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67th San Sebastian Festival: 7 Industry Takeaways

SAN SEBASTIAN —  Blessed by sun, a steady sustenance of Donostia winning stars and a stream of production announcements, the San Sebastian Film Festival rounded its final bend on Friday after a robust 67th edition. San Sebastian’s status as the highest-profile movie event in the Spanish-speaking world remains unquestioned. The maelstrom of change – imminent global platforms. markets, Latin American politics -could not but play out over events, forging a festival of sharp contrasts and little granularity about how major pivots in the global business could impact the Spanish-language arthouse business and new directors, its stock in trade. Following seven takeaways from this edition:

1. The Winners: Spanish SVOD Platforms

You could hear a proverbial pin drop as HBO España unveiled first footage from its first announced series in Spain: “Patria,” a multi-time-period set chronicle on the human impact of the Basque conflict. It left San Sebastian with the status of a must-see show. Leticia Dolera’s “Perfect Life,” a double Canneseries winner, also confirmed its genre-bleeding appeal as, like Paco Leon and Anna R. Costa’s “Madrid on Fire” last year, a Movistar+ Original Series of winning originality and broad audience appeal. Justin Webster’s six-hour “The Prosecutor, The President and the Spy,” an exacting, rigorous drill-down on the circumstances and personalities involved in the death of Alberto Nisman confirmed the addictive spell of narrative non-fiction and Webster’s status as one of its major Spanish world auteurs.

2. It’s a Woman’s World

Popular on Variety

Eight of the nine directors or producers on Laura Baumeister’s “Daughter of Rage” and Fernanda Veladez’s “Non Distinguishing Features,” the big winners at San Sebastian’s industry section, are women. In San Sebastian competition, its front-runner, at least for Spanish critics polled by El Diario Vasco, is Belén Funes “A Thief’s Daughter,” turning on a working-class single mother, played to acclaim by Greta Fernández, juggling love, her broken family and multi-tasking low-income employ. Three of the five top rated movies on the poll are directed by women. As opportunities haltingly open up for young female directors, they are seizing the chance with an energizing passion. Selling first-time female directors can also prove “surprisingly gratifying,” said Latido Films Antonio Saura at a San Sebastian Emerging Talents panel.

PERFECT LIFE
CREDIT: SSIFF

3. Latin America’s Double Paradox

A. Over 2014-16 in Brazil, Ancine’s Audiovisual Sector Fund (FSA) poured some R$2.5 billion ($800 million) into film-TV production-distribution. Energized by state backing, the quality and volume of Latin America movie production has soared, just as international markets have contracted for foreign language art films.

B. Sales agents buzzed about the potential of a brace of projects at a vibrant San Sebastian Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum. Many hit the market running, with European and other Latin American producers in place. Yet, this September, far right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced a near 43% cut to FSA funding in 2020. Over the last five years the Argentine peso has plunged 80% against the Euro. Mexico’s governments – federal and states – have slashed Mexican film promotion and festival coin. Production is still holding in Chile and Colombia. It has positively swelled in smaller national movie hubs such as the Dominican Republic, Panama, even Guatemala, noted Saura. Europe, led by France and Germany, is still piling into Latin American feature projects. One big question, however, is how much money producers from Latin America’s big three film powers will be able to bring to the table for international co-production, vital to produce art films of artistic ambition.

4. Basque Build

Lighting can strike thrice. After competition standout “Loreak,” and Special Jury Prize winner “Handia” in 2014 and 2017, Moriarti-Irusoin scored at San Sebastian with “The Endless Trench,” currently ranking second in the “El Diario Vasco” critics’ poll. Its co-production structure, use of Castilian Spanish and national stars is mark of yet another step up in ambition for Basque cinema “The Endless Trench” bowing just a week after Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s “The Platform,” produced by Basque Films, won the Toronto Festival’s Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award, rolling off Netflix pick-up for the world outside select territories in Asia.

The Endless Trench
CREDIT: SSIFF

5. Buzz Titles 

David Zonana’s “Workforce,” Ina Weisse’s “The Audition” and “Sarah Gravron’s “Rocks” have gone down well in competition. With a few films still to be voted on, Ana Garcia Blaya’s “The Good Intentions” heads the Youth TCM Award votes and Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache’s Cannes closer “The Specials” the City of Donostia Audience Award.

6. ’A Tabakalera Generation’

Nobody visiting the splendid facilities of San Sebastian’s Tabakalera cannot be struck by the sense of an on-the-rise culture hub. It now houses the San Sebastian Festival offices, an Elías Querejeta Zine Eskola and a cinema theater and backs the Ikusmira Berriak film program, sparking multiple synergies between them. “Maybe in a few years, we’ll be talking about a Tabakalera generation,” the San Sebastian Festival’s Maialen Beloki said at the Emerging Talents panel. She was not joking..

7. The Business

The big news came from big players. San Sebastian began with a bang: Telefonica and Atresmedia’s MOU to create a content production-joint venture to produce for themselves as well as for or with third-party global platforms. Netflix confirmed that it would be announcing in Spain new talents and new formats and programs focused on new talent, not only in Spain but Latin America and other European countries. Warner Bros. Pictures Intl. grabbed near-worldwide distribution rights to “El Verano Que Vivimos,” a romantic melodrama co-produced with Atresmedia Cine, Bambú Producciones and La Claqueta. Ex-Rouge Intl.’s Nadia Turincev announced part of her first slate at Easy Riders Films, a new Paris-based production house.

Select deals targeted select upscale talent. Haut et Court moved smartly to take Alejandro Amenabar’s “While at War” off the market for France. MK2 announced international sales on Avalon produced “Alcarrás,” from “Summer 1993’s” Carla Simón. Producer Marta Esteban confirmed the next movie by “Truman” director Cesc Gay, “Sentimental,” sold by Filmax which also revealed overseas sales rights on Álvaro Fernández Armero’s comedy “If I Were a Rich Man,” Argentine producer-director Beda Docampo’s “The Curse of the Handsome Man,” and Basque hit comedy sequel “Bye, Bye. Mr Etxebeste.” Outsider Pictures picked U.S. domestic on two titles: Gabriel Mascaro’s Sundance hit “Divine Love” and Belgian Oscar submission “Our Mothers,” a Cannes Camera d’Or winner. New Europe Film Sales swooped on “Blanquita” from Chile’s Fernando Guzzoni. FiGa Films snagged “Contactado” from the “Pelo Malo” team of Marité Ugás and Mariana Rondón

In newly announced deals:

*Cosimo Santoro’s Italy-based sales company The Open Reel announced it has sold Ricky Mastro’s LGBT drama “7 Minutes,” its first full feature production, to Breaking Glass Pictures for North America, as well as one of its new Portuguese feature “Variacoes – Guardian Angel” to France’s Optimale, and a double sale to Here Media for North America on features “Second Star on the Right” by Colombian Ruth Caudeli and “Brief Story of the Green Planet” by Argentine Santiago Loza. Both titles were also sold to Filmin for Spain, together with Brazilian documentary “Mr. Leather.”

*San Sebastian served as the launchpad for a new Spanish sales agent, the Canary Islands-based Bendita Film Sales. At the festival, Bendita picked-up international rights to two titles: Jonás Trueba’s coming-of-age feature “La Virgen de Agosto,” winner of a Special Jury mention and the Fipresci award at the latest Karlovy Vary; and Peruvian brothers Diego and Daniel Vega’s Horizontes Latinos player “La bronca,” produced by Maretazo Cine. Backed by production companies El Viaje Films and Volcano Films, the new sales house aims to handle each year worldwide rights to eight-to-ten arthouse films, with commercial outlet, mainly in Spanish-language. “The number of Spanish sales companies has been gradually decreasing, we think we can find our place in the market,” Bendita CEO Luis Renart told Variety in San Sebastian.

*Gilles Duffaut’s Axxon Films unveiled at the festival the sale to Bet TV in Belgium of Egypt-Luxembourg co-production comedy “Sawah,” directed by Adolf El Assal, scheduled for a February 2020 release.

“This is a highly competitive market and audiences are very selective when it comes to betting on indie films. So, we are increasingly reducing the number of projects in which we get involved,” said Alex Lafuente at Bteam Pictures. But indie distributors still have to buy. Just before San Sebastián Bteam announced it had acquired Pablo Larrain’s “Ema,” a Venice Unimed Award winner, sold by The Match Factory. They have also moved into production, teaming with Barcelona’s Oberón Cinematográfica on “A Thief’s Daughter.”

*On the eve of San Sebastian, Basque distributor Barton Films took Spanish rights to Takashi Miike’s Zabaltegi player “First Love” from Hanway Films. Barton also acquired Sebastián Muñoz’s Venice Queer Lion Award winner “El Príncipe,” a Horizontes Latinos contender. The deal was negotiated with Patra Spanou Film Marketing & Consulting.

*Miren Aperribay’s Atera Films, a San Sebastian-based indie producer-distributor which recently started to acquire international films for distribution throughout Spain, nabbed at the festival the Venice Feodora Award winner and Horizontes Latinos closer, Jayro Bustamante’s “La llorona,” sold by Vicente Canales’ Film Factory Entertainment.

*Headed by Emilio Oliete Díaz, indie distributor Syldavia Films, which manages the large library of director-producer Gerardo Herrero’s Tornasol Films, has surfed the San Sebastian main competition, nabbing two contenders: Alice Winocour’s “Proxima,” a French-German co-production starring Eva Green and Matt Dillon, sold by Pathé Films; and “The Audition.” in a deal with Les Films du Losange.

*Spanish rights to another Official Selection player, Louise Archambault’s “And the Birds Rained Down,” were acquired at Toronto by Stefan Schmitz’s Avalon Distribución Audiovisual.

Jamie Lang contributed to this article.

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