San Sebastian stirs it up again


The 56th San Sebastian International Film Festival, which begins today, features a competition lineup laden with name-brand directors and fresh-faced talent as well as a sprinkle of South American flavor.

Michael Winterbottom ("Genova"), Kim Ki-duk ("Dream"), Daniel Burman ("The Empty Nest") and Hirokazu Kore-eda ("Still Waiting") are among those contending for the festival's Golden Shell.

The world's most important Spanish-language festival, which has a penchant for politically and socially charged films, will feature at least two Spanish titles sure to stir things up. Jaime Rosales' "Tiro en la Cabeza" focuses on terrorism in the restive Basque region, the festival's home turf, while Javier Fesser's third feature, "Camino," deals with faith, Opus Dei and a dying 11-year-old girl.

San Sebastian has long acted as a gateway to Europe from Central and South America, with the Latin Horizons section regularly introducing Latin talent to non-Spanish-speaking film execs and audiences.

But increasingly, it is the Films in Progress section, which awards financing to complete unfinished Latin American films, that has become one of the event's stronger calling cards, with its winners reaping accolades on the international festival circuit.

Meanwhile, San Sebastian's sales office has grown exponentially.

"Every year we see more and more buyers coming and using the sales office," festival director Mikel Olaciregui said.

Antonio Banderas, Javier Bardem, Woody Allen, Rebecca Hall, Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. and Colin Firth are due in town for the fest, which ends Sept. 27. (partialdiff)