San Sebastian Opens with a New Director and Strategy

1:25 AM PST 09/16/2011 by Pamela Rolfe
San Sebastian International Film Festival.

Jose Luis Rebordinos looks to give the event a big dose of fun, with new events, official parties and lots of Spanish flair.

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain -- It's not just the midnight erotic film screenings or the tent in the middle of Oquendo Plaza with families swarming throughout the day, the re-instating of the official opening and closing night parties or the thematic feasts that will play off the newly created Culinary Zinema section. Something will be different this year at the 59th San Sebastian International Film Festival and the event's new director is hoping his strategic changes charge Spain's A-list festival with renewed "alegria"-- or joy.

"Discerning judgment is not anathema to fun," San Sebastian's new festival director Jose Luis Rebordinos told The Hollywood Reporter just ahead of Friday's opening. "We have tried to recapture the joy of the festival and have introduced a wide range of activities."

San Sebastian, which always had a reputation as a warm, enjoyable film event that centered the entire Spanish-speaking film industry in one place, saw its sparkle dulled in the past few years as it was left to mop up the Spanish leftovers from previous festivals in the season.

But this year's lineup shows no lack of top-drawer Spanish product making European or World premiere -- including Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's Intruders, Nacho Vigalondo's Extraterrestrial, Benito Zambrano's The Sleeping Voice and Arturo Ripstein's The Reasons of the Heart.

"San Sebastian must be a strong support for the Spanish film industry," Rebordinos said. "Cannes does it for the French industry. Venice does it for the Italian industry. The world needs to know that San Sebastian is the home of Spanish cinema, as well as the gateway for Latin American films to enter into Europe."

The festival this year boasts no fewer than 15 Spanish titles in the Official and the Zabalteti sections -- in addition to the Latin Horizons and Made in Spain showcases that group this year's entire crop of Spanish-language product.

"It's great that the festival is supporting the Spanish film industry in this way," said Apaches Entertainment's Jesus de la Vega, producer of Fresnadillo's Intruders, which opens the official competition. Apaches also comes to San Sebastian with the world premiere of Eduardo Chapero-Jackson's Verbo.

"Toronto is an important market and it's a shame it's just before San Sebastian," De la Vega said as explanation as why the producers didn't hold Intruders for a world premiere at San Sebastian. "But we're thrilled to be inaugurating San Sebastian's Official Section and delighted organizers considered it important to include."

Even so, Spanish insiders say the change in strategy is not only welcome -- but very noticeable.

"I really think this is going to be the best edition in years," the president of Spain's producers federation FAPAE said. "San Sebastian can maintain its international status and prestige, while giving special consideration to Spanish cinema. There's no incompatibility." 

But Spanish premieres aren't the only signature item San Sebastian is actively courting.

"Not only are we bringing back the parties at night, but we're looking to bolster the interaction with young movie-goers," Rebordinos said, pointing to 50 percent ticket discounts for 18-29 year-olds, special kiddy workshops for 3-12 year-olds and forums for film studies students.

Actress Frances McDormand will head the jury for the official competition, which sees 16 films vie for the Golden Shell top prize. Among those competing: Terence Davies' The Deep Blue SeaKim Ki-duk's Amen, Hirokazu Kore-eda's I WishWang Xiaoshuai's 11 Flowers and Bjorn Runge's Happy End.

San Sebastian runs Sept. 16-24 in Spain's northern Basque region.

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