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James Franco’s ‘The Disaster Artist’ Wins San Sebastian

SAN SEBASTIAN — Having placed second in Toronto’s People’s Choice Awards, James Franco scored his first big outright win as a director, his “The Disaster Artist” scooping Saturday night the 65th San Sebastián Festival’s Golden Shell, the top plaudit at the highest-profile film event in the Spanish-speaking world.

“This was a family affair, my brother, my sister, my old friend Seth Rogen,” Franco said, accepting the award on stage at San Sebastián.

He added, thanking Warner Bros,: “It’s a very simple film about a crazy man but he had big dreams and it’s better than not having dreams. I hope that in these crazy times this brings a little light and inspiration.”

Described by Variety as “the comedy sensation of SXSW,” James Franco’s uproarious “making-of” satire of 2003’s “The Room,” Tommy Wiseau’s best worst movie of this century, “The Disaster Artist” had already won the Spanish critics’ Feroz Zinemaldia Prize, and was one of the two best-ranked titles on a reviewers’ poll run by El Diario Vasco, a local newspaper.

Bogdan Dumitrache won best actor for his performance in  Constantin Popescu’s “Pororoca” as a father devastated by the disappearance of his daughter. The film sparked up-beat to rave reviews. “Constantin Popescu’s study of a missing-person crisis hits with direct emotional force,” Variety announced – and had broken out to early sales for Wide Management by fest end.

In one of two firsts for San Sebastián, Jon Garaño’ and Aitor Arregi’s “Handía,” sold by Film Factory, scooped the San Sebastian’s Special Jury Prize – the first big prize to go to a Basque movie in main competition at San Sebastián. Set from 1836 in backward rural Basque Country, “Handia” turns on the two brother’s deep affective bonds warped but never destroyed by grinding poverty, romantic rivalry and the carnage of the 1833-40 Carlist War and the wrenching impact of a modern industrial world.

A competition frontrunner in Spanish critics polls, Antonio Méndez Esparza’s “Life and Nothing More,” a Variety Toronto Top 10 choice, snagged the Fipresci Award, the main critics award at the festival, as well as the Signis Award, given by a Catholic assn. for communication.

But it was women who made much of the running at Saturday night’s prize awards. Argentine Anahi Berneri”s “Alanis,” the portrait of the trials and tribulations of a call.girl turned struggling streetwalker, won the first best director prize to go to a woman in San Sebastián’s 65-edition history. Sofía Gala took best actress for her lead performance.

“This is a film about prostitution and a woman who doesn’t under-estimate herself and takes her own decisions about her body,” Berneri said. “The women are the strong characters of this film. United, we can achieve everything,” Gala added.

Three features by first-time or on-the-rise women filmmakers, Chile’s Marcela Said, France’s Marine Francen and Laura Mora’s “Killing Jesus,” did indeed achieve something at San Sebastian.

Francen’s debut, “The Sower” a delicate love story and ode to freedom set in a hamlet in the hills of France in 1851, won the Festival’s New Directors competition, its major sidebar. “You can be a director and also a mother,” Francen announced, on stage at San Sebastian.

A withering portrait of Chile’s ruling class complicity in the atrocities of Augusto Pinochet’s bloody dictatorship first seen at Cannes Critics’ Week, “Los Perros,” Said’s second fiction feature which is handled by Films Boutique, chronicles a woman’s fascination with an ex-colonel, accused of human rights abuse under Pinochet.

Mora’s first feature, “Killing Jesus,” ripped by Latido Films, won San Sebastián’s Eroski Youth Award for a social thriller following a young student who hits Medellin’s mean streets to track down the sicario who murdered her father before her eyes.

“Killing Jesus” also won a Special Mention – an effective runners-up prize – in both New Directors, San Sebastián’s main sidebar, and with regards to the Fedora Award, given by the Federation of Film Critics of Europe and the Mediterranean. It also took a 60 Years of Signis Special Award.

In a good night for Argentine cinema with both its competition films scoring awards, Diego Lerman won best screenplay for the Film Factory-sold “A Kind of Family,” starring Barbara Lennie as a woman traveling across Argentina to adopt a baby. A leading figure of the New Argentine Cinema, Lerman used the occasion to express his concern at new – if maybe provisional – market minded Argentine subsidy regulation whose rulings threaten smaller art films, he argued.

Beyond James Franco’s coronation as a filmmaker and women’s winning big across the board, the 65th San Sebastián which will go down in history for the first screenings of two original series from Telefonica’s Movistar +, which promises a pay TV/OTT revolution for the Spanish TV-film industry and maybe Latin America; the consolidation of the Basque film industry as one of the most vibrant of Spain’s regional cinemas.

One of the most celebrated kudos on Saturday night was the Irizar Prize for best Basque movie to “Handia.” Also celebrated with huge applause, Telmo Esnal’s “Dantza,” a polished attempt to inscribe a heavily stylish Basque musical in a modern European dance film tradition, embodied by the movies of Esnal’s compatriot Carlos Saura, won best picture at a a new Glocal in Progress competition.

A Brazilian high-school sexting tragedy, packing a searing indictment of misogyny, Ali Muritiba’s forceful two-part “Ferrugem” (Rust) swept the board at the Festival’s Films in Progress pix-in-post competition, securing distribution for Spain and a sales agent, Film Factory.

In a good night for Celluloid Dreams, the sales company behind “The Sower,” Xavier Legrand’s  “Custody” scored double awards.

The 65th San Sebastián Intl. Film Festival ran Sept. 22-30.

WINNERS OF THE 65th SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL,

COMPETITION PRIZES

GOLDEN SHELL

“The Disaster Artist,” (James Franco, U.S.)

SILVER SHELL, DIRECTOR

Anahí Berneri (“Alanis,” Argentina)

SILVER SHELL, BEST ACTRESS

Sofía Gala Castiglione (“Alanis,” Argentina)

SILVER SHELL, BEST ACTOR

Bogdan Dumitrache (“Pororoca,” Romania, France)

SPECIAL JURY PRIZE

“Handia,” Aitor Arregi , Jon Garaño, Spain

CINEMOTOGRAPHY

Florian Ballhaus (“The Captain,” Germany, Poland, France)

SCREENPLAY

Diego Lerman, Maria Meira (“A Sort of Family,” Argentina, Brazil, Poland, France)

OTHER PRIZES

FILMS IN PROGRESS

“Rust,” Aly Muritiba, Brazil

PREMIO DE LA INDUSTRIAL GLOCAL IN PROGRESS

“Dantza,” Telmo Esnal, Spain

SPANISH COOPERATION AWARD

“Alanis,” Anahí Berneri, Argentina

TVE ANOTHER LOOK AWARD

“Custody,” Xavier Legrand, France

IRIZAR BASQUE FILM AWARD

“Giant,” Aitor Arregi , Jon Garaño, Spain

AUDIENCE AWARD FOR AN EUROPEAN FEATURE

“Custody,” Xavier Legrand, France

AUDIENCE AWARD BEST PICTURE

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh, U.K.

ZABALTEGI-TABAKALERA AWARD

“Braguino,” Clément Cogitore, France

HORIZONTES AWARD

“Los Perros,” Marcela Said, Chile, France

KUTXABANK NEW DIRECTORS’ AWARD

“The Sower,” Marine Francen, France

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