The San Sebastian Film Festival (Zinemaldia in Basque) was founded in 1952 and was woriginally open only to Spanish-language films. However, in 1955 films shot in other languages became eligible for consideration. Zinemaldia is categorized with an A since 1957 by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF), alongside 14 other world festivals accredited in the same category. This is an annual event held in September and located in San Sebastian, Basque Country (Spain).
Zinemaldia has hosted several very important cinema events, such as the international premiere of Vertigo (1958) by Alfred Hitchcock and the European premier of Star Wars (1977). Since the first edition in 1953 actors and actresses like Charlton Heston, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor or Robert de Niro have attended the festival.
There are ten main sections: Official Selection, New Directors, Horizontes Latinos, Pearls, Zabaltegi-Tabakalera, Made in Spain, Zinemira (a showcase of Basque productions), Retrospective, Savage Cinema and Culinary Cinema. Films in the Official Selection are evaluated by an international jury and awarded six prizes: Golden Shell for Best Film (for the producer), Silver Shell for Best Director, Silver Shell for Best Actress, Silver Shell for Best Actor, Jury Prize for Best Cinematography, Jury Prize for Best Screenplay. Also, the festival established the Donostia Award in 1986 to recognize outstanding contributions to the film world of great names who will be part of cinema history forever.
Image 1. Film Festival's logo Source: Sansebastianfilmfestival.com
Comparing to other international film festivals, San Sebastian has the lowest budget at around 7 million Euros (4 million Euros in subsidies from the Spanish Ministry of Culture). Consequently, the pressure coming from other festivals with higher budgets and bigger capacity to attract important industry agents is the main weakness of the San Sebastian Film Festival. As the Basque filmmaker Jose Mari Goenaga said, “After the festival our film Loreak – Flowers (2014) has not sold very well internationally; of course it has been made a step further than with other films, but we expected something more in this respect”. Nevertheless, the contribution of the festival to the better visibility of Basque-language cinema has been crucial.
Loreak is the first Basque-language film competing in the San Sebastian International Film Festival. It has been nominated (out of 15 candidacies) for the Best Film Prize in the prestigious Spanish Goya Awards (known as the Spanish Oscars) and selected by the Spanish Film Academy as its submission for the Academy Awards in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. In addition, it is the first time ever for a Basque-language film to cross the Atlantic: Loreak was distributed into New York’s Paris Theatre by Music Box Films company and scored $7,000 box office with its only print at the Paris Theatre. This was the fourth highest-average per copy in the U.S.
Image 2. New York's Paris Theatre. Source: The Hollywood Reporter
This is a fictional feature film co-produced with the Basque renowned production companies Irusoin and Moriarti, in collaboration with ETB -the Basque Autonomous Public TV-, Euskaltel -a Basque telecommunications company- and TVE -the Spanish Public TV. It was supported by the Basque Government and the Institute of Cinematography and Audiovisual Arts (ICAA), Spanish Ministry of Culture. After competing in the San Sebastian Film Festival, Loreak participated in more than 50 film festivals winning more than 21 awards all over the world -Australia, Japan, Los Angeles, Washington, Brazil, Russia, France, Italy...- and was also awarded at the renowned Palm Springs Festival (USA).
The San Sebastian effect is clearly reflected on the later series of events related to the distribution of the film as well as to the academic and industry interest. It put a spotlight on the film, which is very important in terms of increasing its visibility and watching opportunities. “Despite the fears, you can expect things will happen but the resonance at a national level (the Spanish Goya nomination) had been a real surprise; in the end it is what we were looking for,” said the film director Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga.
Loreak was the Spanish entry for the Oscars, putting Basque-language cinema on the map: “The film has been given a label, and tagged internationally; which is a very good opportunity for Basque-language cinema to say we are here, but also for our personal career," the directors said. This success is the culmination of the past ten years of on-going film production in Basque-language, the most consistently strong period of Basque cinema output ever.