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San Sebastian Festival 2018: Deals, Co-pros, Female Directors, TV, Mulling the Digital Future

‘El Reino,’ ‘Between Two Waters,’ ‘Quien te cantará,’ ’In Fabric’ among Spanish critics’ favorites

SAN SEBASTIAN — San Sebastian, the highest-profile festival and biggest movie event in the Spanish-speaking world, wraps Saturday after nine days of sun, some festival hits, deals and intense business discussions about gender parity and the future for Spanish-film-making in a future ever more dominated by digital platforms or vast and fast consolidating conglom-studio combos.

Ten takeaways from this year’s 67th edition.


The festival’s banner deal saw Film Factory Ent. seal world sales on San Sebastian Co-Production Forum winner “La Llorona,” from “Ixcanul” director Jayro Bustamente, about a mother ready to wreak vengeance on the never-punished soldier-now politician who killed her children.

Multiple sales agents deals went down – or were announced – on still available festival titles in the run-up to Toronto and San Sebastian or at the festivals. Luxbox (“Rojo”), Indie Sales (“Core of the World”), Latido (“Happiness”), Loco Films (“Journey to a Mother’s Room”), Filmax (“Between Two Waters”), Media Luna (“I Hate New York”) all unveiled acquisitions. As the arthouse theatrical market contracts, festivals have become more, not less important as sales vehicles.


San Sebastian’s signature of a gender parity charter was one of the best attended of press conferences, but there’s also excitement about movies from women directors. Also, there could be a market. At San Sebastian, Madrid’s Latido Films announced it had acquired rights to movies by two first-time Latin American women filmmakers: Camila Urrutia’s “Polvora en el corazón,” and “La Casa de los Conejos,” from Valeria Selinger. Celia Rico’s Journey to a Mother’s Room currently heads San Sebastian’s Youth Award votes.  Clara Roquet’s Libertad won a co-production forum prize. That reflects Latido’s conviction – and growing experience – there’s really a market for movies by up-and-coming new women directors. “Rara,” from Chile’s Pepa San Martín, and “Killing Jesús,” directed by Colombia’s Laura Mora, are among its recent best-sellers.


Netflix promoted “Roma,” which should give it a run at an Oscar, with the festival’s biggest billboard. It sneak-peaked near five minutes of excerpts from romantic, historical drama “Elisa & Marcela,” from one of Spain’s foremost directors, Isabel Coixet (“The Bookshop”). Launching its first European production hub in Madrid, Netflix, and now Amazon Prime Video and YouTube Premium look set to become integral parts of Spain and Latin America’s production sector. As San Sebastian headed into its final straits, Reed Hastings announced in Paris that he had cut a check for France’s public-sector CNC film-TV agency on a sum equivalent to 2% of Netflix annual revenues in France. How or if investment quotas are levied on digital platforms across Europe is now a hot button regulatory issue on Europe’s regulatory film and TV table.


Netflix’s frenemy in Spain, Movistar +, forms part of the by-far biggest push by any telecom in Europe into original series production. San Sebastian stood that out, world premiering two new and anticipated Movistar + scripted shows. Both received warm applause at press screenings.

Filtering the personal stories of Ava Gardner’s domestic entourage in a 1961 Madrid via a modern feminist prism, comedy thriller “Arde Madrid” was greeted as “brilliant and cynical” by Spain’s “El País.”

Alternatively set in a modern but not often seen Madrid – its Rastro flea-market, upscale Serrano art galleries – Enrique Urbizu’s “Gigantes” weighed in as a brutal, despairing crime family parable on the legacy of violence, passed from a heartlessly cruel father to his three sons. Journalists’ most common comment at San Sebastian was that they couldn’t stop watching the series, which bodes well for its SVOD consumption from October on Movistar +.


Netflix and Movistar + investment is galvanizing Spain’s production sector. How can companies that don’t snag their finance compete? The most common answer is now co-production, allowing companies to bulk up on budgets and access overseas distribution and expertise. It is no coincidence that this year’s 7th Europe Latin America Co-production Forum was the strongest yet in projects and companies attending, with three-times Cannes selected Pablo Fendrik’s “Hermano Peligro” and Berlin Silver Bear winner Jayro Bustamante’s “La Llorona” among prized projects. The biggest regulatory deal signed at San Sebastian was a new Argentina-Spain co-production treaty, introducing the possibility of financial co-productions and extending the treaty to TV. As TV ad markets contract, broadcast networks also need to co-produce fiction.


At her Donostia Award press conference, British actress Judi Dench, unprovoked, recalled a fond memory of emotional support she received from her “The Shipping News” co-star Kevin Spacey. The two worked together shortly after the actress had lost her husband: She recalled that Spacey was “an inestimable comfort and never mentioned he knew I was in a bad way.” When asked for her opinions on what has happened in the months since allegations of sexual assault were levied against the actor, Dench questioned: ““Are we to do what happened when he was replaced with Christopher Plummer? Are we to do that throughout history? Are we to go back throughout history and anyone who has misbehaved in any way, or who has broken the law, or who has committed some kind of offense, are they always going to be cut out? Are we going to extrude them from our history? I don’t know….” Spacey, she added, was and is “a good friend.”


Catalan Isaki Lacuesta’s Andalusia-set “Between Two Waters,” a sometimes near documentary style fiction of two gypsy brothers’ attempt at closure on a troubled past, lead a Spanish critics’ poll going into Saturday. “The Realm” came second, “Quien te cantara,” from Spain’s Carlos Velmut, a near third. Of foreign titles, Peter Strickland’s “In Fabric” was the frontrunner.

Local critics may just like local fare, or the high scores may be a mark of how the Spanish film industry now keeps back some of its strongest movies, particularly with a commercial edge, for San Sebastian competition, often after a Toronto world premiere.


“Gigantes” is compulsive, action-packed viewing, its first episode alone encompassing three time periods and roughly 20 years of family history. Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s San Sebastian competition player “The Realm” begins with a 1 minute 40 seconds tracking shot to building electronic pulse music as its anti-hero, a corrupt provincial party vice secretary, strides down a back alley, into a restaurant kitchen, swipes a tray of red shrimps, and serves his fellow political bigwigs. Fendrik’s “Hermano Peligro” weighs in as a propulsive survival-vengeance thriller set in the snowy wilds of Patagonia. All three fictions talk of large social issues. Increasingly, these are wrapped in kinetic, full on entertainment narratives, as competition for eye-balls only intensifies.


Further deal announcements, across the board:

*Sony Pictures Television Latin America has acquired Lucho Smok’s Chilean romantic comedy “Swing,” sold by Switzerland-based company KAF, sales manager Patrick Forray told Variety.

*Latido Films closed a slew of deals before and during the Spanish Festival (see separate stories).

*KAF has also inked Chinese rights with Beijing Hugoeast Media to Florencia Percia’s Argentine drama “Cetáceos,” a Bafici 2017 contender. Another Argentine film, “Agosto Final,” directed by Eduardo Sánchez, was licensed to South Korea’s Kim laon-i. “Asia is becoming slowly one of our biggest markets,” Forray said.

*Rio de Janeiro’s FM Produçoes scored several deals at the market. With Chilean Karina July’s outfit Atomica Films, it has teamed to co-produce Malu Martino’s drama “Clamor,” written by Dominga Sotomayor (“Too Late to Die Young,”), about the same named Brazilian human rights org helping victims of South American dictatorships. Given the increasing relationship with the European market, FM has decided to open a Madrid-based company in January, Muniz told Variety.

*Pedro Peira, CEO of Madrid’s production-sales company Festimania, signed an all-rights deal with MM Square Film to distribute in Taiwan Angel Parra and José Antonio Blanco’s documentary “Soul,” a Berlinale Culinary 2017 player.

*Theatrically released in Japan last weekend with 16 prints through distributor Medallion Media, “Soul” has been acquired by Autograph Hotels by Marriott in a global deal closed after Toronto. In about one month, Festimania starts to lens the feature “Ruscalleda,” based on the life of prestigious Catalan chef Carme Ruscalleda.

*Miami’s Somos TV has acquired U.S. rights to Spanish first-time director Josué Ramos’s “Bajo la rosa,” a thriller starring Pedro Casablanc (“B,” “Isabel”), sold by Horacio Urban at Madrid-based Urban Films. The film has also been taken by Cinemundo in Portugal, where, previous to its commercial Portuguese release, it screens at the upcoming Mostra de Cinema Espanhol. Virtual Cinema has picked up Chinese rights and Filmboy nabbed Greece. Alphaville Cinema is in talks for Mexico and Latin America.


Many of the around 1,600 industry execs at San Sebastian will meet again at December’s Ventana Sur in Buenos Aires. Latin America’s biggest movie-TV meet-mart, a joint venture of Argentina’s INCAA and the Cannes Festival and Film Market,  announced at San Sebastian a new showcase for six unseen feature projects, which will be pitched to attendees. “The market is moving from completed projects to [securing] film before. Blood Window and Animation! already have project pitches, live-action feature films require them too,” said Cannes Film Market director Jerôme Paillard.

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