This year the Festival will be celebrating its 69th consecutive edition with the same enthusiasm felt the day it first saw the light on September 21st 1953.
Conceived as an International Film Week for the purpose of screening and marketing films, it was not long before the IFFPA granted it B status (non-competitive), thanks to the success of its first edition. A year later it was called the International Film Festival, and in 1955 the IFFPA recognised the festival as competitive, specialising in colour films. In other words, it could now grant official prizes. This marked the emergence of the "Concha", or shell - at the time only awarded in silver - determined by an international jury.
In 1957 the festival was granted "A" status and the Shell awarded in the main categories turned to gold. The festival symbols became increasingly recognisable, as did the direction the festival was aiming for and still strives for to this day. That is, a tendency towards liberalisation, shying away from the corseted censorship of the past, still alive today. The festival's primordial role is to serve as a showcase for each year's most disquieting and innovative films.
The list of personalities making an appearance at the Festival ever since its early days is endless. Their names have given San Sebasti·n Back its cosmopolitan splendour and have bestowed it with a certain dose of glamour, always connected to fine filmmaking. Federico Fellini, Gloria Swanson, Alfred Hitchcock, Kirk Douglas, Jean-Luc Godard, Deborah Kerr, Leslie Caron, King Vidor, Monica Vitti, Anthony Mann, Bernardo Bertolucci, Anhony Quinn, Audrey Hepburn, Franco Zeffirelli, Francis Ford Coppola, Fritz Lang, Francisco Rabal, Robert Altman, Howard Hawks, Nicholas Ray, Elizabeth Taylor, FranÁois Truffaut, Orson Welles, Fernando Rey, Luis Buñuel, Steven Spielberg, Joseph von Sternberg, Imperio Argentina, Richard Burton, Gina Lollobrigida, Harrison Ford, Nikita Mikhalkov, Pedro Almodóvar, Victoria Abril, Sergio Leone, Roman Polanski, Sam Peckinpah, Jacqueline Bisset, George Peppard, Louise Rainer, Alberto Sordi, Sydney Pollack, Peter O'Toole, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Charlton Heston, Glenn Close, Anjelica Huston, Sophia Loren, Stanley Donen, Mel Gibson, Keanu Reaves, Matt Dillon and Ethan Coen, Antonio Banderas, Bertrand Tavernier.., And they are only a few of the celebrities that have come with their their films and have left an indelible stamp on the Festival's memory.
For the purpose of rendering due recognition to those who have contributed their lives to the motion picture world, in 1986 the Donostia Prize was created. This tribute, named after the city, has so far been placed in the hands of Gregory Peck (1986), Glenn Ford (1987), Vittorio Gassman (1988), Bette Davis (1989), Claudette Colbert (1990), Anthony Perkins (1991), Lauren Bacall (1992), Robert Mitchum (1993), Lana Turner (1994), Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve (1995), Al Pacino (1996), Michael Douglas, Jeremy Irons and Jeanne Moreau (1997), Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovich (1998), Fernando Fernán-Gómez, Vanessa Redgrave and Anjelica Huston (1999), Michael Caine and Robert de Niro (2000), Francisco Rabal, Warren Beatty and Julie Andrews (2001), Jessica Lange, Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper (2002), Isabelle Huppert, Sean Penn and Robert Duvall (2003), Woody Allen, Annette Bening and Jeff Briges (2004), Ben Gazzara and Willem Dafoe (2005), Max Von Sydow and Matt Dillon (2006), Richard Gere and Liv Ullman (2007), Meryl Streep and Antonio Banderas (2008), Ian McKellen (2009), Julia Roberts (2010), Glenn Close (2011), John Travolta, Olvier Stone, Ewan McGregor, Tommy Lee Jones and Dustin Hoffman (2012), Hugh Jackman and Carmen Maura (2013), Denzel Washington and Benicio del Toro (2014), Emily Watson (2015), Ethan Hawke and Sigourney Weaver (2016), and Monica Bellucci, Ricardo Darín and Agnès Varda (2017), Hirokazu Koreeda, Danny Devito and Judi Denche (2018), Penélope Cruz, Costa-Gavras and Donald Sutherland (2019), Viggo Mortensen (2020).
San Sebastian was Roman Polanski’s first festival while still at film school, the first at which Pedro Almodóvar presented a film (Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón / Pepi, Luci, Bom and other Girls Like Mom) and the one that earned their first awards in the careers of filmmakers including Francis Ford Coppola (The Rain People) and Terrence Malick (Badlands). The Festival took a chance with the works of – at that time unknown moviemakers – such as Iván Zulueta, Olivier Assayas, Tsai Ming-liang, Danny Boyle, Walter Salles, Nicolas Winding Refn, Lee Daniels, Bong Joon-ho, Laurent Cantet and Lucile Hadzihalilovic.
In recent years the Festival has strengthened its commitment to industry activities, particularly focussed on Latin American productions and films in non-hegemonic European languages, and to new talents thanks to Nest Film Students, the Ikusmira Berriak residencies and project development programme and the new Elías Querejeta Film School.