Gere takes lead at San Seb

Lifetime nod bestowed at festival

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain -- Richard Gere received the Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award on Sunday at the 55th San Sebastian International Film Festival and set off a frenzy in the streets as crowds chased his car.

Earlier in the day, Gere held forth at a news conference on subjects ranging from Latin America's dirty wars to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing to his first experience of cinema.

"I remember myself as a child, sitting in the theaters and eating popcorn. I remember the actors I looked up to," Gere said to fans inside a packed auditorium as he sipped green tea. "Now, after 40 years into my career, to be considered in the same stratosphere is humbling."

Gere charmed a pack of international journalists, spontaneously hugging a television reporter after she stumbled nervously with her question.

Then he waxed political about his recently released film "The Hoax," about a fabricated autobiography of Howard Hughes, screening in the Zabaltegi section. Gere linked the small lies "that people don't take responsibility for" to the "big lies" that lead to history-altering moments, like the decision to invade Iraq.

The Donostia honoree also mused on the transition in Hollywood during the course of his 40-year career, citing "Hoax" and his upcoming "The Hunting Party" as examples of "intelligent, middle-budget films" no longer being produced within the studio system.

"It's the independents putting the money together (for these kinds of films)," Gere said. "It's a very different market."

Returning to a favorite theme of the conference, Gere also appealed to Chinese authorities to rise to the occasion of next year's Olympics by becoming an open society.

"Boycott is not the answer. Isolation is not the answer. This is China's moment for radical change. You don't achieve greatness through human rights abuses. You achieve it through openness," said the actor, who often has backed the cause of Tibet.

Earlier in the weekend, veteran Spanish director Carlos Saura received a surprise honorary Golden Shell Award in the newly restored Teatro Victoria Eugenia. Saura, whose music-driven "Fados" screens in the Zabaltegi section, is the second director to receive the honor, the first being Luis Bunuel in 1981.

One of the highlights so far in San Sebastian has been the world premier of "Earth," the natural history documentary by BBC Worldwide and Germany's Greenlight Media. Thunderous applause followed Saturday's screening to a packed-house at the Kursaal Theater.

Produced by the same team that delivered multi-Emmy winner "Planet Earth," the feature-length documentary used cutting-edge cinematography and satellite-imaging technology to tell three perilous tales of animal migration.

"While the TV series focused on the world's habitats and was very informative, in the film we wanted to focus on the emotion," said co-producer Sophokles Tasioulis of Greenlight. "So we concentrated on the three migrations of a mother polar bear and her two cubs, an African elephant and her calf and a mother and baby humpback whale."

"Earth" already has sold to most territories worldwide, with Lionsgate releasing the documentary stateside.

Festivalgoers were geared up for today's gala screening of Paolo Barzman's "Emotional Arithmetic," which recently closed the Toronto International Film Festival.

San Sebastian runs until Sept. 29 in the seaside town in Spain's northern Basque region.