San Sebastian Film Festival @ 60

Spain’s film biz may be in a state of crisis, but one event is bucking that trend: the San Sebastian Festival.

Its 60th edition, the second under Jose Luis Rebordinos, even seems to be enjoying a fresh flush of youth, displaying growth — a word not heard much in Spain these days — and taking steps to define its future.

“Festivals usually walk on three legs: the selection, glamour and industry,” says Gael Nouaille at Wild Bunch, which has Francois Ozon’s “In the House,” Ziad Doueiri’s “The Attack,” Bahman Ghobadi’s “Rhino Season” and Sergio Castellitto’s “Twice Born” in competition.

He adds: “This year, the selection is good, some big stars are coming, and San Sebastian is trying to develop its industry side, inviting more foreign guests.”

Fest’s key innovation — the biggest in a decade at what is already the largest film meet in the Spanish-speaking world — is the first Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum, created by Rebordinos in alliance with the Cannes Market, among the world’s largest, and Ventana Sur, Latin America’s premiere movie mart.

Carlos Moreno’s “Que viva la musica!” Javier Fuentes-Leon’s “The Vanished Elephant” and Ana Katz’s “Mi amiga del parque” feature among 17 projects to be pitched, mixing newcomers and established directors: Mexico’s Nicolas Pereda, Uruguay’s Daniel Hendler and Argentina’s Victoria Galardi and Anahi Berneri.

Forum winners will be invited to Buenos Aires for Ventana Sur, running Nov. 30-Dec. 3. The Cannes Market’s Producers Network offers accreditation to Latin American Forum project producers.

The Forum facilitates a roadmap for Europe-Latin America project development, says Jerome Paillard, exec director of the Cannes Market. “Latin American-Europe co-production partners aren’t necessarily very well known,” he adds. “They have to learn about other-continent financing. Meeting once every three-to-five months can certainly be very helpful.”

“San Sebastian’s a festival, Ventana Sur a dedicated market, Cannes the festival market. Each event brings something more to the table,” says Liliana Mazure, president of Argentina’s Incaa Film Institute, which organizes Ventana Sur with the Cannes Market.

In the film world, Latin America was seen as Spain’s poor cousin. No more.

Just this summer, Colombia launched 40% tax breaks and Argentina near-doubled film subsidies caps per movie.

“For many years the future of Latin America was in Spain, via co-production,” Nouaille says. “Right now, I wonder if the future of Spanish cinema is not in Latin America.”

As well, Latin America is fast gaining festival and industry recognition.

“We are finally waking up to the fact that Latin America won major awards in many sections at Cannes,” says L.A.-based FiGa Films’ Sandro Fiorin, an Horizontes Latinos jury member, pointing to Carlos Reygadas’ “Post tenebras lux,” Michel Franco’s “After Lucia,” and Pablo Larrain’s “No.” “This is not a phase or fluke,” he argues.

“Over the last three years, more sales agents are adding more Latin American titles to their line-ups,” says Cannes Market’s Julie Bergeron.

San Sebastian already boasts one industry gem, launched under former director Mikel Olaciregui: the two-day Films in Progress (FIP) pix-in-post showcase. FIP runs Sept. 25-26, the Forum on Sept. 26-27.

The subject of a 10th anni retro this year, it is “meticulously curated and invitation-only. Last year, I liked every single film,” says Shoreline’s Sam Eigen, who bought 2011 winner “7 Boxes,” screening in 2012 in San Sebastian’s New Directors section.

“With so many festivals worldwide, you have to offer something extra,” Rebordinos says. “We want these four days to be a must-attend industry package for the Spanish industry, sales agents and anybody wanting to co-produce with Latin America.”

“Having the Forum in San Sebastian makes sense given that the Ibermedia Latin American co-production fund is Madrid-based and so many Latin American productions are co-produced out of France and Germany,” says UDI’s Eric Schnedecker.

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

But San Sebastian is building in other ways too. It’s reaching out to Brazil. Cinema do Brasil will bring a large delegation of producers at a time when Brazil “can work much more of a two-way street with Europe,” per CDB director general Andre Sturm.

Partnering with Spain’s Mapfre Foundation, 4 + 1: Contemporary Brazilian Panorama screens recent art-house gems.

Bowing a further partnership, with Austria’s Red Bull, San Sebastian’s “Big Friday” 3D movies is the first year of a planned permanent presence of outdoor and sports-action movies at San Sebastian.

Competition world preems are low in number, but they pack out the New Directors section. Up from four in 2010, the 16-title Zabaltegi Specials is acquiring greater heft.

The U.S. presence this year is significant. Fest opens with “Arbitrage”; “Argo” plays out of competition; kudos rain down on Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Stone, John Travolta and Tommy Lee Jones; and a New American Comedy retrospective will screen.

Industry participation also looks set to rise to about 1,100 execs — up 10% over 2011, per Rebordinos.

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

Challenges remain. The Forum has to generate business, for example. But Rebordinos can count on widespread goodwill. For example, there’s a positive buzz about the festival despite Spain’s film market being in a state of near-crisis, having been devastated by piracy and plunging production levels.

“Rebordinos is not a lie-down-and-die kind of person,” says Nouaille. “You have this little town of people led by Rebordinos who is like Vitalstatistix” in the Asterix comics, a village chief who raises the flag and resists the invading Romans.

HIGHLIGHTS

WORLD PREMIERES
San Sebastian offers 34 world preems. In competition: Lasse Hallstrom’s crime thriller “The Hypnotist”; Fernando Trueba’s “The Artist and the Model,” a look at late-life hedonism; Javier Rebollo’s road movie “Death and Being Happy”; and Emily Tang’s revenge drama “All Apologies.” San Sebastian also bows Colombian hostage drama “Operation E,” from Miguel Courtois and Valeria Sarmiento; Napoleonic Wars-set TV miniseries “Lines of Wellington”; Marcal Fores’ “Donnie Darko”-ish “Animals”; and Chilean Fernando Guzzoni’s Cinefondation-developed “Dog Flesh.”

STAR QUOTIENT
Red carpet razzle-dazzle is up: Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon are expected for fest opener “Arbitrage.” Five will get lifetime Donostia Awards: John Travolta and Oliver Stone, presenting “Savages”; Ewan McGregor, with “The Impossible”; Tommy Lee Jones, tub-thumping “Hope Springs”; and Dustin Hoffman, for closer “Quartet.” Plus, Benicio Del Toro supports “Savages” and “7 Days in Havana”; “Argo” brings Ben Affleck, John Goodman and Alan Arkin; “Twice Born” has Penelope Cruz; “Sons of the Clouds” has Javier Bardem.

MAIN EVENTS
Sept. 24: Cinema in Motion 8
Sept. 25-26: Films in Progress
Sept. 27-28: First Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum Sept. 28: Basque Country-Brazil Co-production Meeting Sept. 28: VIII Lau Haizetara-Ibaia Documentary Co-Production Forum

BIG FRIDAY
San Sebastian and Red Bull team Sept. 28 for bigscreen action-sports double-bill: Snowboard docu “The Art of Flight 3D,” a world preem, and “Storm Surfers 3D.”

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