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Dustin Hoffman Delights in San Sebastian

Dustin Hoffman and Billy Connolly at San Sebastian Quartet
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Dustin Hoffman with actor Billy Connolly at the San Sebastian photocall for "Quartet."

The actor-cum-director will receive the Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award at the screening of his latest work, "Quartet," at the closing ceremony Saturday.

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain – Dustin Hoffman wowed San Sebastian with one of the most generous press conferences in recent memory, sharing his fears of directing, how he chooses scripts, the unique warmth of San Sebastian and the experience of aging in Hollywood.

Hoffman, who will receive the Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award at the festival’s closing ceremony Saturday, is screening his directorial debut, Quartet, in the Official section out of competition.

“It was the best experience I’ve ever had,” Hoffman said about directing the film about aging musicians in a retirement home.

When asked why it took him so long to direct a movie, Hoffman said, he’d tried in the past but always backed out.

“Sometimes you’re ready, but your demons stop you. And then afterwards you ask why did it take so long. I’ve overcome one demon. I have a few others that are still getting the best of me.”

The  75-year-old actor alternated between grandfatherly--attuned to the baby coughs of casting director Lucy Bevan’s newborn—and sentimental—sharing an emotional reaction to the nurturing hug scene in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona.

“You find yourself responsive and you don’t know why. It’s a response to a truth. We have an internal truth barometer. It touches something that says that this is what the game of life is about,” Hoffman said, going on to say that was his reaction as he got teary-eyed reading the script for Quartet.

A very hip looking Billy Connolly, who stars as one of the four main opera singers, accompanied Hoffman on stage and said the film is about “don’t die until you’re dead.”

Connolly infused the press conference with a hefty dose of humor and philosophy about aging, saying he was qualified to do so because, “I’m older than sound. I’m older than light. I’m older than some colors, but younger than yellow.”

Hoffman spoke about the difficulties of finding interesting parts at this stage of life.

“Leading characters are in their 20s and 30s usually. The characters I’m offered are two dimensional simply because there isn’t enough screen time to be three-dimensional.”

Connolly applauded Hoffman’s directing.

“I like to be directed by actors because they know what it’s like to be dangling out there when a scene doesn’t work. A scriptwriter director will trust his punctuation more than how the actor feels in the scene.”

Both agreed that the film was about people and feeling useful and living your talents.

“That’s why it’s great the film is here in San Sebastian,” Hoffman said to a captive and fully-charmed group of journalists. “San Sebastian is about the people. It’s not like other festivals, like Cannes, where the emphasis is just on selling the movie. It’s about how people react and connect to the movies.”

San Sebastian wraps Saturday night.