Iciar Bollain, Isaki Lacuesta, Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Carlos Vermut Join San Sebastian Competition

Also featuring the world premiere of Enrique Urbizu’s Movistar + original series ‘Giants,’ San Sebastian’s Spanish spread runs to a weighty 19 title

Quien te cantara
Courtesy of Film Factory.

MADRID — New movies from recent San Sebastian Golden Shell winners – Carlos Vermut’s “Quién te cantará” and Isaki Lacuesta’s “Entre dos aguas” – will screen in main competition this year along with Iciar Bollaín’s “Yuli” and Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s “The Realm.”

Announcing the complete line-up of Spanish films at San Sebastian in Madrid on Friday, San Sebastian director José Luis Rebordinos also confirmed that Enrique Urbizu’s “Giants,” one of the most-awaited of upcoming Movistar + original series, will world premiere out of competition at the Spanish festival, the highest-profile in the Spanish-speaking world.

An explosive mix of downbeat social realism, notable style, darker psychological portraits and edgy and varying genre beats has turned Carlos Vermut (“Magical Girl”) into one of Spain’s most courted young filmmakers. A female-centric melodrama, produced by Enrique Lopez-Lavigne’s Apache Films and sold by Film Factory Entertainment, “Quién te cantará” stars Najwa Nimri (“Sex and Lucia”) as a fallen diva, once one of the ‘90s most famous pop stars, who suffers amnesia just before a major career comeback concert.

Lifting a 2011 Golden Shell for “The Double Steps,” in “Entre Dos Aguas” Isaki Lacuesta reprises the characters of gypsy brothers Isra and Cheíto, teens in 2006’s “The Legend of Time,” as Isra comes out of jail, determined to reconcile with Cheíto and remake his life in San Fernando, despite its having the highest unemployment rates in Spain.

Sold by Latido Films and produced by Tornasol Films (“The Secret in Their Eyes”), Atresmedia Cine, (“Vicky Christina Barcelona”) and France’s Mondex & Cie (“Bosch: the Garden of Dreams,” “Argentina (Zonda)”) and Le Pacte (“Dogman,” “The Untamed”), thriller “The Realm” turns on “corruption, political and human, lying as a lifestyle,” said Sorogoyen, whose harrowing serial killer thriller, “May God Save Us,” won best screenplay at San Sebastian in 2016.

“Yuli” marks the latest from one of the most productive of Spain-U.K. creative partnerships, between director Iciar Bollaín, a double San Sebastian Silver Shell winner for “Take My Eyes,” and Ken Loach co-scribe Paul Laverty. It is inspired by the life story of Carlos Acosta, born in a humble part of Havana but forced by his father to study ballet. He has gone on to become one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world. Acosta plays his older self; “Yuli” features eight dance pieces narrating his life. BBC Films produces with U.K.’s Potboiler Prods, Spain’s Morena Films. Germany’s Match Factory Prods. and France’s Mandarin. The Match Factory handles world sales.

“These are two major films by directors who have significant work behind them – Iciar Bollaín and Isaki Lacuesta – and two newer filmmakers debuting this decade, Rodrigo Sorogoyen and Carlos Vermut, who are bringing large films to San Sebastian which break traditional moulds of story-telling,” Rebordinos commented.

Last year’s world premiere of first episodes from two Movistar +’s original premium drama series, noirish historical thriller “The Plague” and comedy “Spanish Shame,” proved two highlights of the festival. This year, Movistar + will bow another original series, “Giants,” sneak-peeked in 15 minutes of excerpts at April’s MipTV Buyers’ Summit, a bracing examination of the collateral of authoritarian violence, a feral family conflict drama set in Madrid locations such as its Rastro flea-market and its Lavapiés ethnic melting pot, where a brutal family patriarch and drug lord rules over his three sons with an iron fist. Sold by About Premium Content, and shot by Urbizu in 2:35 aspect ratio, “Giants” is produced by Movistar + and Lazona.

Spanish titles in New Directors, the more left-of-field Zabalategi Tabakalera section and Perlas, a past fest standout showcase, have already been announced. Two other new titles, both Special Screenings, announced on Friday are “Dantza,” a rural musical from Basque director Telmo Esnal (“Go!”), produced by Txintxua Films, capturing the countryside’s cycle of life and death, customs, people, myths and struggle for survival, and “Tiempo Después,”  a mock futuristic dystopia comedy capturing veteran José Luis Cuerda in the absurdist vein of some of his best work, such as “Dawn Breaks, Which is No Small Thing.”

One of San Sebastian’s main attractions for the international press, the Spanish spread affords a snapshot of its cinema’s key themes, styles and ambitions.

That remains true in 2018. Staying true to the majorly liberal progressive cast of Spain’s film industry, multiple titles turn on how the past leaves legacies to fortune, or protagonists’ battle to overcome their environment, seen most notably in its present-day iteration of women’s battle to forge their own destinies.

Two examples from Zabalategi Tabakalera: An early fruit of San Sebastian’s training-residence program Ikusmira Berriak, Xacio Baño’s debut “Trote” is set in a mountain village in Galicia, during the weekend of the “Rapa das Bestas” festival, where local men cut the manes of wild horses before setting them free. Here a young woman, “a daughter, a sister of,” San Sebastian Festival press release notes, struggles to escape from her repressive family.

In “Teatro de guerra,” a cathartic documentary which world premiered at February’s Berlinale, Argentine writer-directress Lola Arias invites six veterans from both sides of 1982’s Falklands War to re-enact on stage the memories than haunt them. In “The Realm,” a politician confronts his corrupt past. Whether he can escape it is another matter.

But, compared to the huge span of Spanish films at San Sebastian, there is arguably as much commonality of focus and style in New Directors, packing cineasts from around the world but belonging often to the same generation, or  Competition, highlighting latest films from movie-makers facing the same international market challenge of snagging theatrical sales in an increasingly tough market.

“The major tonic of this year’s selection is the variety of themes and styles. For the past few years, Spanish cinema has shown a diversity of focus and a quality which is outstanding, as is seen this year with a good presence at Berlin and Locarno, and co-productions which opened and closed Cannes, the most important festival in the world,” Rebordinos said, presenting his selection to a packed audience.

But, he cautioned, “that doesn’t mean we should overlook the economic problems that the Spanish film industry faces.”

Reasons abound for this variety. The plunge in government financing, above all for art films, during Spain’s double-dip recession over 2008-13, means that producers have perforce to reach out to oversees co-funding. An enormous 12 of the 16 Spanish features are made in international co-production, some with minority participations such as Pedro and Agustin Almodovar’s support for Argentine Luis Ortega’s “El Angel,” a portrait, knit with period panache, of the erotic yearnings of Argentina’s most infamous teen serial killer.

At least a third of Spanish movies are set outside Spain, “Yuli” and New Directors player “To War” in Cuba, Uruguayan-Spanish Federico Veiroj’s ”Belmonte,” a portrait of a painter’s mid-life crisis, in Uruguay;  and “Another Day of Life,” directed by Spain’s Raul de la Fuente and Poland’s Damien Nenow, during the 1975 Angola Civil War.

Above all, perhaps, the onus on arthouse directors, as most of the cineasts featured in the Spanish films are, is now to bring an originality to their subject. Very few stars, even Will Smith, let alone a fine Spanish character-actor, can now open a film. Budgets are limited, audiences demanding Originality, privileging the singular voice of filmmakers, is all that many directors have got.

So filmmakers are reaching out to new forms: Narrating the struggle of Carlos Acosta to rise above his environment or the factors forging rural life via dance films. Or relating the graphic, harrowing or near hallucinatory life-haunting experiences of war correspondent Ryszard Kapuściński during the 1975 Angola Civil War with a hybrid animation-live action of a constantly kinetic camera in animated parts, incorporating dreams and mind-trips, and the poignancy and aesthetic shock of historical footage and present-day talking-head interviews.

So, with an irony which says much about the state of the business, the most classic of films at San Sebastian this year may be its Movistar + original series “Giants,” shot with anamorphic lenses and created and co-directed by a filmmaker, Enrique Unrique, who is deeply influenced by autumnal Hollywood Westerns, portraying an anti-hero whose time has gone by.



“The Realm,” (Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Spain, France)

“Between Two Waters,” (Isaki Lacuesta, Spain)

“Quién te cantará,” (Carlos Vermut, Spain, France)

“Yuli,” (Icíar Bollaín, Soain, Cuba, U.K., Germany)


“Giants,” (Enrique Urbizu, Jorge Dorado, Spain)


“Dantza,” (Telmo Esnal, Spain)

“Tiempo Después,” (José Luis Cuerda, Spain, Portugal)


“Apuntes para una película de atracos,” (León Siminiani, Spain)

“Oreina (Ciervo),” (Koldo Almandoz, Spain)

“Para la guerra,” (Franciso Marisé, Cuba, Argentina, Spain)

“Viaje al cuarto de una madre,” (Celia Rico, Spain, France)


“Above 592 Meters,” (Maddi Barber, short)

“Belmonte,” (Federico Veioroj, Uruguay, Mexico, Spain)

“Los que desean,” (Elena López Riera, Switzerland, Spain, short)

“Theater of War,” (Lola Arias, Argentina, Spain, Germany)

“Trote,” (Xacio Baño, Spain, Lithuania)


“El Ángel,” (Luis Ortega, Argentina, Spain)

“Another Day of Life,” (Raúl De la Fuente, Damien Nenow, Spain, Poland, Belgium, Germany, Hungary)

“Petra,” (Jaime Rosales, Spain, France, Denmark)