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San Sebastian Festival Spotlights Young European and Latin American Talent

While the San Sebastian festival ranks — with Buenos Aires’ Ventana Sur — as one of the world’s two biggest Europe-Latin American meet-marts, 2016 looks to also be a standout fest for young talent.

This year, nearly half (47%) of San Sebastian’s 17 competition entries are first features or made by directors under 40, vs. 9.5% of Cannes’ and 15% of the Venice Festival’s. That figure rises when factoring in two other San Sebastian sections: New Directors and Horizontes Latinos, a Latin America showcase.

This bold bet on a new generation of filmmakers looks set to help define this year’s San Sebastian Intl. Festival.

“This year, there are six first features [in competition] which will certainly get people talking,” says San Sebastian director Jose Luis Rebordinos. “Many films are not only made by young people, but talk about youth and its problems with social integration.”

Some movies, such as Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s “May God Save Us” rage against the system. But the major takeaway from San Sebastian’s new generation of filmmakers in the lineup is an unsettling one of a disaffected, disenfranchised or simply disorientated youth that can erupt with sudden violence or frustration.

Take, for instance, three San Sebastian competition movies, in which the young protagonists are thrown out of school (Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s Sundance winner “As You Are”), their petanque club (Swede Johannes Nyholm’s “The Giant”), or their home (Fernando Guzzoni’s father-son drama “Jesus”).

And the dark visions continue. In “Lady Macbeth,” U.K. playwright

William Oldroyd’s feature debut, a young bride reacts with primal violence to her much older husband’s aggression.

Polish freshman Bartosz Kowalski’s debut, “Playground,” which has its world premiere in competition, re-creates a true-life case of teen pathology so appalling that one scene may prove unwatchable for some audience members. In “Jesus,” he and his teen friends beat up a wasted gay guy in a park, for a laugh.

Part — though only part — of the explanation for youth violence in the latter two films is a yawning parent-child disconnect.

In a good half of San Sebastian’s 14 New Directors films, the protagonists have lost one or both parents. In most, too, they are outsiders, whether out of mental incapacity (“One Hundred and Fifty Years of Life,” from China’s Yu Liu), their sex-worker job (“Prowl,”), empty lives (the Moldava-set “Anishoara”), dead-end job (body-piercing in “A Taste of Ink”) or provenance (“In Between”). In “Park,” by Greece’s Sofia Exarchou, teens hang out
in Athens’ run-down Olympic Village, abandoned to their fate, like the facilities built for the Games.

Some titles at San Sebastian this year do promise a sort of uplift. Three of the highest-profile projects in its Europe-Latin American Co-Production Forum — Argentine Celina Murga’s “Irene,” Chilean Alejandro Fernandez Almendras’ “Una periodista,” and Brussels-based Romanian Teodora Ana Mihai’s “La Civil” — show strong-willed women seeking positive social change.

The business of filmmaking is also catered to, beside the cinematic art on display as San Sebastian welcomes a big delegation of industry players from across Europe and Latin America, as well as the Europe-Latin America Co-Production Forum.

San Sebastian highlights include:

Sigourney Weaver and Ethan Hawke receive career-achievement Donostia Awards from the San Sebastian festival. Gael Garcia Bernal will be honored with the fest’s new Jaeger-LeCoultre Latin Cinema Award. Expected to be on hand are Javier Bardem, Jennifer Connelly, Richard Gere, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ewan McGregor, and Hugh Grant.

Arrival” with Amy Adams, closes San Sebastian’s Pearls section, while Liam Neeson-starrer “A Monster Calls” receives its European premiere.

If one company in Spain looks set to shake up the local film and TV scene, it’s giant Telefonica’s Movistar Plus. A Sept. 17 panel showcases its original series talent.

Alberto Rodriguez’s “Smoke & Mirrors,” Jonas Trueba’s “The Reconquest,” and Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s “May God Save Us” head Spain’s competition bows. Also world premiering are Pole Bartosz Kowalski’s “Playground” and Argentine Emiliano Torres’ “The Winter.”

San Sebastian’s second European Film Forum, taking place Sept. 18, focuses on connecting with digital natives.

Multiple “Game of Thrones” scenes were shot in Spain. More series and movies may follow as Spain’s Navarre region talks up its supplementary tax incentives for big shoots.

Film production is languishing in Spain. In the Basque country, by contrast, it is growing: in talent, with bigger features, and government support. San Sebastian will showcase a local initiative, promoting Europe’s minority-language cinema, and new bank guarantee facilities for Basque companies.

A recurrent San Sebastian film theme: “Women in fixes,” says San Sebastian director Jose Luis Rebordinos, citing Nely Reguera’s “Maria [and
the Others]” and Maysaloun Hamoud’s “In Between,” about three Palestinian girls seeking love in Tel Aviv.

Savage Cinema extreme sports highlights include Travis Rice’s snowboarding adventure “The Fourth Phase.”

The fest’s fave film form? “Thrillers, but with social or political heft, talking about corruption, religion, and so on,” Rebordinos says, citing “Rage,” from Japan’s Lee Sang-Il.

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