For much of this decade, San Sebastian has grown in scope, adding events and building industry attendance, while Spain’s economy contracted. In 2015, it’s more a case of fine-tuning the evolving event.
The highest-profile festival in the Spanish-speaking world, San Sebastian, running Sept. 18-26, will offer 45 world premieres, beginning with Alejandro Amenabar’s suspense thriller “Regression,” plus three Spanish competition contenders: Basque filmmaker Asier Altuna’s rural family drama “Grandma,” “The King of Havana,” from Agusti Villaronga (“Black Bread”) and “A Perfect Day to Fly,” helmed by Marc Recha, who competed at Cannes in 2001 with “Pau and His Brother.”
Nine out of San Sebastian’s 17 competition titles, including Terence Davies’ “Sunset Song,” Runar Runarsson’s “Sparrows” and Joachim Lafosse’s ”The White Knights,” ride the Toronto-San Sebastian express. After bowing in Canada, these films hope to consolidate their critical and crowd-pleasing credentials at a European premiere in San Sebastián.
But just as Toronto has pushed for world premieres, so will San Sebastian at its Europe-Latin America Co-Production Forum, the most important in the world.
“We try to compete with other festivals as little as possible, though sometimes we have no choice,” says San Sebastian head Jose Luis Rebordinos. “Some films really gain from festival runs like Toronto-San Sebastian. But we prefer Forum projects to have not been at other events so that they are real discoveries.”
Ten of the Forum’s 15 projects, mostly from Latin America, are first looks. Some, from leading regional lights, haven’t even been heard of before, including “Beneath This Burning Sun,” from Argentina’s Israel Adrian Caetano (“Chronicle of an Escape”) and “Memorias del Calabozo,” from Alvaro Brechner (“Mr. Kaplan”).
Above all, San Sebastian is reacting to the sheer multifariousness of current movie production. For example, “Grandma” is only its second Basque-language feature to play competition and Japanese helmer Mamoru Hosoda’s “The Boy and the Beast” is its first animated film. Creating an effective Cannes-style official selection, San Sebastian has launched Special Screenings slots which, per Rebordinos, “gives us larger flexibility to have films in official selection of very different characteristics.”
For the first time, the city’s newly opened Tabakalera Intl. Center for Contemporary Culture will house San Sebastian’s Intl. Film Students Meeting and the festival’s catch-all Zabaltegi section, creating “almost an alternative festival,” he says. Ben Wheatley’s violence-charged “High Rise” and Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s sci-fi genre subverting “Evolution” also play in competition.
“Contemporary cine hasn’t one road map, but many,” says Rebordinos.