San Sebastián Celebrates 67th Film Festival

by Paz Mata September 20, 2019
Atmosphere at the San Sebastian festival

nur photo/getty images

For nine days, every September, San Sebastián becomes the Film Capital of Spain. This year the Donostia-Zinemaldia (its name in the local Basque language) reaches its 67th edition with many surprises and an endless number of familiar faces.

15 Spanish films and 88 international ones can be seen in the most important sections of the festival, which opened with the screening of Blackbird, a film that leads the Official Competition Section. Directed by Roger Michell, this US-UK co-production, starring Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Mia Wasikowska, and Sam Neill is a remake of Bille August’s Stille Hjerte ( Silent Heart, 2014), a film that competed in the 62nd edition and won the Silver Shell Award for her lead actress, Paprika Steen. During the opening gala the FIPRESCI prize, awarded by the International Federation of Film Critics, was given to Roma, by Alfonso Cuarón. The Fipresci is the most recent award given to Roma, which since its premiere at the Venice Festival last year has been collecting awards all over the world (including Golden Globes for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director).

The official Jury, chaired by Neil Jordan, will deliberate over 16 films that will compete for the top prize, the Golden Shell. Among them, Rock by Sarah Gavron, Paris, by Alice Winocour, the Kazasjitani French co-production, A Dark-Dark Man by Adilkhan Yerzhanov; the German-French Das Vorspiel, directed by Ina Weisse; the Brazilian Pacificado, by Paxton Winters, Patrick, the German-Portuguese coproduction, by Gonçalo Wadding, the directorial debut of Mexican producer, David Zonana, Mano de Obra (Labor) and Zeroville, directed by James Franco. The Spanish participation in the contest will feature the Spanish-Argentinean Mientras dura la guerra (While the War Lasts) by Alejandro Amenabar, La hija de un ladrón, (The Daughter of a Thief), by Belén Funes, and La Trinchera Infinita (The Infinite Trench) , co-directed by Aitor Arregui, Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goneaga . Out of competition, Daniel Sánchez Arévalo will screen his last film, Diecisiete (Seventeen), the first Netflix project to enter the FISS competition. While the film The Song of Names, by Canadian filmmaker, François Girard, a drama with a historical and musical background, starring Tim Roth and Clive Owen will close the festival.

The Perlak section this year features some of the productions that have been acclaimed at other festivals, such as Cannes and Berlin, films that are eligible for the City of Donostia Award (Audience Award). Among them are Parasite, from South Korean Bong Joon Ho, winner of the Golden Palm at the last Cannes Film festival. The film is a social examination of the unpredictable encounter of two families: one rich and one poor. Les Misérables, a first feature film by Ladj Ly which won the Cannes Jury Prize ex-aequo with Bacurau. The film uses the title of the immortal classic literary Victor Hugo to tell a contemporary story about the turbulent life in the suburbs of Paris. Another film with a marked social character is Ken Loach's Sorry We Missed You, a  portrait of a family facing the pitfalls of job insecurity. The French directorial duo of Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano will present Hors Normes / The Specials (Specials), the story of two friends, played by Vincent Cassel and Reda Kateb, who founded an organization for children with autism. The Paris-born Galician filmmaker Oliver Laxe will present O que arde / Lo que arde (Fire Will Come) whose protagonist, after serving time in prison for arson, goes back to his village to live with his mother, his dog, and his three cows. The film won the Jury Prize at the Un Certain Regard section of the last Cannes Film festival. Also present in the Perlak section is Amazing Grace, the Aretha Franklin show that excited the public at the last Berlinale. Filmed by director Sydney Pollack, during a gospel concert at a Baptist Church in Watts (Los Angeles), the footage was stored in a vault for four decades and now this cinematic treasure of 20th-century music has been recovered.

The Donostia Prize, which recognizes the contributions of a great artist who will be part of cinema history forever, is awarded to three outstanding actors. Penélope Cruz, Spain’s most recognizable actress and the star of both t of the official festival poster and director Olivier Assaya's film Wasp Network, will be the award's first recipient.

The Greek-French filmmaker Constantin-Costa Gavras is another recipient of the Donostia award. His last feature, Adults in the Room, an adaptation of Yanis Varoufakis' memories, will be screened. Costa Gavras, recipient of the Golden Shell award seven years ago with Le Capital, is one of the greatest exponents of the political and social cinema of the last half-century, with about 20 titles.  Among them, Z and Missing, works that have served to touch a raw nerve when talking about dictatorships, political purges, racism or disasters caused by the financial world.

The Donostia award will also recognize the half-century career of the successful Canadian actor Donald Sutherland. Sutherland, who has participated in about 200 productions, will collect the award on before the screening of his latest film, The Burnt Orange Heresy: A Masterpiece, a thriller directed by Giuseppe Capotondi, which closed the last edition of the Venice International Film Festival.

In a city that counts with 18 Michelin stars among its restaurants, it would be impossible to ignore gastronomy. That is why the Culinary Zinema has become one of the most popular sections of the Festival. Created in collaboration with the Berlin International Film Festival and jointly organized with the Basque Culinary Center, this section aims to unite cinema, gastronomy, and activities related to food in education, science and agricultural.

The Culinary Zinema section offers a non-competitive selection of gastronomy-related films accompanied by themed dinners. The section, that counts with 13 films from all over the world, opens this year with the Argentinian, The Legend of Don Julio: Meats and Bones, the epic of an everyday life local hero, who turns a simple backyard grill into the world’s best steakhouse, while A Taste of Sky shows an ambitious culinary project in the Bolivian capital, La Paz, connecting three people from different backgrounds and changing their lives forever.