SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2001
ABLE AUSTRALIANS, ABSENT AMERICANS
This year’s San Sebastian Film Festival is notable for able Australians and absent
Americans, reports Australian journalist Helen Barlow from the gorgeous seaside town in
After Christina Andreef's Soft Fruit took out the main prize at the San Sebastian Film
Festival two years ago, the Festival has attracted more Australian films, vying for its
prizes. This year Ray Lawrence's Lantana is part of the competition, while Robert
Connolly's The Bank is in the Open Zone new directors' section which offers a lucrative
prize for Best first film.
He looks forward to being mobbed
The Bank comes to San Sebastian hot on the heels of its Australian success, and hot on
the heels of its wildly enthusiastic reception at the Toronto Festival; it has also been
invited to the London Film festival. Connolly (who previously produced The Boys) calls it
an anti-bank movie and he was relieved to discover that Canadians were feeling exactly the
same disenchantment with their financial institutions. The international film buyers in
Toronto, he says, were so eager to see, and hopefully buy the movie, that a second
screening had to be arranged.
"I hoped at first it wasn't too sugar coated," Connolly says of his unashamedly
commercial movie, which nonetheless has something to say. "The response in Toronto
has exceeded all my expectations." The film features strong dramatic performances
from Anthony LaPaglia and David Wenham – the blond Ozzie is one of the few handsome
actors attending the San Sebastian event. He looks forward to being mobbed.
Baz Lurhmann may get here, too, to launch Moulin Rouge, in which Wenham also stars. The
Oztravaganza should go down well in a country that adores wild, transvestive
Fred Schepisi's British film, Last Orders, starring Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, David
Hemmings and Ray Winstone (fabulous in Sexy Beast) comes to San Sebastian with
enthusiastic word-of-mouth. It tells of a group of London friends who attempt to carry out
the last orders of their recently deceased buddy. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in Britain,
Unfortunately none of these geezers will be at the Fest, and the reverberations of the
bombings of New York's World Trade Centre can still be felt in the northern Spanish
seaside town, as the American actors who had once promised their presence have found they
cannot attend Spain's premiere film event. Understandably, Glenn Close has family business
in New York, Julie Andrews, who was to receive a special tribute, has cancelled, even if
she will still receive the award, while Mira Sorvino, Barbara Hershey and the
American-based Australian, Anthony LaPaglia (in both of the Australian movies) are not
coming either. Francisco Rabal, who is to receive a career tribute together with Andrews,
recently passed away.
It's not as if this smaller event on the world film calendar can attract famous American
actors in any case. So this year audiences and critics will have to content themselves
with an array of above-standard films. The films will make up for what the Festival lacks
in star power, and instead of chasing those elusive celebrity interviews, journalists can
munching on delicious morsels of tapas.
In its 49th year, the San Sebastian Festival opened last night (Sept 21) with The Safety
Of Objects directed by Rose Troche (Go Fish, Bedrooms and Hallways), starring Glenn Close.
At the Festival's first press conference Troche apologised for her colleagues' absence and
spoke of the New York events.
"This is a very big issue: I think the face of film, the face of art, that everything
will change after this point in the United States. It's a huge deal what happened and I
live in New York. To experience on a daily basis that fear, it's a thing which the rest of
the world has already experienced, and there's probably a need for us to experience the
same thing. Glenn Close had every intention of being here, Christine Vachon [the film's
producer from Killer Films] was going to be here, but all of those people have children.
They're not getting on a flight to go some place where there's a risk involved. It's one
of the first times we as Americans truly feel a hatred against us. We've always sort of
known that people hate us, but this is much bigger now. It's no longer a secret
The Safety of Objects, while still personal in its angst ridden suburban themes, was a new
challenge for Troche because of the larger cast which encompasses all ages. It's not all
about sex and gender. "My desire as a filmmaker is not to do the same film over and
over, and yet this film talks just as much about things that I'm completely involved with
in my life. Certainly daily activities are as important to me as anything else I've made
The Festival, which runs through till September 29, closes with Carlos Saura's highly
anticipated Bunuel Y La Mesa Del Rey Salomon, which depicts the Spanish film-maker still
alive in the 21st century and making a movie about the search for King Solomon's table, a
magic object containing the future of humanity.
The Festival jury is headed by French director Claude Chabrol and competition highlights
include: the highly cinematic Warriors, the discovery of the Edinburgh Film Festival,
directed by Anglo-Indian Asif Kapadia, which is described as an epic voyage through the
deserts of Rajasthan to the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas; the fantasy adventure
Magonia, the most touted Dutch film in some time, directed by Ineke Smits; the historical
epic, The Grey Zone, starring Mira Sorvino and directed by Tim Blake Nelson-best known as
the actor who stole O, Brother Where Art Thou from George Clooney and John Turturro; and
then of course there's Lantana, which stars Geoffrey Rush and a mysterious Barbara Hershey
as a woman who disappears. Lantana's director Ray Lawrence and producer Jan Chapman will
attend the Festival.
Frequent visitor to the San Sebastian event, Mike Figgis, will present his latest movie,
Hotel, where he continues to experiment with the split screen, a technique he developed in
his previous Timecode 2000. As part of the Julie Andrews tribute, there will be a
screening of the US hit, The Princess Diaries, (already bound for a sequel) in which a
frumpy schoolgirl discovers she is mid European royalty.
bound to be next year's Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film
The Open Zone section premieres with Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie of Montmartre, the
French mega-hit that is bound to be next year's Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film. After
its huge success in France, the film took out the main prizes at the Edinburgh and Toronto
festivals, which only put to shame the Cannes Festival which originally refused the film.
The Open Zone also features the Spanish sci-fi thriller, Stranded, directed by Maria Lidon
from Spain and starring Lidon as well as Portugal's Joaquim de Almeida and Maria de
Madeiros - it also features America's perennial eccentric, Vincent Gallo. If that
combination seems interesting the film's premise only adds to the unusual mix. It tells of
the first manned mission to Mars which crashes and then the five survivors must decide
which two amongst them can live. Jafar Panahi's The Circle, as winner of the FIPRESCI
(international critics) Grand Prix, will also be screened. The Festival will also host
retrospectives of the films by Georgian-born Otar Iosseliani, who has lived in France
since 1982, and US film-maker Frank Borsage, who specialised in making screen romances
(most famously A Farewell to Arms with Gary Cooper) between 1915 and 1961.
Spanish-language cinema is in fine form this year, with the Festival presenting 25 Spanish
and 8 Latin American features in its Made in Spanish section. Possibly most anticipated is
Y Tu Mama Tambien, from Alfonso Cuarón, who truly shows his diversity as he returns to
his Mexican roots after directing A Little Princess and Great Expectations starring
Gwyneth Paltrow. Likewise Guillermo de Toro, who recently completed Blade 2 with Wesley
Snipes, presents The Devil's Backbone, fresh from its success in Edinburgh and at London's
burgeoning Frightfest. The Spanish Trueba brothers have films too: Fernando Trueba with
Calle 54, David Trueba with Maestra, while the ever-eccentric Bigas Luna will present his
latest movie, Mar.
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Julie Andrews; a special tribute
Glenn Close in Safety of Objects