The San Sebastián International Film Festival is one of fourteen ‘Competitive’ status movie festivals as rated by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations, meaning it has a competition aspect but doesn’t specialise in films of a certain language or form. However, it is one of the most important festivals for Spanish language movies (which is the official language in twenty countries).
Initially, however, the festival was intended to focus on Spanish language movies. It was founded in 1953, but other language films became eligible two years later. At that point the festival specialised in colour films. The ‘Competitive’ or ‘A’ rating from the FIAPF was conferred in 1957 (although no major awards were bestowed between 1980 and 1984). The equivalent to the Oscar statuette is the Concha de Plata (or ‘Silver shell’) trophy. In 1986 the Donostia Award was created, an honorific given each year. In 1986 it was given to Gregory Peck, and this year’s award is going to Emily Watson.
The festival is now based around the Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium, a building which looks and sounds like something from the third act of a Marvel film. The number of attendees at the festival is almost the same as the population of San Sebastián itself, and they’re in the highest per-square-foot concentration of Michelin starred restaurants in Spain (let alone the Basque Country).
The festival has attracted A-listers and celebrities in the past with Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Mel Gibson attending, but now it’s having to reinvent itself. It’s trying to appeal to ordinary film fans with curated mini-festivals based on what went down well at the Toronto film festival, but also San Sebastián is in a unique position to bring the films of Latin-America to a European audience.
While the headlines in the UK are about actresses such as Emily Blunt and Sienna Miller (for the showings of Sicarios and High Rise respectively), the platform that the festival is giving Latin American films and the opportunities for co-production are the more significant events on a global scale.