MADRID — While Mikel Olarciregui exhibits many of the traits common to men of his hometown San Sebastian — the beard, the (slight) paunch, a surname that’s an editors’ nightmare, a hail-and-heartiness — the new director of the San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival is definitely not some local homeboy thrust inopportunely into power.
Nor is the gregarious, unassuming 44-year-old a gray suit. A former TV exec at Basque regional web ETB before serving as its general manager from 1993, Olaciregui produced eight hour-long specials on the festival. He knows the event backward and forward, including its different demos and the mass attendance of San Sebastian townsfolk, which sets the festival apart from more honed, just-for-pro events such as Cannes.
But Olaciregui also knows the international market. He can produce a sharp analysis of where San Sebastian fits on the festival circuit. His English is superb. He is popular with foreigners.
“It’s important to try to balance the three columns sustaining the Festival: the general public, the media and the industry,” he says. Olaciregui really, truly, likes films. His main passion — a near-obsession — is “hoarding DVDs,” and one condition he put to joining the festival staff was to be involved in the selection of films.
Olaciregui’s motto this year is “continuity,” and the festival’s selection committee hasn’t changed in composition. But that shouldn’t be confused with stagnancy. Olaciregui’s personal film tastes are reportedly extremely broad.
And with Spain increasingly on the map as a pic-producing power, foreign festival guests are likely to increase.
“I can see Olaciregui becoming a key liaison person between Spain and the international and European film industries,” says Spain-based producer Denise O’Dell.
This will happen step by step. But the long-term results may be impressive.