San Sebastian Festival Unveils Spanish Lineup, With ‘Akelarre,’ ‘Courtroom 3H,’ ‘Patria’

Riot Police

In a sign of the times, Spain’s San Sebastian Festival, the biggest movie event in the Spanish-speaking world, announced Thursday two of its biggest Spanish premieres, both of which are TV series: Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s “Riot Police,” a Movistar Plus original, and Aitor Gabilondo’s “Patria,” a banner title at HBO Europe.

They will be joined in San Sebastian’s official selection by two in-competition movies from directors who underscore other trends now coursing through Spain’s content industries: Pablo Agüero’s “Akelarre” and Antonio Méndez Esparza’s “Courtroom 3H.”

As scripted drama looks to reach far larger audiences, the cream of Spain’s directorial talent has moved into the longer format, few with more lauded results than Sorogoyen, whose “Riot Police” is being talked up by the few who have seen its first episodes as one of the crowning achievements to date of Movistar Plus.

The first full TV series created by filmmaker Sorogoyen (“The Realm,” “Mother”), following a female Internal Affairs officer who investigates an eviction by six riot police that goes tragically awry, “Riot Police” will be the first drama series to play in its entirety in San Sebastian’s official selection. “It’s a series about violence, but also corruption, though its most important facet is its characters,” Sorogoyen told Variety earlier this week.

Originally selected to world premiere at Series Mania, “Patria,” shown at San Sebastian as a special screening, sees Gabilondo, a writer who has seen enormous success in free-to-air drama series such as “El Principe,” now cutting loose in premium scripted. Applauded by Madrid journalists who caught its first two episodes just before lockdown, it turns on 60-something Bittori, who returns to her native village in the verdant Basque Country Gipuzkoa to seek reconciliation with her best friend, Miren. This happens years after Miren’s son, José Mari, an ETA member, assassinated Bittori’s husband, or so Bittori suspects.

The Spanish movie presence at the festival remains, however, a large one.

“The San Sebastian Festival is the most important in Spain,” San Sebastian Festival director José Lúis Rebordinos said, introducing an online presentation of the titles announced.

He added: “It’s essential for a festival like ours to be one where the Spanish film industry feels at home, promoting its films, exchanging experiences and doing business.”

Argentine-born Agüero returns to San Sebastian competition after 2015’s “Eva Doesn’t Sleep” with “Akelarre,” produced by Sorgin Films, a joint tax break vehicle launched in 2016 by Koldo Zuazua’s San Sebastián-based Kowalski Films and Iker Ganuza co-headed Lamia Producciones, based out of Zarauz, two of the Basque Country’s strongest production houses.

A revisionist thriller set against the background of 1609-14 Inquisition trials of suspected witchcraft north and south of the France-Spain border, the feature is sold by Film Factory Entertainment, a sales agent on “Wild Tales” and “The Clan.”

Spanish, but based out of Florida, in another mark of the globalization of talent in the Spanish-language world, Antonio Méndez Esparza’s “Courtroom 3H” marks his follow-up to San Sebastian competition entry “Life & Nothing More,” selected by Variety chief critic Peter Debruge as one of the top 10 films of 2017.

Produced by Madrid’s Aquí y Allí Films and sold by Feel Sales, “Courtoom 3H” reveals what the sales company calls “intimate truths about the United States,” more specifically its juvenile delinquency and economic equality, recording proceedings at The Tallahasee Unified Family Court, specialized in judicial cases involving minors in Florida.

San Sebastian’s main sidebar, and one of Europe’s key new talent showcases whose films often go on to major festival play, New Directors will feature three new Spanish movies.

Sweeping Malaga’s 2020 Works in Progress, where it was picked up by Latido Films, David Pérez Sañudo’s “Ane” revolves around the generational abyss separating a young mother and her teen daughter in the Basque Country. Developed at the Madrid Film School’s Incubator, it is produced by Amania Films.

Another first feature, from German-born Isabel Lambert, straddling documentary and fiction — with non-actors, a non-fiction aesthetic and fictionalized storylines — “Last Days of Spring” records the emotional wrench suffered by the Gabarre Mendoza family at their imminent eviction from shanty town Cañada Real just outside Madrid, where they have lived happily enough the last 18 years. Amsterdam-based IJswater Films produces with Spain’s up and coming Tourmalet Films.

Also in New Directors, Imanol Rayo’s second feature “Death Knell” weighs in as a noirish tale of hatred between members of a rural family, adapting hit novel “33 Ezkil.”

Of other Spanish productions at San Sebastian, Juan Cavestany, director of cult movie “People and Places” and cult Movistar Plus series “Spanish Shame,” will present time loop fantasy “An Optical Illusion.”

Warner Bros. and the festival will stage a charity screening of sweeping period romance “El verano que vivimos,” produced by Atresmedia Cine, Bambu Producciones and La Claqueta and part of a determined, counter-intuitive drive by top TV production house Bambu into feature film production.

San Sebastian opens on Sept. 18 with the world premiere of Woody Allen’s “Rifkin’s Festival,” playing out of competition, and produced out of Spain by The Mediapro Studio.

The 2020 San Seabstian Festival runs Sept. 18-26. Its festival sections will screen in cinema theaters, and its industry strands are to take place largely online.

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Patria Credit: HBO EUROPE




“Akelarre,” (Pablo Agüero, Spain, France Argentina)

“Courtroom 3H” (Antonio Méndez Esparza, Spain, U.S.)


“Riot Police,” (Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Spain)

“Rifkin’s Festival,” (Woody Allen, Spain, U.S., Italy)


“Patria,” (Aitor Garmendia, Spain)


“Ane,” (David Pérez Sañudo, Spain)

“Death Knell,” (Imanol Rayo, Spain)

“Last Days of Spring,” (Isabel Lamberti, Netherlands, Spain)


“An Optical Illusion,” (Juan Cavestany, Spain)


“The Mole Agent,” (Maite Alberdi, Chile, U.S., Germany, Netherlands, Spain)


“El verano que vivimos,” (Carlos Sedes, Spain)