Crowds rain on San Sebastian

Sogecable doubles investment in local productions

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain — The thunderous skies aren’t cooperating, but it doesn’t matter — everyone is at the movies, warm and dry.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the 47th San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival is the degree to which the local population flocks to the dozens of screenings around town — don’t they have jobs? — lining up interminably at box offices and firmly dispelling the notion that this might be some exclusive gig for European industry honchos and a handful of Hollywood stars.

Most screenings are packed, no matter their pedigree — one of the 21 films in competition, the 37 in the Open Zone section or the 29 Spanish-language offerings; a classic from Alfred Hitchcock or John Stahl; an Italian comedy from the 1960’s or a Basque picture made in San Sebastian’s own politically laden neighborhoods. And there are others. No one is being left without something to see and argue about afterward over cognac and tapas.

There was good news for the Spanish film industry Wednesday. Film and TV conglom Sogecable announced it will double its annual investment in local film and TV production from $11 million to $22 million.

The financing pledge, which goes into effect immediately and runs for three years, includes rights acquisitions to local films, pic co-productions and TV production. It marks the largest financing commitment for local pic production of any broadcaster in Spain.

Homegrown crop

Much of the day’s discussion at the festival centered on homegrown films, including “Cuando Vuelvas a Mi Lado” (“By My Side Again”), an involving and widely anticipated family drama directed by Gracia Querejeta and produced by her father, local son Elias Querejeta (“The Spirit of the Beehive”). “Side” is, like many Spanish films, “an attempt to emphasize the connection between past and present,” the elder Querejeta said.

Though densely constructed, “Side” received upbeat reactions at sneak previews in Madrid and at screenings here Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. The last Querejeta film to compete here, “Robert Rylands’ Last Journey,” a couple of years ago, was a clear favorite to win a prize, but failed to do so.

Another film being talked about — if only because no one expected it to be here — is the Texas-based “Abilene,” in which a man travels cross-country on a lawnmower to see his dying brother. Helmer Joe Camp III and producer Tom Gamble are hoping to find a distributor for the indie pic, but they’ve been hampered by the fact that David Lynch made a movie with a similar theme, “The Straight Story,” which Disney picked up.

Stars in tow

Gamble, who is in San Sebastian with stars Ernest Borgnine and Kim Hunter, was ecstatic about the standing ovation “Abilene” received after its midnight screening Tuesday — midnight screenings are common here –and dismissed the idea that he and Lynch were relating the same story.

“There may be a logline similarity, but from everything we’ve heard they’re really apples and oranges,” said Gamble, who has not seen the other picture.

Figgis pumps pic

Also in San Sebastian to support his film “Miss Julie” is Mike Figgis, a previous Golden Shell winner here with “Leaving Las Vegas.” Figgis attended Tuesday’s screening with the film’s two stars, Saffron Burrows and a kilt-bedecked Peter Mullan.

Less accommodating was the Danish director Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, whose “Mifunes Sidste Sand” carried away laurels at the Berlin Film Festival and has been well received here. After granting one interview to a television reporter, the helmer disappeared, stranding a crowd of other journos waiting to speak to him. Perhaps all the fanaticism over movies here was too much to handle.

(John Hopewell contributed to this report.)