Set in lovely green hills, early this decade, San Sebastian Film Festival proved a green-sho0t event in a Spanish recession. That growth has not checked ever since.
Take the 64th San Sebastian edition, which kicked off yesterday with the European premiere of 150 Milligrams, the Spanish festival, the highest profile in the Spanish-speaking world, will launch a new prize, the first Jaeger-LeCoultre Latin Cinema Award, won by Gael Garcia Bernal. Zabaltegi-Tabakalera, now competitive, bears witness to the evolution of film beyond standard 90-minute formats. Glocal in Progress kicks off with a meet of cineastes making films in non-dominant European languages. Next year, San Sebastian will launch a pix-in-post showcase, Glocal in Progress, of the best of their films.
Welcoming 1,495 industry delegates in 2015 - San Sebastian ranks with Buenos Aires’ Ventana Sur as one of the world’s two biggest Europe-Latin American meet-marts.
The Festival will stage significant industry events: its Europe-Latin American Co-Production Forum; a Films in Progress showcase of Latin American movies, the biggest lure for sales agents.
Today Telefonica’s pay TV arm, Movistar Plus, will present the talent and creative process behind its first six original series; the Navarre government will promote tax breaks, approved late last month by the European Commission.
This year, however, the 64th San Sebastian Festival looks set to hang another medal - as a standout big fest young talent platform.
In 2016, nearly half (47%) of San Sebastian’s 17 competition entries are first features or made by directors under 40, vs. 9.5% of Cannes’ and 15% of the Venice Festival’s. That figure rises to getting on for two-thirds taking in San Sebastian’s three centrepiece sections: Competition, New Directors, Horizontes Latinos, a Latin America showcase.
San Sebastian will screen a huge diversity of movies. One recurrent San Sebastian film theme will be “women in fixes,” says San Sebastian director Jose Luis Rebordinos, citing Nely Reguera’s Maria (And the Others), and In Between, about three Palestine girls seeking love in Tel Aviv. Also frequent, he added, are “thrillers, but with social or political heft, talking about corruption, religion, and so on,” Rebordinos argues.
Two of the big Spanish world premieres this weekend, Smoke & Mirrors and May God Save Us, are obvious cases in point.
But it will be the bold bet on a new generation of filmmakers, and its often devastating slant on the world, which looks set to help define this year’s San Sebastian Festival.
“This year, there are six first features [in competition] which will certainly get people talking,” said Rebordinos.
He added: “Many films are not only made by young people but talk about youth and its problems with social integration.”
Some movies - Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s May God Save Us, a buzzed-up procedural - rage against the system. But the major takeaway from San Sebastian’s huge new generation movie spread, however, is a unsettling one - of a disaffected, disenfranchised or simply disorientated youth which can erupt with sudden violence or frustration.
Of San Sebastian Competition movies, the young are thrown out of school (Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s Sundance winner As You Are), their petanque club (Swede Johannes Nyholm’s fantasy dramedy The Giant) or their home (Fernando Guzzoni’s father-son drama Jesus).
In Lady Macbeth, U.K. playwright William Oldroyd’s movie debut, a young bride reacts with primal violence to her much older husband’s aggression. Polish freshman Bartosz Kowalski’s debut, “Playground,” which world premieres in Competition, recreates an true-event case of teen pathology so appalling that one scene may prove unwatchable for some audience members. In Jesus, Jesus and his teen friends beat up a wasted gay guy in a park, for a laugh.
Part - though only part - explanation for youth violence in the latter two films is a yawning parent-child disconnect.
Watching some other titles - Morgan Simon’s A Taste of Ink or Nely Reguera’s Maria (and the Others) - audiences may well will the father to tell his offspring that he loves them. He never does.
New Directors films, the protagonists have lost one or both parents. In most, too, they are outsiders, whether out of mental incapacity (One Hundred And Fifty Years of Life, from China’s Liu Yu), their sex worker job (“Prowl,”), their boondock lives (the Moldavia-setAnishoara), a dead-end job (body-piercing in A Taste of Ink) or their provenance (In Between). In Park, by Greece’s Sofia Exarchou, teens hang out in Athens’ run-down Olympic Village, abandoned to their fate, like the installations.
Other sections in the Festival - Pearls, Zabaltegi-Tabakalera - display a huge diversity of films. San Sebastian also stands out for its longstanding interest in social-issue cinema. The filmmakers themselves suggest little consciousness of belonging to a new generation with its own hallmarks.
That said, the commonality of the vision of a generational disconnect or disenfranchisement is striking and disturbing.
Some titles at San Sebastian this year do promise some sort of uplift. Three of the highest-profile projects in its Europe-Latin American Co-Production Forum - Argentine Celina Murga’s Irene, Chilean Alejandro Fernandez Almendras’ Una periodista, and Brussels-based Romanian Teodora Ana Mihal’s La Civil - show strong-willed women seeking positive social change. “La Civil”, for instance, depicts a Mexican housewife pushing back against her local drug cartel.
Their battling behaviour does not, however, guarantee them success. The remarkable heroine of Santiago Mitre’s Paulina, which swept Cannes Critics’ Week and San Sebastian’s Horizontes Latinos last year, applied her principles to her life. She ends up (literally) walking her own path alone.