If ever there is a time to be in San Sebastián, surely it is during film festival week. For me, there´s more of a buzz in the city than at any other time of the year. The Big Week makes the city busy and difficult to get around without anything really to get excited about (beyond maybe the awesome nightly firework displays). Even the jazz festival or quincena musical doesn’t produce that change in the city that comes with the Film Festival. Everyone seems to be concentrated around the Kursaal, Maria Cristina and cinemas in the Old Part with their freebie film festival paper in their hand or planning their next session with the fold out timetable. Or, of course, downing a few pintxos between films.
And even though it´s still a few weeks away, their email bulletins are starting to come thick and fast (today I got two in the space of 22 minutes) and I can feel that anticipation, that small surge of excitement that always comes when the attention of the national and international press and media is focused on Donostia. In small drips information is leaked as to what films will be presented and more excitingly, who will be here. This year Glenn Close will join the long list of movie stars to visit the city to receive the Premio Donostia, given cause its good for the festival to get some really famous names to visit the festival err, I mean “in recognition for their work and career”. Now I´m no autograph hunter or
avid reader of the gossip press but I do find it fun when you have the likes of Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro or Sean Penn in town. In 2007 I even bought tickets for a Richard Gere film cause I thought he might turn up to the screening. I actually paid my hard earned cash to buy tickets to see a Richard Gere film. But it was worth it cause he did turn up, and although I forget what film it was, I do remember it was almost watchable. Almost…
The first year I was living in Donostia for the festival I remember trying to buy tickets on the day and being amazed that there was practically nothing available. As with everything here, you have to get in quick. I learned my lesson. The following year I put together a detailed schedule of films and my ticket purchasing planned and executed like a military operation. No detail was left to chance. Films and sessions were chosen by likelihood of appearance by its protagonists. They were listed and prioritized for purchase by likely demand for tickets. I was online 30 mins before tickets went on sale, credit card ready, search terms introduced and door closed to avoid distractions. I´ve seen the queue outside the Kursaal for tickets reach across the bridge by the time they open. If living in donosti teaches you anything, it´s how to buy tickets online quickly!
The festival comprises various sections, with those in the Official Section competing for the coveted Golden Shell for best film. The winner is almost always controversial, its announcement greeted with various levels of puzzlement, annoyance or outrage. But usually the decision seems to be endorsed by subsequent critical reviews. “Turtles Can Fly” in 2004 sticks in my mind as a classic example – http://www.metacritic.com/movie/turtles-can-fly.
As the most important film festival in Spain and one of the most important film festivals for Spanish-language cinema, there are two sections dedicated this year to films in Spanish – Horizontes Latinos and Made in Spain. There is also a section designed to promote basque cinema – I managed to catch a couple of the few films ever made in Basque at the festival in 2005 – “Aupa Etxebeste” and “Kutzidazu bidea Ixabel”.
But my section of choice is Zabaltegi, whichs screens work which has been successful at other festivals or by new directors. Zabaltegi, which I´ve been told means “Open Space” is a point where the audience gets a chance to interact with the filmmakers, usually with Q&As at the end or presentations prior to the projection. Sometimes this just involves the entire cast and crew shuffling to the front and looking a bit awkward. But often you get someone desperate to talk and answer questions about their work. I remember Oliver Stone causing huge problems for the translators when presenting “Comandante”. With every question he would stroll up and down the stage, talking at 100mph leaving no breaks for the poor translator to jump in. When they finally managed to shut him up, the translator had the unenviable task of summarizing the last 3 minutes talk. I also remember the slightly uncomfortable sensation of having Willem Dafoe and his wife sat behind me in the cinema while they shagged away on screen in front of me during “Before it had a Name”. Or commenting to a friend on what a dog of a movie Shadowboxer was (and is), only to realize that Cuba Gooding Junior and director Lee Daniels were a couple of feet away, waiting to come and present it, and listening to everything I was saying.
This year there´s a new section “Culinary Zinema: Film and Gastronomy”, which adds to the city´s obsession with all things foodie. In conjunction with the Berlin Film Festival, which has been running a similar section, there will be 7 features and 1 short, each of which will be accompanied by a thematic meal. One hopes and assumes after the projection.
So my planning will start soon. I won’t reach my record breaking 16 films of 2007 – the cost in babysitters would bankrupt me. It may be that I´ll try and grab some things in the 400m2screen in the Velodrome to get the kids involved. News that Terence Malick won’t be turing up to receive the award from the Tree of Life means means maybe I´ll leave that one for the normal cinema circuit. Already some films look interesting. Kim-ku Duk shouldturn up to present “Amen” in the Official Section. I´d bet on Clive Owen also turning up to present the film that will open the festival “Intruders”. Who else? Martin Scorcese? Julie Delpy? Terence Davies? Salma Hayek? Just need to wait and see…
But the San Sebastian Film Festival isn’t really about the stars, who all bugger off to Arzak after doing their five minute presentation anyway. It´s about innovative, provocative and exciting films. It´s about the city turning itself over to its other passion for a week: cinema. The reason the festival continues to be relevant, and the most important film festival in Spain, is due to the fact that it continues to evolve and take risks. Let´s hope 2011 continues this trend.
San Sebastián Film Festival, 16-24 September 2011, http://www.sansebastianfestival.com