San Sebastian: A Growing Habit

Having attended the festival once, industry figures return time-and-again

SAN SEBASTIAN – It’s not just the scrambled prawn or foie tapas – try Paco Bueno and Sport, respectively – or Borda Berri’s bespoke pinchos and Tzepetxa’s marinated anchovies with sauce.

No. Even gastronomic glories of San Sebastian’s Parte Vieja don’t quite explain – though they go some way – a particular San Sebastian Festival version of the what-goes-around-comes around-phenom: Once one time at the Festival, industry figures, large and small, repeat, often time-and-time-again.

To wit: Declared “the Queen of San Sebastian” by El Diario Vasco, its in comprehensive overview of this year’s event, Annette Bening, a 2008 Donostia Prize recipient, is in town again, to present “The Face of Love,” which opens San Sebastian’s festival Pearls showcase.

Argentine Victoria Galardi’s debut “Lovely Loneliness” world preemed in Zabaltegi, her follow-up “Mount Bayo” in competition. In 2012, her third film, “I Thought It Was a Party,” played the 1st Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum. One of the Forum’s first projects to go into production, it sees its international bow this year in Horizontes Latinos.

A passel of sales agents – think Wild Bunch, Funny Balloons, Pyramide Intl., Memento Films Intl., Rezo, Shoreline, Fortissimo, The Match Factory, Films Boutique to name a few – have been coming for years.

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The moot question is, however: What reason do people have to keep on coming back to San Sebastian?

Answers cut several ways.

Some are personal. Once a winner, often a contestant: Francois Dupeyron won San Sebastian’s Golden Shell in 1999 for “What’s Life?” This year, he world premieres “My Soul Healed By You” in competition.

“San Sebastian has supported me from my beginnings. My two first films also won prizes, the Zabaltegi Youth Award and the TVE – Another Look prize,” Galardi said.

Hollywood’s fortunes rest ever more on international. Stars are encouraged ever more to tub-thump their movies abroad. If the budget is there, and it’s a choice between talking up a film at San Sebastian or some major city in Europe’s grim north, for many leading Tinseltown figures it’s hardly a choice at all.

In international market terms, San Sebastian is, still, primarily an arthouse-crossover confab. Near backing onto San Sebastian, Toronto now swallows up most of its potential world premieres.

But it’s harder to stand out in a crowd at a Toronto Festival that includes the latest variegated big artillery from the likes of FilmNation, IM Global and Voltage Pictures, than at San Sebastian, which can yield reviews, and a sense for foreign distributors of how films play with a European public.

Distributors can’t possibly screen all of Toronto’s premieres, said one movie seller.

So execs are often only too willing to hail into San Sebastian for further profile.

“From a sales point of view, San Sebastian gives prestige to films, a touch of quality. More recognition, and can help sell a film to Spain,” said Film Factory Ent.’s founder Vicente Canales who has four titles, no less, in San Sebastian: “Foosball,” which opened the festival Friday, “Witching and Bitching,” “Cannibal” and “Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang,” the fest’s first Velodrome big-screen player, unspooling Saturday.

Above all, “San Sebastian is a must for any person interested in Latin American and Spanish productions. The festival has became one of the biggest platforms to buy and sell Latin American and Spanish title,” said Jean-Christophe Simon, at Films Boutique, which reps Horizontes Latinos opener “La jaula de oro.”

He added: “As a sales company, we would not miss any Films in Progress event where we can discover new filmmakers and scout for titles that will premiere in the top festivals of next year.”

Bowing last year its 1st Europe – Latin America Co-production Forum, producers can now have a film in competition, a production in Films in Progress and a project at the Forum,” argues San Sebastian Festival director, Jose Luis Rebordinos.

Again, slightly older Latin American films can play Latinos Horizontes.

Such is now the critical mass at San Sebastian of specialist Latin American movie sales agents and foreign distributors, that few Latin American producers will want to miss the chance of multi-placement in any of these sections, often from one year to the next.

Of course, other factors help.

“I have left San Sebastian with prizes and, more importantly, having gained a clutch of new friends,” Galardi enthused.

“The city is beautiful, the food is incredible, you’re treated well, the programmers love and care for the films they choose. The question really is: ‘What reasons do people have for not returning to San Sebastian every year?’”

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