This is the second time I attend the largest film festival in Spain, and one of the 15 such events in the world to hold a-list accreditation from Fiapf (alongside Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Tallinn, Locarno and a few others). My first trip to the Donostia Zinemaldia (the name of the Festival in the fascinating local language: Basque) was last year, when the event was operating at 50% capacity and masks were still mandatory. Spain implemented the strictest Covid-19 regulations in Europe, and it was nothing short of a miracle that the Festival took place at all. This year there were no such restrictions: most screenings were packed, and sold day well out well in advance. Large and enthusiastic crowds gathered to see their favourite stars walk down the red carpet rolled out outside the Kursaal (the event’s main building; pictured above).
San Sebastian, the capital of the Gipuzkoa region of the Basque country, is an incredible city. The sun is gentle and bright, the beaches vast and generous, the streets bursting with haute cuisine, Rioja wine and boisterous crowds. There are Michelin-starred restaurants in every corner, their bars splashed with the colourful pintxos. The International Film Festival is strictly diligent and diverse. French actress Juliette Binoche was the cover of the film’s official poster as well as the recipient of a Donostia honorary career award. The event is used to welcoming big films and stars. One such example was Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The director attended its world premiere in San Sebastian in the year of 1958. The movie is now considered the greatest film of all time.
The various sections of the event include:
That’s a lot to take in! A selection is so vast that it can easily overwhelm a keen film journalist. That’s why I always focus almost entirely on the films in the Official Competition. Altogether, I wrote 20 reviews in nine days, and published another four pieces from our writers Charles Williams, Svetlana Pinet and Laney Gibbons. A total of 24 pieces, which you can read them all in our review archive.
The event’s main prize, the Golden Shell, went to the Colombian drama Kings of the World (Laura Mora): a good film with a contrived ending. The second most prestigious award, the Special Jury Prize, went to Marian Mathias’s Runner: a deeply sombre and austere indie drama. The Silver Shell Best Director went to Japanese filmmaker Genki Kawamura for A Hundred Flowers, a film that I sadly missed (these sad casualties often happen in the busy schedule of a film journalist). The two gender-neutral Leading Performance awards went to two very young people: French actor Paul Kircher for Winter Boy (Christophe Honore) and Spanish actress Carla Quílez for Motherhood (Pilar Palomero): indeed two impressive performances! The Silver Shell for Best Supporting Performance went to Renata Lerman in the Argentinean drama The Substitute (Diego Lerman): a riveting drama about literature and drug trafficking. Best Screenplay went to Wang Chao and Dong Yun Zhou for A Woman (Chao): a highly formulaic biopic of a female Chinese writer. Best Cinematography went to the fairly bland Mexican mix of fiction and documentary Pornomelanholia (Manoel Abramovich). My favourite film was Ulrich Seidl’s filthy genius Sparta, a depiction of paedophilia that’s tender and grotesque in equal measures. Seidl’s film is deemed so controversial that many festivals around the world have refused to showcase it, and the director himself failed to attend the Donostia Zinemaldia, in order to deflect controversy and allow viewers to focus on his strangely fascinating drama instead.