San Sebastian Set to Play Euro-Latino Matchmaker as 2019 Fest Kicks Off

Workforce - TIFF - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of TIFF

Spain's top film fest is playing up its unique position as a link between the European and Latin American markets.

The San Sebastian Film Festival, which kicks off today in the idylic seaside town in Northern Spain, is not the spot to launch your big-budget Oscar hopeful.

Coming after Venice, after Telluride and after Toronto, San Seb knows it can't compete for awards buzz with the earlier fall fests. So it doesn't try. Instead, Spain's top A-list event, which runs through Sept. 28 this year, plays to its strengths.

Chief among them are its Latin connections. For decades —San Sebastian celebrates its 67th anniversary this year—the festival has been the go-to spot in Europe for discovering talent from Central and South America and for linking up new world talents with European partners (and money). Festival sections including Latin Horizons and Made in Spain, as well as industry sidebars including Films in Progress and the Europe-Latin America Co-Production Forum are hot tickets for industry execs looking to bridge the European-Latino divide.

“If something distinguishes us, it is our relationship with Latin America and all the films made in Castilian for a (worldwide Spanish-speaking) market with more than 550 million people — and our strong commitment to new talent and new projects," festival director Jose Luis Rebordinos tells The Hollywood Reporter.

San Sebastian has fortified its position as a talent scout by including first- and second-time directors among the films vying for the top Golden Shell award, such as Mexican filmmaker David Zonana, whose feature debut Workforce, a drama centered on a group of construction workers building a luxury house in Mexico City, has secured a prime competition slot, as has A Thief's Daughter, the feature debut from Spanish filmmaker Belén Funes. San Sebastian's New Directors sidebar is also active in promoting up-and-comers, particularly from underrepresented groups. More than half of the films in this year's lineup are from female directors, all vying for the section's top prize, which comes with a cash bursary of $55,718 (50,000 euros).

San Sebastian also hosts a growing portfolio of development-oriented and new talent-focused industry events like the Europe-Latin American Co-Production Forum, Films in Progress and Glocal in Progress, NEST Film Students and, with an increased focus on new technologies, Zinemaldia & Technology, among others.

This year's Co-Production Forum includes a special focus on Eastern European film, with 10 Polish producers traveling to San Sebastian looking to expand their network and develop their upcoming projects. San Sebastian in good at keeping up with its alumni, with  many of the films that start as projects in these events going on to screen at the festival, especially in the Latin Horizons section.

But San Seb isn't just about the newcomers. The Spanish fest has plenty of A-list talent attending. Three of San Sebastian's Donostia Prize winners for lifetime achievement — Costa-Gavras, Donald Sutherland and Penelope Cruz — are fresh off premiering their newest films in Venice: Adults in the Room, The Burnt Orange Heresy, which was picked up in Toronto by Sony Pictures Classics for North America and several international territories, and Wasp Network, respectively. San Sebastian's opening night film is  Roger Michell's Blackbird, starring Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Mia Wasikowska and Sam Neill and its closer, The Song of Names, features Tim Roth and Clive Owen. But those films, as well as the festival's top Spanish premiere, Alejandro Amenabar's While at War, all screened in Toronto before their bow here.

Rebordinos argues that San Sebastian offers an invaluable position in the festival season as an important follow-up platform to actually do business and read the reaction of audiences before films start their commercial life.

“We fall at a time of the year when there are many festivals, so trying to only have world premieres would lower the bar on the kinds of films we could have,” says Rebordinos. “The rules allow us to have films after Toronto so with Toronto there is no competition — it’s actually more a collaboration — because for us it’s perfect that a film premiere at Toronto and then come to San Sebastian.”

Other celebrities expected in the Spanish seaside town this week include Kristen Stewart, Darren Aronofsky, Catherine McCormack,and Javier Bardem. The festival's place as a nexus for Latin America and Europe is also seen in other expected talent from the regions, many of whom are regulars at San Sebastian, like Juliette Binoche, Eva Green, Gael Garcia Bernal, Michel Houellebecq, Ricardo Darin , Nina Hoss, Valeria Golino, Laetitia Casta, Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano and a host of local talents.