Helmers a hit as San Seb bows

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Directors David Cronenberg, Paul Auster and Cristian Mungiu took center stage as the 55th annual San Sebastian International Film Festival got under way Thursday.

Cronenberg presented his Russian gangster film "Eastern Promises," hot off the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival. He was accompanied by the film's star, Viggo Mortensen, who is one of Spain's favorite actors.

Auster, whose "The Inner Life of Martin Frost" will run out of competition in the official section, chairs the main competition jury.

Mungiu was on hand to receive the FIPRESCI Grand Prize for best film of 2007 for his "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," which depicts the last days of communism in a small Romanian town through the eyes of a young couple.

"I think we should make films for audiences, but it is the critics that allow us to get to the audience," Mungiu said as he thanked FIPRESCI, the press group, for the honor.

Winner of the Palme d'Or at the Festival de Cannes, Mungiu's film will open the Zabaltegi-Pearls section at San Sebastian, which showcases the year's top films from previous festivals.

Also present Thursday was French director Philippe Garrel, who the festival is honoring with a retrospective of his work.

The ceremony, held in the futuristic Kursaal convention center, was presided over by Spanish journalist Edurne Ormazabal and actress Cayetana Guillen Cuervo. Spanish actors Lola Duenas, Ana Alvarez and Asuncion Balaguer and Argentinean director Ana Katz were among those participating in the ceremony, which was conducted in Spanish, English and the ancient Basque language as is customary at the festival, presented in the now autonomous Basque region that straddles Spain and France.

A taped version of the ceremony was broadcast with a one-hour delay on pubcaster Television Espanola's second channel.

San Sebastian is buzzing with excitement for what promises to be a strong lineup of films and stars. Richard Gere and Liv Ullmann, due in town later in the festival, are to be honored with Donostia lifetime achievement awards.

The festival, set in the renowned seaside town from which it takes its name, runs through Sept. 29.
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