Some curiosities of the San Sebastian Film Festival

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The San Sebastian Film Festival, also known as Zinemaldia, is one of the most prominent film events in the world. Since its humble beginnings in 1953, it has grown and evolved to become a crucial meeting point for filmmakers, actors, and film lovers. Over the years, it has gained prestige and recognition, hosting premieres of renowned films and awarding the prizes that have contributed to its reputation as one of the most important film festivals in the world.

The origins of the San Sebastian Film Festival lie in the 1st International Film Week, which began on 21 September 1953 with the aim of promoting trade and tourism in the city of Guipúzcoa. The following year, it evolved to become the International Film Festival, and in 1955, it gained recognition from the FIAPF as a competitive event specialising in colour films, which marked the beginning of the official awards ceremony. During this period, the emblematic Silver Shell was introduced as an award, the designation of which was in the hands of an international jury.

This event has witnessed the presence of illustrious film personalities over the years, including Alfred Hitchcock, Bernardo Bertolucci, Audrey Hepburn, Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Costner, among many others.

For a considerable period, a rumour circulated about an alleged “curse” associated with the San Sebastian Film Festival’s Donostia Award, due to the untimely death of several actors shortly after receiving the award. Among the notable artists on this list are Bette Davis, Anthony Perkins and Paco Rabal. In the case of Bette Davis, despite facing a serious illness, the actress gave a memorable performance for her audiences, characterised by her distinctive smoking style, captivating storytelling and unflinching character. After this remarkable appearance, Davis travelled to Paris, where she was admitted to a clinic and died shortly afterwards. Rumour has it that she even expressed a wish to be buried in the fabulous red dress she wore on the night she received the award.

In 1973, the San Sebastian Film Festival was embroiled in significant controversy when the film “The Last Tango in Paris” directed by Bernardo Bertolucci was censored due to its explicit sexual content. This decision sparked heated debate and protests in the city, as some felt the censorship infringed on artistic freedom and cinematic expression. The film, starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, had been acclaimed for its bold and controversial approach to human sexuality, but the controversy surrounding its screening at the festival highlighted the sensitivities and tensions surrounding the subject.

Another famous incident occurred weeks before the 1994 festival, when actor Mickey Rooney published a memoir claiming his paternity of a secret daughter with Lana Turner. Turner’s response was a vow to confront Rooney with a slap in the face during their meeting in Spain. Rooney, seeing this confrontation as an opportunity to promote his newly released book and film, waited in the lobby of the iconic Maria Cristina Hotel for his alleged former lover. In order to avoid an imminent confrontation, the event organisers persuaded Russian television journalists to distract Rooney with an extended interview. This edition of the festival finally passed without major tensions.

Within the San Sebastian Film Festival, there are several sections covering a wide range of films and themes. Over the years, more sections have been added, but these are the main ones that have been maintained throughout the various editions.

Official Section: Comprises high-budget competition films that have not been presented at other festivals, and is the main category of the festival.

New directors: A competitive section for first or second unpublished works by emerging directors.

Pearls: A selection of the best films presented at other international festivals in the same year.

Zabaltegi – Tabakalera: A free and diverse space, where films of different styles, lengths and themes are screened, with the opportunity to interact with the filmmakers.

Latin Horizons: Presents films unreleased in Spain related to Latin culture and produced totally or partially in Latin America. It includes the Films in Progress section.

Made in Spain: Showcases the best films produced in Spain during the year, with some world premieres.

Zinemira: Presents films produced in the Basque Country, in Spanish or Basque, with the aim of supporting local filmmaking.

These are just some of the sections that offer a range of cinematic experiences, from masterpieces in competition to already recognised gems, demonstrating the diversity and richness of the seventh art at this prestigious event.

In short, the San Sebastian Film Festival, with its diverse sections and rich history, stands as one of the most important film events in the world. From its modest beginnings to its current position, it has demonstrated a constant commitment to the promotion of international and Spanish cinema, providing a platform for emerging and established filmmakers.