SAN SEBASTIAN — Blessed by blowsy sun, two Conferences and a Co-Pro Forum, which brought the highest caliber and number of U.S., European execs and Latin American producers ever seen in festival history, San Sebastian rounded its final bend Friday after a packed, busy and upbeat event, also suggesting a stability in contrast to other major European events, such as Berlin.
Below, eight takeaways, some 24 hours before Saturday night’s closing gala and prize ceremony.
Women Rule Still
Coming into the festival, many of the biggest main competition buzz pictures were directed by women. Many now figure, according to a El Diario Vasco Spanish critics’ poll, as Golden Shell frontrunners: Isabel Helguera’s animated pic “Sultana’s Dream,” Raven Jackson’s Sundance hit “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt,” Jaione Camborda’s Toronto platform screener “The Rye Horn” and Tzu-Hui Peng and Ping-Wen Wang’s “A Journey in Spring.”
All of these four films are debuts or sophomore outings in a competition where 10 of the 16 tiles are indeed first or second films. Standouts for Variety take in “Fingernails,” Christos Nikou’s second feature – “calmly controlled, beautifully played,” ran a review – and “Puan,” Maria Alché second feature (though Benjamín Naishtat’s fourth), a light comedy treating weighty themes such as Argentina’s sense of identity. There’s “an enormous amount of fresh talent coming through, and those new voices, that for the most part don’t come from the U.S.,” CAA Media Finance’s Roeg Sutherland said at San Sebastian’s Creative Investors’ Conference (CIC), co-organized by CAA.
Of course, prizes could cut another way. Jury president Claire Denis reportedly said at a round table that she had enjoyed the comedies, which would seem to be a reference to not only “Puan,” but also “The Practice,” by Martin Rejtman, whose “Cropped Head” brought down the flag on the New Argentine Cinema way back in 1992.
Some big deals were announced– at San Sebastian. They included major new films – Carla Simón’s flamenco musical – or sales agents pick-ups, from Latido, Film Factory and Filmax. Almost all the other deals, however, involved some kind of co-operation – The Mediapro Studio’s buy up of Cimarrón, Beta Film’s j.v. with Danny Goldman, or “Rondallas,” a Studiocanal-Ramón Campos co-pro. Consolidation is ripe in international, as companies seek to maintain growth momentum. Co-production is one way of battling rampant cost-hikes, a big producer pressure point in Spain, said Mod Producciones’ Fernando Bovaira. Non-English language films still sell. Latido announced a bullish tranche of deals at Venice. In general, however, the pace of business announcements looks to have slowed at least a notch after a gung-ho recent past.
Or maybe many of the types of movies which now sell on the open market place aren’t always typical festival fare. What pre-sells? Sutherland asked Goodfellas’ Vincent Maraval and MK2’s Fionnuala Jamison at the CIC, running Sept. 27-28.
Genre, event movies, animation, and especially Japanese animation, Maraval replied, citing “The First Slam Dunk,” which earlier this year grossed $106.0 million in Japan and $151.3 million worldwide.
“Uniqueness and originality,” said Jamison, mentioning “How to Have Sex.” “You can feel the market is shifting a little younger,” she said. Goodfellas is driving into action movies, catnip for platforms, budgeted at a contained $8 million-$10 million, said Maraval.
Another Way Forward: Ambition
Sunday’s Europe Conference delivered another way forward: Scale and ambition. “Scale is hugely important,” said Domingo Corral, at Movistar Plus+. “You need at least scale at local level, in order to face off with [global streaming companies] with such deep pockets.” “Creating content for a larger than national market is not a question of science, it’s a question of ambition,” observed Beta Film’s Jan Mojto. Lead produced by Pathé, “The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan” notched up a worldwide box office of over €35 million ($37.1 million). “If we want to rival Hollywood, we need to be more daring,” read a message at its presentation.
How big companies can go in shows is another question. A clutch of big plays are coming to the market at Mipcom, one, Movistar Plus+’s “La Mesías,” written-directed-produced by “Veneno” creators Los Javis, another, “Concordia,” from “Games of Thrones” producer Frank Doelger at Intaglio Films, backed by ZDF Studios and Beta Film. Bowing next year is Netflix’s highly anticipated Argentine title, “The Eternaut,” based on near sacred literary IP and broken down by its producer Matías Mosteirín at the CIC. Their success, in branding, audiences and international distribution, will determine in part the extent of enthusiasm of their backers to continue to launch the big swings which characterised the first phase of the Golden Age of TV. For the moment, “La Mesías” received a reception this Friday at San Sebastián which was little short of ecstatic.
In Production, Tax Breaks Are King.
112 +regions and countries are looking to lure productions with favorable legislative conditions, through rebates, tax credits or other fiscal mechanisms. Naturally, producers of all stripes shop around. Olivia Sleiter of Fremantle spoke of how a change of tax credit of just 2% can jeopardize projects and that trust of an incentive and the government surrounding it are key. Spain is building that trust with many on stage at the European Conference struck by the speech of Spanish Vice-President Nadia Calviño who opened proceedings. She sounded a highly pro-AV tone “I have a bias here, the truth is that it is a sector that I admire, that I love, that I am very fond of, I am a film buff, a big fan,” Later, the European Commission’s Renate Nikolay described the arrangements in Spain as “best in class” for Europe. In reference to Calvino’s earlier speech, Sleiter emphasised, “It’s clear everybody here [Spain] believes in this industry. It’s clear.”
20 of the best unveiled during San Sebastian, all Variety exclusives:
*In the biggest deal to drop this year, The Mediapro Studio, one of Europe’s biggest independent production-distribution powerhouses, has acquired Cimarrón, the Uruguay, Argentina and Mexico-based production house and services company.
*Signalling her international ambitions, and a departure, “Alcarràs” director Carla Simón announced she will direct a flamenco musical, on the eve of receiving Spain’s National Cinematography Award. María Zamora once more produces.
*France’s Studiocanal, Ramón Campos’ Mr. Fields, Bambu are prepping ‘Rondallas,’ by ‘Spanish Alexander Payne’ Daniel Sánchez Arévalo.
*Just days after Jan Mojto, head of German TV giant Beta Film, drilled down at San Sebastian on its ambitions to find partners “to create content for a larger than national market,” Beta announced it is teaming with Danny Goldman to launch Omega Global Media, focusing on high-end English-language TV series.
*”The Endless Trench” directors Aitor Arregi and Jon Garaño’s new film “Marco” has joined Film Factory’s sales slate. Top Basque producers Irusoin and Moriarti Produkzioak produce, as well as Atresmedia.
*Paris-based Luxbox has clinched first sales on competition frontrunner “Puan,” from “Rojo’s” Benjamín Naishtat, “A Family Submerged’s” Alche, closing France (Condor), Spain (La Aventura Cine) and Brazil (Vitrine).
*Spain’s Latido has pounced on sales rights to “La vida de Brianeitor,” a doc-feature on the star of “Championext, from Alvaro Longoria (“Sanctuary”), and potentially one of the biggest crowdpleasers at San Sebastián.
*MediaInvest, a new E.U. equity tool managed by the European Investment Fund, has made its first deal: An equity agreement with France’s Logical Content Ventures, part of Logical Pictures. Deal is aimed at attracting more private-sector investors into Europe’s film-TV.
*Also, the E.U.’s InvestEU CCS Guarantee has closed three debt financing agreements, with Spain’s Cersa and Crea and Luxembourg-based The Archers. Four deals total value is €68.25 million ($72.35 million), expected to leverage around €500 million ($530 million) in new financing.
*Finland’s It’s Alive Films and sales agent FilmSharks has dropped a trailer to “Snot & Splash,” arguably the hottest title at Locarno as the industry drives into family titles as resilient – and sellable – entertainment fare.
*Mexico’s Katina Medina Mora, director of “Emily in Paris,” is teaming with Chile’s Julio Rojas, creator of podcast phenom “Caso 63,” to direct and co-write with Rojas “Freeland,” a first love drama-thriller and near future science fiction for which Rojas is hailed as a master.
*The “Reliably Superb” Alfredo Castro, Next Up in Pablo Larrain’s “El Conde”’ has boarded “Three Darks Nights,” from “White on White” director Theo Court.
*Miami and Madrid-based Onza has swooped on series “Allende, The Thousand Days,” with Castro, Latin America’s go-to actor, playing Salvador Allende during the three years he governed in Chile. Sneak-peaked at San Sebastián, series is bound for Iberseries and Mipcom.
*Sundance winner Teresa Sánchez, and Rafaela Fuentes, stars of “Dos Estaciones,” are set for follow-up, “Warm Water,” Juan Pablo González and Ana Isabel Fernández directing.
*Prime Video Latin America has snapped up streaming rights to Katina Medina Mora’s latest film “Latido” (“Heartbeat”), starring Oscar-nominated Marina de Tavira (“Roma”). Animal de Luz produces.
*Filmax has snagged rights to “Truman” producer Imposible Films’ LGBTQ+ dramedy “Norbert(a).”
*Brazil’s Raccord Produções, Chile’s Araucaria Cine and France’s Nord-Ouest Films will produce acclaimed Brazilian filmmaker Gabe Klinger’s feature drama project “Okonomiyaki” topline celebrated Brazilian actor-helmer Leandra Leal (“A Wolf at the Door”).
*”Alcarràs” producer Elastica Films is set to co-produce Marta Matute’s “Yo no moriré de amor,” an ECAM Incubator project set up at “La Pecera’s” Solita Films.
*Meikincine has nabbed international sales on reflective San Sebastian rough-cut title “Maybe It’s True What They Say About Us,” from Chile’s Storyboard Media.
*Detailing a historical and fateful encounter between Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh and Chile’s Salvador Allende, “The Meeting” is now in talks to be made as a first Chile-Vietnam co-production.
Guy Lodge and Jessica Kiang contributed to this article.
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