Gearing up for his fourth edition as the director of San Sebastian Festival director, which opens its 62nd edition Friday with Denzel Washington’s “The Equalizer,” talks with contagious passion about the festival’s huge spread of Spanish cinema, – which plays out over most of its sections and is one of its hallmarks- the festival’s special relationship with Latin America, another defining achievement, and directors and their films rising through the ranks at San Sebastian.
One of the biggest attractions of San Sebastian, this year as for many years in the past, looks like its richly-ranging selection of Spanish films….
Despite the crisis, the difficulties the Spanish industry is going through, the industry is currently spectacular in creative terms. The four films in competition are very different from one another, even in production profile. What they do have in common, however, is that they’re all by relatively new directors, apart from Alberto Rodriguez, who’s been around for a while, but is a kind of outsider, different from the rest of directors of his generation. From that point of view, in terms of selection, they represent quite a novelty. One is a cop thriller, “Marshland.” Then there’s a singular, morbid thriller, “Magical Girl,” the second film by a director who already created quite a stir with his debut “Diamond Flash.” Then Gabe Ibanez’s second feature, “Automata,” a science fiction film when sci-fi is still quite rare in the Spanish cinema, with all the features of the genre, and Antonio Banderas as the lead. Antonio has said that every two or three years or so he wants to make a film with young directors and support young talent. Finally, there’s Loreak, a Basque film, in Basque; it’s the first time a film shot in Basque is in the festival’s official section of the festival. Some years ago a film in Basque was in the Official Section, It’s directed by Jose Maria Goenaga and Jon Garano, two very young directors who’ve have yet been making films for some years now. Their last film, “80 Days,” has been screened at many festivals. It’s a melodrama, about love, death, memory. So as you can see, they’re four quite different films, with four very different production models, on four very different themes, but together they mirror the very varied reality of Spanish cinema today.
One thing at least three of the four have in common is marked genre elements…
JS: Yes. And I think that the fourth, “Lorrak,” is, deep down, a melodrama. Loreak is a melodrama, as is “Marshland,” though it sometimes breaks with genre conventions, like “Magical Girl.” But all four of them, directly or indirectly are genre fare.
Spain’s subsidy system, which placed a large emphasis on box office results, may encourage filmmakers to incorporate genre elements to reach out to wider audiences.
That has something to do with it; but I think that the far more important factor is the fact that there are two different generations of directors- the likes of Alex de la Iglesia, Enrique Urbizu, who come from the world of television their reference is television, American cinema of the 80s. They love genre cinema and therefore make genre cinema. Then there’s the slightly newer generation: the younger ones, like Alejandro Amenabar and Juan Antonio Bayona, who also love genre cinema. The world of comics is another reference.
So it’s a question of directors’ artistic inclinations, not an market outreach.
It’s probably a mixture of both. But Bayona’s cinema, and the four films we’re presenting this year are auteur cinema, different to conventional genre cinema. And first works by novel directors, which are completely outside of the normal conventions, have a more difficult time selling to TV and getting subsidies are so are often made at low-cost.
The films this year at San Sebastian suggest a healthy, more distanced, objective and even comic vision of Spain’s recent past.
Fortunately, the years have passed. Until 1975, we lived under a dictatorship. The generations that experienced that, who made films just prior to and immediately after, made films in the heat of the moment. There are two clearly marked tendencies in newer generations: Some choose to forget or ignore history; others to remember but they have the capacity to do so with a distance. “Marshland” is a great thriller, which works even better as a film when it is a political thriller; but not a political thriller that has goodies and baddies; rather as a political thriller where everything is highly complex, because deep down it is a metaphor of the pact of silence which is what the Spanish political transition was, which allowed the fascists of Franco’s regime, some of them the perpetrators of the most abominable crimes, to never be even tried for anything. But things aren’t that simple. When we start talking about human beings, we see that things aren’t that simple.
It’s the core issue of the film at the end…
Yes, it’s laced with nuances. It works as a thriller for anyone who doesn’t know Spanish history. And for those of us who do, its many different readings that are easily recognizable.
It isn’t the only Spanish political film at San Sebastian, or indeed the impact of economic crisis in Spain.
In terms of politics, there are two others, “Lasa and Zabala,” which is a far more direct take on state terrorism. Then there’s another one, which will no doubt move some waves, “The Negotiator,” by Borja Cobeaga, who scripted “A Spanish Affair.” It’s a half-serious, half comical take on the negotiations between Eguiguren and ETA that took place just before ETA’s final declared truce. It seems to be a moment when young people are daring to talk about things that once were taboo. If anyone had told us five years ago that there would soon be a film, couched in comic tones, having ETA as the backdrop, we would have said ‘No way!’ There are indeed quite a few films which take different ways into Spain’s crisis, looking at it in one way or another. The film by Isaki Lacuesta, for instance, “Murieron encima de sus posibilidades,” is about the crisis in the broadest sense, a broad comedy, taking the mickey out of everything and everyone – about the crisis and its consequences. There’s also Iciar Bollain’s “En tierra extrana,” which will receive a special screening of it. It talks about Spanish immigration in Scotland, Edinburgh. It’s about all those young people who are leaving Spain because of the crisis.
This year’s selection also, in a way, points to the industrial crisis of the Spanish cinema. One of our writers, Emilio Mayorga, recently pointed out in an article that of the 14 films in Horizontes Latinos, only one of the 14 is a co-production with Spain…
That’s very true. In recent years there’d always been a significant number of productions that were co-productions with Spain. Of the years that I’ve been at this festival, this is the one with the fewest. I see, however, that there are two co-productions with the U.S. in Horizontes Latinos, five with France, three with Holland, two with Denmark, and one with Germany. A strong French presence isn’t new. But it is interesting to see the presence of other countries such as Holland, Denmark and Germany, which had never had a significant role in co-productions with Latin America. Europe seems to be looking to Latin America to co-produce, but our country doesn’t seem able to do that. We were pioneers, and the backbone of Latin American co-productions. Now, we’re being left behind.
In industrial terms, the festival’s backbone is now a triangle between Spain, Latin America and France….
In this line of our work with Latin America, French collaboration is very important. With the creation of a Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum, we closed a circle that was already very much in operation before I came to the festival. At present, the festival can accompany and aid a film at every phase of itsmaking: at the Co-production Forum, for projects whose financing isn’t complete; with Films in Progress, for titles in post-production. And then, once the film is finished, we offer it the possibility of the type of visibility it needs vis-à-vis sales agents and international distributors. Then we also offer them a screening in other different sections. So, in a way, from the very beginning of the process, until the very end, the release and sale of the film, the festival accompanies the film. I think that’s something new, which has been very positive over the last two years.
That’s evident in this edition. There are two or three films that were at the first Co-production Forum, which are now back
Yes, Anahi Berneri was at the first Forum and is now in competition. “My Park Friend,” from Ana Katz, and “To My Beloved Dead” by Aly Muritiba were also at the Forum and are now in Films in Progress. There’s another interesting thing: We’re beginning to see the results also of something that’s probably not immediately visible, but which we think is important: the International Film Students Meetings. Among the projects selected for the Forum this year, there are directors who went through Films in Progress, such as Colombia’s William Vega and Bernardo Arellano, who also attended the International Film Students Meetings went through Student Encounters with a project. Attracting young talents like that is clearly allowing us to close the circle: People are beginning to go through two or three phases at the festival itself before releasing their works at San Sebastian and other festivals such as Berlin, which is very receptive to Films in Progress Cinema and the Forum. I think this is important. In these three years we’ve tried many things. Some have worked better than others but I think our industry work is working very well and you can see the results. This year, there are some big projects at the Forum, as well as independent projects, and industry attendance at San Sebastian has increased 35% in three years to 1,292 participants in 2013.