Opening with the world premiere of Woody Allen’s “Rifkin’s Festival,” running Sept. 18-26, and maintaining an on-site format and all its main sections, 2020’s 68th San Sebastian Film Festival takes place in extraordinary times. The impact of COVID-19 will play out throughout the festival. Here are five highlights of an extraordinary edition of the biggest movie event in the Spanish-speaking world. A half dozen or more further highlights follow tomorrow.
Cannes Festival head Thierry Fremaux and San Sebastian director José Luis Rebordinos will take the stage at the festival’s inaugural ceremony to pay joint homage to all the festivals that have soldiered on during COVID-19 turmoil.
In June, the Cannes Film Festival canceled its on-site edition but announced an Official Selection. Eight of those, dubbed Cannes label, screen at San Sebastian.
“Thierry presents the screening of a classic film at San Sebastian and comes every year to San Sebastian’s Elias Querejeta Film School to talk about Cannes and film festivals, and we partner on a section at Cannes’ Ventana Sur,” says Rebordinos, who also works with the Producers Network of the Cannes Market. “Cannes and San Sebastian already have a very good relationship, and this year even more.”
Will the Cannes Label Experiment Work?
Along with Toronto, San Sebastian will suggest whether the daring Cannes label experiment really works. If the titles had world premiered at Cannes, San Sebastian would not be able to include them in its main competitions (Official Selection and New Directors), Rebordinos says. As it is, Official Selection titles give San Sebastian its two highest-profile contenders — François Ozon’s “Summer of 85” and Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round” — and one of the fest’s biggest buzz titles, Georgian Dea Kulumbegashvili’s “Beginning.” “The Cannes label was at the center of our strategy for Naomi Kawase and François Ozon,” says Playtime’s François Yon. “Thus our presence in festivals such as Toronto and San Sebastian, which made room for our selected films.” Whether the label can help a film sell is another matter. In a tough art film market, titles have to stand on their own merit, says a sales agent. Other titles – Fernando Trueba’s “Forgotten We’ll Be,” which closes the Festival – look most certainly to have benefited.
Stars at a Premium
Viggo Mortensen will receive this year’s Donostia Award and present his directorial debut, “Falling.” At least one Hollywood icon was being talked up at the beginning of San Sebastian as making the festival. Beyond that, U.S. star presence, looks like one big San Sebastian COVID-19 downside.
San Sebastian: 2020’s Toronto?
Given international travel bans, Toronto will have had little on-site industry presence. Some Latin America cineasts – a score or more, far more than originally expected – will make San Sebastian. Meanwhile a go-ahead rump of European sales agents and producers, especially from France, were considering taking meetings usually held at Toronto at San Sebastian instead. So San Sebastian shaping up as the most European of editions in decades. Many industry executives would certainly love to roll into the festival if they can. “San Sebastian has no equivalent in terms of guest hosting and audience enthusiasm,” Yon says.
A Vibrant Co-Production Forum
Since the turn of the century, Latin America’s film production has boomed on the back of increasing state support. No more. Inflation and currency exchange, exacerbated by COVID-19, has ravaged Argentina’s film industry, making overseas finance a must. That money can no longer come from Brazil, decimated by Bolsonaro’s war on its film industry. So San Sebastian’s Europe-Latin America Co-Production Forum looks like one of its strongest to date, packed out by new projects from Latin America’s rising stars — Benjamin Naishtat, Celina Murga, Marcelo Martinessi, Lucia Garibaldi — and intriguing almost- unknowns. Much of San Sebastian’s 2020 business — co-production, sales pickups — will be done on these productions.
Elsa Keslassy contributed to this report.