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San Sebastian Film Fest Proves Diversity Can Be Filmmakers’ Best Friend

Just a decade ago, international filmmakers were accustomed to sticking to their own national boundaries in terms of subjects, shooting locations and settings and the nationality of the characters in their projects.

But things have changed and as San Sebastian’s wide-ranging Spanish line-up underscores, filmmakers know no frontiers. The 11 Spanish titles that fill out its official selection and on whose merits this year’s 63rd edition will often be judged, are very often a reflection of expanding globalization. As film talent collaborates across borders more than ever, its comfort zone knows few boundaries.

To wit, San Sebastian’s flagship world premiere, held on Sept. 18, is Alejandro Amenabar’s psychological suspense-thriller “Regression,” which stars Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke. It was shot in Canada’s Ontario province, its rolling plains doubling for 1990 Minnesota. “The King of Havana,” a torrid sexual story from Barcelona’s Agusti Villaronga, is set in an embargo-hit ’90s Cuba, and was shot in the Dominican Republic. Catalan Cesc Gay’s friendship dramedy “Truman” focuses on Julian, an Argentine actor (Ricardo Darin, “The Secret in Their Eyes”) living in Madrid who summons his best friend, a Spaniard in Canada (Javier Camara, “Talk to Her”) to help him put his affairs in order before he dies.

“The Apostate,” a Madrid-set rites-of-passage comedic drama, also in main competition, marks Uruguayan-Spaniard Federico Veiroj’s first Spanish shoot. Fernando Trueba’s “Opera Prima” featured cast and crew from several countries.

Other films covering international territory include outside Official Selection, “Pikadero,” from Scotland’s Ben Sharrock, a Basque Country-set love-in-times-of-economic-crisis comedy; Paula Ortiz’s “The Bride,” which transposes Federico Garcia Lorca’s Andalusia-set stage play “Blood Wedding” to the white desert of Turkey’s Capadocia (pic was recently picked up by Fortissimo Films); and Alvaro Longoria’s “The Propaganda Game,” set in North Korea.

“The world has become more global.” says “Regression” exec producer Simon de Santiago of Spain’s Mod Producciones. “People don’t mind shooting in Japan, Patagonia, the Polar Circle, and nobody makes objections to what you can talk about.”

While a director’s vision dictates key creative decisions, co-production can also widen creative options, Veiroj says.

“The film you want to make and with whom” decides everything, he says. “The Apostate’s” Spain-France-Uruguay co-production was an “aesthetic” and production necessity, allowing “The Apostate” to incorporate the talent he wanted while tapping state aid from the countries of its three producers.

Once Amenabar decided to place “Regression” in the northern U.S., it was a relative no-brainer to set up a Spain-Canada co-production. According to De Santiago, when First Generation Films came in as the Canadian co-producer, the film was able to tap an Ontorio tax-break and Telefilm equity investment.

In all, 10 of the 15 Spanish films playing San Sebastian’s highest-profile sections — Official Selection, New Directors, Pearls — were made through international co-productions.
Co-production can also have distribution upside, says “Truman” producer Marta Esteban.

“Darin is god in Argentina,” Esteban says, noting that the actor’s participation hiked “Truman’s” budget. Once Darin was on board, Esteban sought out Buenos Aires’ BD Cine, which pulled in Disney to distribute in Argentina, “Wild Tales” K&S Films as a production partner and Argentine broadcaster Telefe-Telefonica Studios to co-produce and promote the film.

A generation of directors and producers that broke through in Latin America at the turn of this century is now reaching out to Spain to make powerful art films with more mainstream tropes and wider audience ambitions.

The films boast amped-up budgets, multiple partner co-production structures, and often come with star directors and leading actors attached. They also feature special effects sequences and action scenes, which make them ripe for big fest potential.

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