San Sebastian Film Festival Boosts Emerging Talent

Spain’s San Sebastián Film Festival, among the high-profile movie events in the Spanish-speaking world, is framing a revolution, in both its role as a film festival and the vision of key new films of the young from Colombia, to the U.S. to southernmost Chile rebelling against a powerless, inept or tyrannical establishment and forging their own destinies.

Both moves, plus San Sebastian’s multiple sections focusing entirely or largely on rising talent, look increasingly important as arthouse cinema, aside from festival attendance, appears to have lost much of its young-adult audience.

“In my opinion, film festivals are undergoing deep transformation,” says José Luis Rebordinos, San Sebastian director since 2011.

The biggest events — Cannes, Berlin, Venice — can still play the traditional role of hosting world premieres. Others, however, such as San Sebastián, while showcasing new films, will have to “work other fields” becoming “a year-round event,” he adds.

Already, San Sebastián co-organizes a six-week Ikusmira Berriak residency to develop experimental or innovative projects. It will now back the new Elías Querejeta Film School, which offers training in film festival programming and curation. “It doesn’t make sense for us to have a film school in San Sebastian unless it has an organic relation with what happens in San Sebastian,” says Rebordinos.

In a novelty, students, having signed confidentiality agreements, will be made party to fest meetings and the decision-making process, including why films are accepted, he adds.

Fostering a new generation of film directors looks like an increasingly urgent affair as young-adult auds define themselves in cultural terms by the high-end TV drama they follow, not their advocacy, as in the ’60s and ’70s, of cutting-edge international movie auteurs.

In any outreach to new generations of spectators, San Sebastián can play a vital role. In 2017 it is celebrating its 65th edition. But it is in many ways, with Locarno, one of the world’s youngest major-league film events. In 2016, nearly half (47%) of San Sebastian’s 17 competition entries were first features or made by directors under 40, vs. 9.5% of Cannes’ and 15% of Venice. This year, though bookended by films from highly established figures such as Wim Wenders (“Submergence”) and Bjorn Runge (“The Wife”), eight of the 17 titles in official selection are still first features or made by directors who are 40-or-under.

The oldest director in Horizontes Latinos, the festival’s curated Latin American showcase, is Marcela Said at 45. Its 13-title New Directors section has only one filmmaker over 40, Marialy Rivas, a superannuated 41.

San Sebastian underscores building trends in arthouse cinema that amp up its young adult appeal, such as the incorporation of genre elements. Daniel Palacios’ New Directors’ entry “Underground” is a family drama, but also, in its later stretches, an original corpse heist thriller. “Princesita” films the pubescent heroine’s sexual initiation and rape in “Rosemary’s Baby”-style fantasy horror; hugging close to its heroine in every shot; “Killing Jesus” plays like a vengeance thriller as a woman hits Medellín’s streets to befriend her father’s assassin and then shoot him.

Though San Sebastián 2017 titles range wider than in many past editions, a brace of films side with teen protagonists as they take matters into their own hands, battling authority (“Sollers Point”), finally facing the root cause of their fractiousness (“Life and Nothing More”), confronting searing patriarchal abuse (“Princesita”), a passive police system (“Killing Jesus”), or the subjugation of love to the need to sire children, as in “The Sower,” a delicate love story set in 1851 in a bucolic but oppressed hamlet high in the French hills.

Rebellion does not guarantee success. But, as San Sebastián titles suggest, the gulf between the establishment and the young has never seemed wider. And there’s no doubt which side filmmakers are on.

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