From the CAA conference to deals, buzz movies, five takeaways from San Sebastian

The 70th San Sebastian took its final turn with new deals announced for Spain by A Contracorriente, Bteam and Avalon, joy among industry players at the venue’s first full festival blessed by early autumn sunshine, a sense of even slower international business with sales.

Likewise, Spain’s market and production sector remains abuzz, supported by breakthrough art-house and dynamic drama series output. Five takeaways from this year’s San Sebastian festival, which ends tomorrow, September 24:

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San Sebastian is growing (again)

“There are markets that have improved during COVID-19 and others that have not, and San Sebastián is a festival that has improved thanks to its industrial activities,” says Vicente Canales of Film Factory. This construction has come a long way, with the Films in Progress direction in 2002, the Europe-Latin America Co-Production Forum since 2012, the Ikusmira Berriak Development Residency since 2017, and now a conference for creative investors.

There is a form of cross collateral here. Racing films can blow hot or cold. The 40 titles, often completely unknown, released by these four branches of the industry guarantee something interesting for producers and sales agents, who are also deciding where to premiere their hottest films.

“On an industry level, more and more things are happening here and it’s very interesting for me to be in San Sebastian,” said Filmax’s Ivan Dias, head of international at Filmax, which is selling Cesc Gay’s comedy Stories That Shouldn’t to be” Told”, premiered on Thursday at the San Sebastián festival as an RTVE gala.

Sales Are Slowing Down (Even More)

“There’s been a race to catch up with Netflix among streamers, and now people are recognizing that it’s not necessarily the best business model,” said 30West’s Trevor Groth. “So there’s kind of a pause now. I think there will be a pullback, a return to theatrical distribution and exhibition.” However, this pause, coupled with uncertainty about when older audiences will return to theaters en masse, appears to be hurting the sales business right now. French sales agents, who often use San Sebastian to announce the first sales of hot tickets to Venice and Toronto, seemed particularly confused.

… But there was business

“San Sebastián is a launching pad, not a closing market,” says Antonio Saura of Latido Films, noting that it won’t sell Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s hot As Bestas to the world, a film Le Pacte opened to 316,000 sales in France, about $2 million or more, in box office gross, until the end of November Ventana Sur. So San Sebastian cut, in general, two ways: pick-up messages from sales agents, especially in the run-up to the event; co-production deals as producers link up with production partners to offset the increasingly challenging international market for sales of more artistic packages. The only exception to this delay is Spain. Spurred on by exceptional box offices of event art films — “Alcarrás,” “Lullaby” — key players have made deals in San Sebastian or unveiled bold distribution moves.

The deals:

*Spanish distribution rights to the highly anticipated film Cerrar los ojos by legendary Spanish director Victor Erice (The Spirit of the Beehive) have been acquired by Avalon Distribución Audiovisual, whose credits include “Alcarràs.” The film is slated for release next year. Tandem Films, Pecado Films and Nautilus are producing.

*Energetic Spanish distributor-manufacturer Bteam photos has inked with Film Factory the Spanish rights to Colombia’s Laura Mora’s Kings of the World, a world premiere at the San Sebastian competition and part of Toronto’s Industry Selects section.

*A Contracorriente Films bought Spanish rights to Cuban Pavel Giroud’s Horizontes Latinos starrer The Padilla Affair, co-produced by Spain’s Ventú Productions and Cuba’s Lia Rodríguez and sold by Figa Films.

* International sales rights to Peter Vaclav’s opulent Il Boemo, which had its world premiere in the main competition, have been picked up by the Paris-based Loco movieswho also pounced on “Woman at Sea,” a popular title from new directors in San Sebastian from Paris-based Slot Machine (“Melancholia”).

*Walls Can Talk, the latest film from Spaniard Carlos Saura (“Raise the Crows,” “Deprisa, Deprisa,” “Carmen”) was acquired for intentional sales by Latido movies. Produced by Malvalanda (“Madre”, “The Mole Agent”) and distributed in Spain by Wanda Vision, the film world premiered as RTVE Gala.

* Madrid-based Latido has also picked up the rights to sell documentary Tequila, Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll from Goya Award-winning producer Alvaro Longoria.

*Film Factory Entertainment clicked on Roger Zanui’s documentary “Mibu, the Moon on a Plate” which opened Culinary Zinema’s sidebar. It also acquired worldwide sales rights to “El Otro Hijo,” the debut full-length from Colombian Juan Sebastian Quebrada.

*Independent sales went international with Emad Aleebrahim Dehkordi’s feature debut A Tale of Shemroon, which debuted on New Directors. The film will be released in France through Jour2Fête.

*Danish international sales and aggregation team Level K tackles the revelatory UK immigration drama Great Yarmouth: Temporary Figures from award-winning Portuguese director Marco Martins, a world premiere in main competition.

*Emiliano Torres’ “Rhona”, one of the most prominent of the 14 titles selected at the Europe-Latin America Co-Production Forum in San Sebastian, saw Italy’s Emanuele Criallese (“L’immensità”) teaming up with Argentina’s Nicolas Gil Lavedra to produce.

*Ulises Porra’s “Bajo el Mismo Sol” secured a first co-production deal ahead of the festival, with Argentina’s Pucará Cine onboard the project from top producer Wooden Boat Productions in the Dominican Republic.

*Buenos Aires-based Vega Cine and Gualicho Cine of Córdoba, Argentina partner “Todo el Mundo”, by Agustina San Martín, a leading light of the new generation of women’s cinema in Latin America.

*France’s Cité Films came on board The Fire Doll from Chile’s Niles Atala (“Rey”) and “Left Over,” from San Sebastian Gold Shell-winning Turkish director Yesim Ustaoglu (“Pandora’s Box”).

Buzz movies

A day after Saturday’s awards, the clear leader in the race for local scribes was Fernando Franco’s unusual tale of sexual emancipation The Rite of Spring, followed by Mikel Guerrera’s Suro, an exploration of modern labor relations, and the drama of teenage motherhood in Pilar Palomero’s “La Maternal,” tying up with Hong Sangsoo’s much-loved Toronto premiere four-parter “Walk Up.” International critics favored again La Maternal and Walk Up (see Variety reviews), but also Il Boemo, Great Yarmouth and Daughter of Rage. One thing is certain. San Sebastian’s single acting award will now be extremely difficult to name with the acclaimed performances of numerous female leads, for example in “La Maternal”, “Daughter” and “Yarmouth”.

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