San Sebastian Film Festival

Festival has positioned itself in part as 'the gateway into Europe for Toronto premieres'

For three decades, Spain’s San Sebastian Festival has fought to find its place in the world.

It hasn’t been an easy battle. The fest begins just five days after Toronto, which this year screens 146 world premieres.

San Sebastian director Jose Luis Rebordinos acknowledges the disparity. “We can’t compete with Toronto — 99% of films that matter are there,” he says.

So San Sebastian has made a virtue out of necessity, positioning itself, in part as “the gateway into Europe for Toronto premieres,” in Rebordinos’ words. That strategy has yielded some of San Sebastian’s highest-profile titles, such as “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Le Week-end” and “The Railway Man” — and allowed the fest to become a force in showcasing Spanish and Latin America cinema.

This year’s 61st edition, which runs Sept. 20-28, underscores just how far San Sebastian has traveled along that road. It opens with the international premiere of the $21 million 3D “Foosball,” Latin America’s biggest animated feature and Juan Jose Campanella’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning “The Secret in Their Eyes.”

San Sebastian also screens the latest from rising arthouse stars such as Spain’s Alex de la Iglesia (“Witching & Bitching”) Manuel Martin Cuenca (“Cannibal”), David Trueba (“Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed”) and Luiso Berdejo (“Violet”); and Mexico’s Fernando Eimbcke (“Club Sandwich”) and Mariana Chenillo (“Paradise”). The festival’s Latinos Horizontes sidebar sports recent Latin American standouts and some surprises, such as Spanish-language family adventure romp “Zip & Zap,” and movies from infrequent film production forces like Costa Rica (“All About the Feathers”) and Venezuela (competition contender “Pelo malo”).

Spaniards or Latin Americans have helmed 38% of San Sebastian’s official selection this year. In contrast, French directors shot 23% of Cannes’ official selection and while Germans lensed 11% of Berlin’s major sections.

“World premieres in themselves don’t mean anything if they’re not important films,” Rebordinos says.

But the industry and fests feed off new talent, and to satisfy that need San Sebastian has launched initiatives that nurture and showcase talent and draw on its special relationship with Latin America: the Films in Progress pics-in-post showcase (2002), and a Europe Latin American Co-production Forum (2012). With international markets getting tougher for most art films even as financing grows in emerging markets, festivals must rate their industry impact not just by sales but as international networking hubs. Partnering with the Cannes Market and Ventana Sur, the Forum has established itself as a fruitful meet for projects from budding auteurs, such as Sebastian Cordero, Fernando Guzzoni, Milagros Mumenthaler and Adrian Saba, who are participating this year.

San Sebastian is growing elsewhere. A new section, Savage Cinema, launched in partnership with Red Bull, features action and adventure sports fi lms, a play for younger demos. But San Sebastian’s fortunes rest securely on its hard-won status as an emporium for titles and talent from Spain and Latin America. Luckily for the festival, as a film force, Latin America is on the rise.

Festival Highlights

Donostia Awards

Hugh Jackman, at the fest with “Prisoners,” and Pedro Almodovar muse Carmen Maura are recipients of the honor this year.

Jury Duty

Fest’s official jury is headed by helmer Todd Haynes and includes producer Mariela Besuievsky, thesp/director Valeria Bruni Tedeschi; musician David Byrne; actress Paulina Garcia, director Cesc Gay and actor Diego Luna.

World Premieres

Among the titles in San Sebastian’s official section are several bows: Gaumont’s “The Young and Prodigious Spivet,” Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 3D adventure pic, closes the fest; “My Soul Healed by You,” from Francois Dupeyron; David Trueba’s “Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed”; and Fernando Franco’s “Wounded.”

Industry Confabs

Sept. 23-25
Europe-Latin America Co-Production Forum and Films in Progress

Sept. 23
Panama Film Commission breakfast

Sept. 24
Roundtable on exporting Spanish-language movies

Sept. 25
Arte France Cinema breakfast

Sept. 27
ICAA/Spain Film Commission presentation of Spain as an international shooting locale.

(Pictured: “Foosball,” Latin American helmer Juan Jose Campanella’s ambitious animated feature, opens San Sebastian.)

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