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Alejandro Amenabar, Ricardo Darin, Paco Cabezas Bound for San Sebastian

MADRID  –  Alejandro Amenábar, Ricardo Darín and Paco Cabezas, director of episodes from “Peaky Blinders” and “American Gods,” look set to join Penelope Cruz, already confirmed as a Donostia Award winner, at this year’s 67th San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival.

The biggest movie event in the Spanish-speaking world, this year’s San Sebastian runs Sept.20-28.

Amenábar’s awaited “While at War” will compete in main competition, where it will face off, among Spanish titles announced Friday by the San Sebastian Festival, with banner Basque title “The Endless Trench” and“The Thief’s Daughter,” the already buzzy feature debut of Catalan Belén Funes.

Darín stars in and co-produces “Heroic Losers” which receives a Special Screening. Daniel Sánchez-Arevalo’s “Seventeen” will play out of competition – the first time a Netflix Original Film makes San Sebastian’s Official Selection cut.

New Directors, San Sebastian’s main sidebar, frames among Spanish world premieres Lucia Alemany’s “Innocence” and Maider Fernández’s “Jordi’s Letters.”

San Sebastian will also host Velodrome screenings of Leticia Dolera’s 2019 Canneseries hit series “A Perfect Life” and Spanish-Argentine animated feature “Turu, the Wacky Hen,” a big play for audiences this Christmas.

San Sebastian’s 2019 Spanish line-up will once more span a large gamut.

That’s a reflection of the wide-ranging tastes of director José Luis Rebordinos and his selection committee which take in but go far beyond the often demanding high art fare now offered by many contemporary festivals.

Whatever their span, the Spanish titles selected this year also serve to highlight many, maybe most, of the industry drivers now energizing Spain’s film industry.

These take in the co-existence as film-funding sources of traditional broadcast networks, such as public broadcaster RTVE, and new SVOD services Movistar + and Netflix.

They also encompass the Basque cinema’s ever-growing artistic and industrial ambition; a hub of young, Barcelona-based women directors, such as Funes and Alemany; a multi-faceted animation scene; burgeoning documentary production; and project-focused initiatives such as the Madrid Film School’s (ECAM) Incubator and San Sebastian’s own Ikusmira Berriak.

“San Sebastian’s line-up shows that big films are still produced in Spain and there’s an eruption of new talent, with an ever greater female presence,” Rebordinos said. ”There’s also now a co-existence of traditional players, such as RTVE, and new platforms with Movistar + and Netflix Original Films for the first time in the Official Selection,” he added.

Here are the Spanish titles selected for this year’s San Sebastian:

While at War

Movistar +’s first Original Film, and also fruit of one of the foremost title-by-title international production alliances in the Spanish-speaking world, which is also behind “Heroic Losers” -Spain’s Mod Producciones, Argentina’s K&S and sales company Film Factory Ent. – “While at War” marks Amenabar’s return to Spanish filmmaking for the first time since 2007’s Academy Award-winning “The Sea Inside.”

Set in Spain in 1936, at the beginning of Spain’s Civil War, “While at War”  stars Karra Elejalde as Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno who in an extraordinary act of courage speaks out in public against General Francisco Franco’s horrific imprisonment and executions of potential opponents.

The Endless Trench  

Sold by Film Factory, and picked up for distribution in Spain by eOne, “The Endless Trench” marks the latest movie from the creators of “Loreak” (Flowers) and “Handia” (Giant), the first two Basque movies to play in main competition at San Sebastian, raising the bar of ambition for Basque cinema: Production houses Irusoin and Moriarti and directors Aitor Arregi, Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga. Billed as an allegory of fear, it stars Antonio de la Torre (“The Realm”) as a Spaniard who, fearing he’ll be shot by Franco’s supporters, goes into hiding in 1936, to emerge 33 years later.

The Thief’s Daughter

Produced by Oberon Cinematográfica and Bteam Pictures and shaping up as the most-awaited feature debut of the year, Funes’ “La hija del ladrón” is a conflictive father-daughter drama featuring a performance by Greta Fernández which according to reports already marks her out as a firm candidate for a best actress award at San Sebastian.

Seventeen

Produced by José Antonio Félez’s Atípica Films, “Seventeen” is a coming-of-age road movie shot in Cantabria in the north of Spain. It turns on troubled 17-year-old Hector who, as part of reintegration therapy, is sent to an animal rescue center, where he encounters a dog as shy and elusive as himself.

Heroic Losers

Reuniting Darín with “Chinese Take Away” director Sebastián Borensztein, “Heroic Losers” (“La Odisea de los Giles”)  a heist dramedy featuring a small-town collective’s attempt to get back the life savings they are swindled out of during Argentina’s 2001 run on the banks, bids fare to become Argentina’s biggest box office hit of the year when it bows there this August.

Female Directors at San Sebastian 

“I’m against quotas but it’s notable that three of the seven titles in Official Selection and New Directors are directed by women,” said Rebordinos. “That would have been impossible just a few years ago, but is part of a natural process.”

Part of that process is the consolidation of a vibrant woman directors’ scene in Barcelona. In all, three Barcelona-based talents will be featured at San Sebastian: Funes, Alemany and Dolera.

Perfect Life

Fun, fast-moving and shot with an eye-popping pop palette, Perfect Life” depicts how its three female friends inevitably fall short of the high-achievement traditional role models they have been brought up on – a home, husband, children. It swept the 2nd Canneseries TV festival in April, scooping from a jury presided by “Dark” co-creator Baran bo Odar both best series and best special performance for its female leads, Dolera herself, Celia Freijeiro and Aixa Villagrán. Playing San Sebastian’s big-screen Velodrome, the series will be shown in its entirety – a world premiere – at San Sebastián, Rebordinos said.

PERFECT LIFE
CREDIT: SSIFF

Innocence

Co-starring Sergi López (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) and Laia Marull (“Take My Eyes”) village-set rites-of-passage drama. “Innocence” marks the feature debut of Alemany and the first project to go into production at the ECAM Madrid Film School’s Incubator development program.

Jordi’s Letters

A product of San Sebastian Ikusmira Berriak development program, “Jordi’s Letters” from Maider Fernández Iriarte, is a dock-featuring relating the director’s relationship with 51-year-old Jordi, a man with cerebral palsy who says he has lost a sense of communicating with God.

Turu, the Wacky Hen

Released in Spain and sold abroad by Filmax as the Barcelona-based film-TV studio drives ever more into animation, “Turu, the Wacky Hen” is an ode to diversity, turning on hen which can’t lay eggs but, when taken in an elderly lady and ex music teacher, discovers that it can speak. Also, it sure can sing.

CREDIT: Filmax

Adiós

Also at San Sebastián, Cabezas’ “Adiós”, produced by Enrique López Lavigne at Apache Films, in partnership with Sony Pictures International Productions and La Claqueta, stars Mario Casas and Carlos Bardem in a narco thriller set in Seville’s criminal underbelly that marks Cabezas’ return to Spain after his Hollywood adventure.

The Prosecutor,The President and The Spy

One series sure to make an impact at San Sebastian is the doc-series “The Prosecutor,The President and The Spy,” from Justin Webster, creator of  Primetime Emmy winner “Six Dreams, which plumbs the circumstances surrounding the death of Argentine federal prosector Alberto Nisman. World premiering, at San Sebastian, “The Prosecutor” “has a worldwide reach and will be an earthquake in Argentina,” said Rebordinos.

Fire Will Come

San Sebastian conformed Wednesday that Oliver Laxe’s “Fire Will Come,” about a convicted pyromaniac returning to his family farmstead, will play in the Perlak sidebar for festival favorites. Taking this year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard Jury Prize, following on Mimosas’” 2016 Critics’ Week triumph, it “represents another step toward major auteur status for its unobtrusively gifted helmer,” Guy Lodge wrote in his Variety review.

Urpean Lurra

A medium-feature, made in an “experimental style,” said Rebordinos, from Navarre’s Maddi Barber, picturing two decades old protests about the construction of the Itoiz Dam,

“This has been a strong year for Spanish cinema, with a potent presence already at other great festivals which has corroborated that,” Rebordinos concluded on Friday at a packed Madrid presentation of the Spanish titles.

2019 SAN SEBASTIAN FESTIVAL SPANISH TITLES

OFFICIAL SELECTION

MAIN COMPETITION

“The Endless Trench,” Aitor Arregi, Jon Garaño, José María Goenaga (Spain, France)

“La hija de un ladron,” Belén Funes (Spain)

“While at War,” Alejandro Amenábar (Spain, Argentina)

OUT OF COMPETITION

“Diecisiete,” Daniel Sánchez Arévalo (Spain)

SPECIAL SCREENING

“Heroic Losers,” (Sebastián Borensztein, Argentina, Spain)

NEW DIRECTORS

“Innocence,” (Lucía Alemany, Spain)

“Las Letras de Jordi,” (Maider Fernández, Spain)

ZABALTEGI-TABAKALERA

“El fiscal, la presidenta y el espía,” (Justin Webstern, Spain, Germany)

“Leyenda dorada,” Ion de Sosa, Chema García Ibarra (short, Spain)

“Escenas de vida,” Izibene Oñederra (short, Spain)

“Urpean Lurra,” Maddi Barber (Spain)

PERLAK

“Fire Will Come,” Oliver Laxe (Spain, France, Luxembourg)

VELODROME

“Perfect Life,” Leticia Dolera (Spain)

“Turu, the Wacky Hen,’ Victor Monigote, Eduardo Gondell (Spain, Argentina)

RTVE GALA

“Adiós,” (Paco Cabezas, Spain)

Jamie Lang contributed to this article.

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