Enrique Urbizu’s thriller “No Rest for the Wicked” to boffo levels. Produced by Telecinco Cinema and distribbed by Warners, pic was blessed by critics at San Sebastian.

Mediaset Espana-owned Telecinco Cinema is raising the ante at San Sebastian this year, launching Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Impossible,” with Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, and Sergio Castellitto’s war drama “Twice Born,” starring Penelope Cruz.

“San Sebastian represents a super efficient promotion tool since we are backed by a media conglom that can give a tremendous coverage to all the movies screening there,” says Telecinco Cinema CEO Ghislain Barrois. “This edition, with two high-profile international films, will win visibility and promotion, but the festival will also benefit from the media noise they generate.”

San Sebastian also offers opportunities for lower-budget pics, such as David Valero’s “The Incredibles,” a docu feature on three ordinary people who face suffering with heroic valor, which plays the New Directors sidebar.

“The festival’s bet on new talent allows the global discovery of emerging directors such as Valero,” says Frida Films’ Luisa Romeo.

But Spain’s only A-class fest can also open the door to international distribution for more radical Spanish auteurs such as Isaki Lacuesta, whose Africa-set docu-style fiction drama “Double Steps,” 2011′s Golden Shell winner, was acquired at San Sebastian by Berlin’s M-Appeal.

Other recent fest biz highlights include the big boost dealt to Latido’s international sales on Juan Jose Campanella’s foreign-lingo film Oscar-winning “The Secret in Their Eyes” by rave reviews and ovations at San Sebastian. Sony Pictures Classics acquired North American rights two months later.

The first Europe-Latin American Co-production Forum will logically goose industry attendance from Latin America, a vital growth area as Spain’s domestic market contracts.

Rebordinos looks to a future “when producers come to San Sebastian even when they don’t have a movie at the festival. … A lot of interesting things will be going on for the Spanish industry.”

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