10 Highlights of the San Sebastian Film Festival

Cannes’ biggest achievement is that it’s the most important festival in the world while San Sebastián remains the highest-profile festival in the Spanish-speaking world. The festival has maintained its staple sections while constantly innovating. From a bigger Basque presence to TV series, here are 10 not-to-be-missed 2017 novelties, events and trends.

Star Contingent
Arnold Schwarzenegger presents “Wonders of the Sea 3D,” which he narrates. He leads a strong star presence including Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz (“Loving Pablo”), Alicia Vikander (“Submergence”), Glenn Close (“The Wife”), James Franco (“The Disaster Artist”), Todd Haynes and jury head John Malkovich. Also attending will be Donostia honorees Ricardo Darin, Monica Bellucci and Agnès Varda, her prize representing a drive to “open up the Donostia Awards to cineasts we love, but who perhaps don’t have the glamor of stars,” says San Sebastian director José Luis Rebordinos.

Zabaltegi-Tabakalera Section
High-end TV goes high-profile at San Sebastián: Alberto Rodriguez’s 1580 Seville-set serial killer thriller, an analysis of Spain’s endemic ills, plays the official selection; along with fellow Movistar Plus “Curb Your Enthusiasm”-ish sitcom “Spanish Shame” (pictured), which competes in a fortified Zabaltegi-Tabakalera section. A full-on revolution.

Newbies Worth Watching
San Sebastián buzz grows a week or so out from the festival as titles glean action from Toronto or pre-fest screenings. So far, on world premieres from new directors — movies driving much of the lower-budget arthouse trade — there’s good word on “Underground,” “The Sower” and “The Seeds of Violence,” from South Korea’s Lim Tae-gue.

Euro Express
“Personally, I’m ever less-concerned about world premieres. What matters is what’s good for films,” says Rebordinos. Celebrating European premieres after bowing in Toronto are a clutch of expected competition forerunners, such as “Life and Nothing More,” “The Motive,” “Soldiers. A Story From Ferentari” and “Mademoiselle Paradis.”

Homegrown Talent
Ever since the mid-1980s, San Sebastián has looked to Latin America for premieres and industry events. Now, it is also turning ever more to Europe, launching Glocal in Progress, focusing on pix-in-post in lesser-known European languages such as Basque (Telmo Esnal’s “Dantza”), Slovenian (Miha Mazzini’s “Erased”) and Romanian (Hadrian Marcu’s “A Decent Man”). “The challenge for Basque-language cinema isn’t production, but our domestic market size. The same goes for Iceland, for instance. Glocal in Progress supplies an industrial meeting point,” says Rebordinos.

Visible Themes
One perception of the world we live in offered by multiple San Sebastián movies: Old social- order bedrocks — the family, the couple — looks increasingly fragile, decimated by power politics (“Love Me Not”), ingrained social violence (“The Seeds of Violence”), terminal illness (“Dying”), career ambition, (“The Price of Success,” “Beyond Words”), faith (“Apostasy”), wealth (“Handía”), abduction (“Pororoca”), assassination (“Killing Jesus”), bankrupting family businesses (“Cargo,” “Ravens”), indigence (“Soldiers. A Story From Ferentari”) and near surreal squalor (“Underground”).

Pics From the Pyrenees
Once, San Sebastián helped the Basque cinema. Now the Basque film industry helps the festival, supplying a pan-European industry initiative (Glocal in Progress), an anticipated world premiere (“Handia”), a Special Screening (Fernando Franco’s “Dying”) and 14 Basque productions across eight sections and programs, including scam romp “Operation Golden Shell,” docu-feature “Elkarrekin-Together,” a Basque Films and ETB Gala, and the talked-up out-there “Bi Txirula.” As local production houses grow in ambition and tax funding, pics in the pipeline include Sergio Aguero’s 1609-set “Witches Sabbath,” fantasy-horror “The Blacksmith and the Devil” and Ryszard Kapuściński story “Another Day of Life.”

Ready to LOL

San Sebastián will be the funniest in years, hosting three comedies in competition: James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist,” “C’est la vie” from “The Untouchables’” Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, and seeming mockumentary “So Help Me God” on the Belgian criminal investigation system.

Fremaux Time
Thierry Fremaux’s live commentary accompanies the shorts compilation “Lumière!,” a historical record of Belle Epoque swagger, the (underrated) art of Louis and Auguste Lumière and camera operators such as Alexandre Promio, plus Fremaux’s own faith in cinema as live social entertainment.

Industry Friendly
In 2016 industry attendance was 1,569. Of its two major industry events, Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum features projects from Alicia Scherson, Fernando Frias, Maite Alberdi, Rodrigo Sepúlveda and Santiago Loza. Films in Progress unveils rough cuts of Aly Muritiba’s “Ferrugem,” Armando Capos’ “Agosto” and Ruben Mendoza’s “Niña Errante.”

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