The Spain Event

San Sebastian is playing a crucial role in raising the profile of Latin America's vital new film sector

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain -- Spain has always acted as a gateway to Europe from Latin America, and nowhere is that more evident than at the San Sebastian International Film Festival (set for Sept. 18-26), the world's leading Spanish-language film event. San Sebastian has carved out a niche in the frenzied festival season by touting the unique bridge it forms with the rest of the Spanish-speaking world.

Operating with a €7 million ($10 million) budget, San Sebastian has established itself as a one-stop shop for all things Latin American and Spanish. That makes up for the fact that the fest has often struggled to fill its lineup with world premieres, even though it has carved a reputation for spotlighting upcoming talent in its New Director section.

"It's natural that Spanish-language cinema, including that of Latin America, with all its languages, styles, richness and variety, comes through the doors of San Sebastian," says San Sebastian director Mikel Olaciregui. "That is our main area of influence. For years, we have offered the full panorama of Latin American cinema in the form of the year's harvest of films."

"Most of the buyers that come to San Sebastian are interested in Spanish-language films," adds Massimo Saidel, an International Sales Partner of Latido, which is handling sales for Juan Jose Campanella's Official Selection entry "The Secret in the Eyes," starring Ricardo Darin. "The festival is the natural showcase for Spanish and Latin American films."

The fest's Made in Spain section groups together the past year's crop of productions from Spain, while the Films in Progress sidebar has secured an energetic following from the industry after establishing itself as the place to see unfinished Latin American films still seeking financing.

But increasingly attention is falling on San Sebastian's Horizontes Latinos, which showcases the past year's harvest of films from Latin America and awards a €35,000 ($50,000) prize to the winning film.

Mexico and Argentina, with their reputation for producing international standouts, have led the Latin American filmmaking pack during the past decade, but this year's crop also includes picks from Chile, Uruguay, Peru and Colombia. The Horizontes section is a testament to the exponential growth of filmmaking in South America, where fledgling industries are beginning to find their legs.

"Latin America has a surplus of talent and a deficit of means," observes Alvaro Longoria of Morena Films. "Even so, dozens of great films are produced each year, generally with a very low budget."

"Sin Nombre," which walked away with two Sundance honors, will open Horizontes, which mixes favorites from previous festivals with world premieres. The U.S.-Mexican production, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, chronicles the harrowing experience of two would-be immigrants traveling across Latin America to reach the U.S. border.

Michel Franco's Spain/Mexico co-production "Daniel and Anna," which ran in Cannes' Directors Fortnight, comes to Horizontes as a strong contender, and should shake up audiences with its unsettling true story of kidnappings, incest and pornography. Fortissimo is handling international sales.

"The fact that films have already been in other festivals allows the section to be a true (representation) of the best Latin American product," says "Daniel" producer Longoria.

Olaciregui concurs, adding that while many of the Horizonte's films have debuted elsewhere, they still benefit from the unique and personalized experience that San Sebastian offers.

"Many films that go to some of the bigger festivals before San Sebastian don't receive the industry or media attention they deserve," he says. "They get lost in the big venues. We help find the gems."