San Sebastian

Spain's top movie fest turns 60 with five big Hollywood honorees -- and the European premieres of hot movies from "Argo" to "Arbitrage."

For its 60th anniversary Sept. 21 to 29, the San Sebastian International Film Festival will honor five Hollywood stars instead of the usual one or two: Oliver Stone, John Travolta, Ewan McGregor, Tommy Lee Jones and Dustin Hoffman each will receive the Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award.

"It links the festival with Hollywood legends who are not only key parts of film history but are coming with current films and have a future in cinema," says festival director Jose Luis Rebordinos.

Spain's only A-level festival long has been the home of the Spanish film industry and a launchpad to Europe for Latin American talent. Now it increasingly is an important part of U.S. films' global marketing strategy.

"It was the perfect fit for the international premiere of Arbitrage," says Parlay's Lisa Wilson, international sales agent and executive producer. "The Spanish distributor, TriPictures, and the selection committee jumped at the opportunity to open the festival with it, which is definitely a great way to raise the profile of the film." Its stars Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon will present at the opening ceremony.

"It's a huge investment to bring the actors, plus junket costs," says TriPictures' Mario Vazquez, "but it's worth it."

Adds Wilson, "In terms of the international marketing strategy, timing was everything, as the opening-night slot is a week after the U.S. theatrical release."

This year's fest boasts international and European debuts from Warner Bros. (Ben Affleck's Argo), Summit (Juan Antonio Bayona's The Impossible) and Lionsgate (Barry Levinson's The Bay).

Regularly scooped on key premieres by the Toronto and Venice festivals, San Sebastian has chiseled out its own niche by catering to Hollywood's need for a comprehensive international release plan. It serves as a gateway to Europe and offers a promotional double whammy after Toronto's Sept. 6 to 16 fest, where Argo, The Impossible and The Bay also played. Selective yet accessible, it gives filmmakers more individualized attention than Venice does.

Pointing to the newly created Europe-Latin America Co-Production Forum, Rebordinos says the festival has received a strong response from three key regions. "We are not a market, but we offer a place for the industry to do business," he says. "That means the largest industry, Hollywood, as well as our natural markets, Latin America and Europe."

Besides making business sense, San Sebastian has a secret weapon: its sheer charm. Says Wilson, "On a personal note, I absolutely love this festival and wanted to support them as much as possible."

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