Tuesday, 27 September 2011

San Sebastian/Donostia Roundup

Sorry for the delayed update but I hit the ground running straight after landing and haven't had a moment free since. Enough excuses. I attended this year's edition of the San Sebastian Film Festival (or Donostia Zinemaldia in Basque) for its 59th edition, as a guest of the CinemaLab programme, which seeks to create better links between European exhibitors and distributors and Latin American films.

It was my first time at this Festival but not my first in San Sebastian, a city not too far from Bilbao, where my father is from and where I attended University many moons ago - essentially I am half Basque.

I was only in town for 3 nights, and had two meetings to attend, so the filmgoing was sparse. But I did get in six films altogether. Four of those were titles from Cinema en Construccion, the movies-in-progress strand of the festival which focuses on Latino films. The quality was high, and I saw real gems. But it's not fair to review unfinished films. The two others were competition features, and both were excellent.

RAMPART, starring Woody Harrelson in an Oscar-worthy performance, is about a corrupt police officer in the infamous Rampart district headquarters of Los Angeles, home to a lot of the evidence-planting, police brutality and other naughty stuff the LAPD was up to. Harrelson, a terrific performer who has been underrated and underused in the past, takes what is a fairly generically-filmed movie and turns it into an epic character study that is complex, funny and terrifying all at once. This will get Awards buzz.

LE SKYLAB is the third feature from actress (and now director) Julie Delpy, best known for BEFORE SUNRISE/SUNSET. A hilarious French family comedy like only the French could produce, it's sprawling, with over 20 speaking parts, all of them performing at top notch level. I saw this in the Teatro Victoria Eugenia, a Belle Epoque palace turned into a cinema for the night, with a 4K projector beaming crisp-clean images onto a giant screen. A fantastic film and an amazing screening experience.

San Sebastian is one of my favorite film festivals (I've been to six this year) because it doesn't have a huge amount of corporate sponsorship, it's situated in an amazing city by the sea, all the venues are within walking distance of each other, and as a class A fest is has access to top notch competition features and juries. Just popping into bars in the Old Town I ran into Catherine Deneuve, Michael Fassbender and Rita Wilson (?!).

This is the end of my Festival tour for the year - it started with the Berlinale in February, and took me to Toulouse in March, Pula/Sarajevo in July, Venice in August and finishing in San Sebastian last week. Now on to focus to my own Festival, the Cinecity Brighton Film Festival, starting 17 Nov!

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