On-Site San Sebastian Confirms Johnny Depp, Matt Dillon, Primes TV, Bows with Buzz Titles

Braving COVID-19, Spain’s 68th San Sebastián Film Festival bowed on-site on Sept. 18, launching a somewhat slimmed edition that maintains, however, all its main sections. Following, seven more takes on the highest-profile film event in the Spanish-speaking world as it finally kicks off:

Depp, Dillon, Gershon Confirm Attendance

Stars are rallying round this year’s San Sebastian Film Festival. Viggo Mortensen is already confirmed as the recipient of a Donostia Award. On Thursday, the festival announced that Johnny Depp, who takes a producer credit on Julien Temple’s “Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan,” will also be in town, as Matt Dillon, director of  Cuban music doc “The Great Fellove,” and Gina Gershon, star of Woody Allen’s “Rifkin’s Festival.” “The Skin I Live In’s” Elena Anaya, Rifkin’s Festival’s” other female lead, also attends along with a strong Spanish star contingent attached to other titles. San Sebastian’s star quotient is down on other years, but not negligible.

San Sebastian’s TV Cup Runneth Over

TV from Spain is booming, and everyone wants a piece of the action. In such a context, one of San Sebastian’s biggest achievements has been to become a prestige drama series world premiere platform. This year, it frames seven series, no less, including some of the most anticipated Spanish series of the year, two Movistar Plus dramas “Riot Police” and “Tell Me Who I Am” as well as Aitor Gabilondo’s “Patria” and, also from HBO Europe, Luca Guadagnino’s buzzy “We Are Who We Are.” With “Riot Police,” it will be the first TV show to screen in their entirety in Official Selection. Two Basque series –  “The State vs. Pablo Ibar” and “Alardea” – suggest the region’s drive towards premium TV.

The Presence of Women Directors

Female director presence is down on previous years in main competition, with just three of 14 titles helmed by women. Horizontes Latinos, San Sebastian’s Latin America showcase, is dramatically up, however, with seven of its nine entries directed or co-directed by women. 90% of them are first or second-time directors – including notably Argentina’s “One in a Thousand” and “Mum, Mum, Mum,” suggesting a new wave of women cineastes is welling in Latin America, led by female talent, its passion and the sense of urgency of gender issue cinema.

More Buzz Titles 

Of lesser-known titles, buzzy titles coming into San Sebastian included New Directors features “Gull,” a Jeonju Festival Grand Prize winner; Basque mother-daughter relationship drama “Ane”; and three Cannes Selection titles — João Paulo Miranda Maria’s “Memory House,” a chronicle of Brazilian racism; Susan Lindon’s rites-of-passage drama “Spring Blossom”; and Ben Sharrock’s remote Scottish-island set “Limbo.” In WIP Europa, Turkish workplace accident drama “Between Two Dawns” is drawing some heat. For talent spotters, Chinese short “Having a Good Time” and “I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face,” from Egypt’s Sameh Alaa, are being talked up in Zabaltegi-Tabakalera. “The level of short films at this year’s festival is very high indeed,” says San Sebastian Festival director José Luis Rebordinos.

A Newest Basque Wave 

Could the Basque Country follow in Catalonia’s footsteps, and launch another new wave? Certainly, the writing’s on the wall.

Six of the 11 features selected for San Sebastian’s Zinemira Basque showcase are first or second works. Two Basque movies — “Ane” and “Death Knell” — have made San Sebastian’s prestigious New Directors’ cut. Meanwhile, development residency Ikusmira Berriak is feeding into the festival, giving it Russia’s “Chupacabra,” another buzzy New Directors movie, and sparking synergies with the Elías Querejeta Film School, co-overseen by the festival. All of which makes San Sebastian one of the most exciting places in Spain to begin making films.

“Multiple new directors are emerging with projects, and that’s no coincidence,” Rebordinos says. “A lot of things are coming together at the same time.”

Latin America’s Cinema: Still a Window Onto Its Society

San Sebastian is marked apart by its huge swathe of Latin American movies, packing Horizontes Latinos and its Co-Production Forum, and threading through multiple other sections. But what do the titles say about the state of Latin American cinema? The most obvious conclusion: That it still stands as a social conscience of their region: The problems it suffered are too dramatic to be ignored. But cineastes are no longer addressing social catastrophe via straight-arrow social realist art films, or what has been called “poverty porn.” “New Order,” from Mexican jury member Michel Franco, which won at Venice, is a disaster movie turned survival thriller. A Berlin First Feature winner, Colombian Camilo Restrepo’s “Los conductos” weighs in as an ex-cult member’s head trip. In film style, Latin America, more than ever before, is mixing it up.

The Nascent Film Market

San Sebastian had planned a full-blown first ever film market, backed by CAA Media Finance, and a twin event to a Zurich Film Festival Market. Travel bans on U.S. industry players scotched that idea, says Rebordinos. Instead, in collaboration with Zurich, San Sebastian is looking to grow a film market in 2021, either straddling San Sebastian and Zurich or held in the Swiss city with strong Spanish backing, Rebordinos adds.

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