Spanish film critic Diego Galán, a decisive, and longtime, artistic director of Spain’s San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival, died April 15 in Madrid. He was 72.
Born in Tangiers, Morocco, in 1946, Galán began from 1967 to write in Nuestro Cine with a generation of reviewers – Angel Fernández-Santos, Miguel Marías, Francesc Llinás, Vicente Molina Foix, José Luis Guarner – who would shape film criticism in Spain for a generation.
A film critic from 1970 in Triunfo, a weekly film magazine which pushed for democracy in a country ruled until 1975 by the arcane dictator Francisco Francisco, Galán discovered one of his vocations writing and directing the TV series “Memorias del cine español” for Spanish public television TVE from 1977, as Spanish film began to be taken more seriously by a young generation of critics.
Galán would write at least 12 books from 1973, beginning with “18 españoles de la posguerra.” He played an equally vital role in a pre-video age, however, allowing Spaniards, for whatever motive, to re-see Spanish movies made under Franco, which include now acclaimed masterpieces and a vast cannon of underrated or simply forgotten filmmakers.
Over 1980-85, Galán served as the lead film critic for El Pais, Spain’s most influential upscale daily newspaper, which had become a bible for left-leaning Spaniards during Spain’s 1975-82 transition from dictatorship to democracy. His journalism coincided with years of large volatility at the San Sebastián Festival which lost its Fiapf “A” grade in 1980.
Dated late September, the festival struggled to find a new identity in democracy which would allow it to compete with festivals of far larger budget and renown such as Venice Festival which took place just a couple of weeks before and scooped most all of the late summer world premieres.
Appointed a consultant to the San Sebastian Festival in 1985, Galán took over as artistic director in 1986, served in that role until 1989, returning in 1993-94 as a general consultant under Manuel Pérez Estremera, before becoming sole director of San Sebastian Festival from 1995 to the end of its 2000 edition.
Affable, conciliatory, commanding the support of Spain’s critical establishment and key producers from Spain and Latin America who gave the festival significant world premieres, and sensitive to the multiple demands placed on the San Sebastian Festival, with Perez Estremera Galán navigated San Sebastian’s transformation into the most important film event in the Spanish-speaking world, which allowed it to retain a global importance.
At the same time, to slake San Sebastian town’s huge thirst for stars, Galán launched the Premio Donostia career achievement award in 1986, bringing Gregory Peck to San Sebastián, Glen Ford the next year. Its high point in terms of historic Hollywood icons was the visit in 1989 of Betty Davis, who lapped up the adulation of the crowds who flocked to the Maria Cristina Hotel to salute her, and proved as fearsome in person and at a press conference as was her legend. She died two days after leaving San Sebastián in a hospital in Paris.
Coverting San Sebastián’s Velodrome into a big screen cinema for films at the festival, after putting through an orderly transition of power to Mikel Olaciregui for San Sebastian’s 2001 edition, Galán returned to his other love. He directed showcases of Spanish cinema for TVE, such as 1992’s “Queridos cómicos,” wrote copiously about the San Sebastián Festival, such as in the book “Jack Lemmon Nunca Cenó Aquí,” and directed two documentaries linking telling excerpts from Spanish films, 2012’s “Con la data quebrada,” selected for the Cannes Festival, exposing the arrant sexism of much Spanish cinema under Franco, and a 2016 follow-up, “Manda Huevos,” nailing its machismo. The titles capture Galán’s hallmark sense of humor, a prerequisite of any director of the San Sebastian Festival, but especially in its 1980s and early 1990s.