San Sebastian Festival Unveils First Competition Titles for Post-Lockdown Edition

Juan Naharro Gimenez
San Sebastian

Two Spanish-language features — Pablo Agüero's 'Akelarre' and 'Courtroom 3H' from Antonio Méndez Esparza — will compete for the fest's Golden Shell.

The San Sebastian International Film Festival on Thursday unveiled two Spanish-language titles that will compete for this year's Golden Shell for best film: Akelarre, by Pablo Agüero, and Courtroom 3H from director Antonio Méndez Esparza. 

Akelarre is a period drama inspired by a real-life witchcraft trial that took place in the Basque Country in the 17th century. Courtroom 3H is a documentary set in a Florida court that specializes in judicial cases involving minors.

San Sebastian also picked two Spanish TV series — Riot Police, a Moviestar+ series created by Rodrigo Sorogoyen, and Patria, an HBO Europe production created by Aitor Gabilondo — that will have their world premieres at the festival in non-competing slots. Riot Police focuses on a police squad accused of murder. Patria, based on Fernando Aramburu's best-selling book, is an epic tale of three decades in the history of the Basque Country told through the lives of two families divided by the violence of the region's separatist movement.

San Sebastian is pushing ahead with plans for its 68th festival, which is set to run Sept. 18-26, despite a worrying recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the country. Citing the surge in COVID-19 infections, the U.K. removed Spain from its list of countries to which it is safe to travel and has
imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on travelers from Spain. The Spanish government criticized the move, saying the increase is limited to a small number of isolated hotspots, including the city of Barcelona. The Basque region, where San Sebastian is located, is not currently considered a coronavirus hotspot.

If infection rates continue to spike or if the Basque Country is hit by a second COVID-19 wave, it could scupper plans for the festival. Travel restrictions already in place, including a ban on U.S. visitors to the European Union, mean San Sebastian will be a more local affair this year.

But the 68th San Sebastian Film Festival is set to open with a high-profile, if controversial, world premiere: Woody Allen's new film Rifkin's Festival starring Gina Gershon, Louis Garrel and Christoph Waltz.