San Sebastian Film Festival: ten things you need to know


San Sebastian holds one of the most famous Film Festivals. For a week this Basque city is the capital of cinema and glamour! Here there are ten things you need to know of the oldest Film Festival in Spain.

San Sebastian film festival-Spain

Photo: AnTho-aR. Adapted under license (CC BY-SA 4.0)

01| The San Sebastian film festival was born in 1952 and is the oldest film festival in Spain. At that time, San Sebastian was a touristic city in the summer and the local commerce thought that it was a good idea to stretch the season a little bit more by celebrating a Film Festival. The San Sebastian International Film festival in commonly known as Zinemaldi, the Basque word for Festival.

La Concha, San Sebastian-Spain

02| Starts as a non-competitive Festival but in 1957 achieves the A category as mayor festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Toronto or Venetia. The first film to win was Giorni d’amore by Giuseppe de Santis. The festival has encountered many difficulties through its history: censorship, political problems or the loss of his A category from 1980 to 1984.

Giorni d'amore by Giuseppe de Santis-San Sebastian-Spain

Giorni d’amore by Giuseppe de Santis

03| The highest price in a golden seashell. It takes its name from La concha (seashell in Spanish) beach, a symbol of the city.

La Concha, San Sebastian-Spain

04| In 1958 Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo was shown in worldwide premiere in the Victoria Eugenia theater. He did not won the golden Concha… but his experience in the city was really positive and next year he returned with the premiere of North by Northwest. This time he did not won the price neither… but we are sure he had a great time tasting the local gastronomy.

North by Northwest-Alfred Hitchcock
North by Northwest-Alfred Hitchcock

05| The Festival is known of discovering young talents. It was the first Festival to project a Roman Polanski film. In 1969 awards a young Francis Ford Coppola for The Rain People. Our most international filmmaker, Pedro Almodovar, found support in San Sebastian for his first films.

Pedro Almodóvar-Rosalia-Rosy de Palma

Photo: Cultura Inquieta. Adapted under license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

06| 1977 was a special year. With the Franco’s dictatorship over Luis Buñuel, who had live in the exile since the Spanish civil, returns to Spain with his film “That obscure object of desire”. The same year Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher put the city upside down with the European premiere of Star Wars.

Star Wars-San Sebastian-Spain

07| In 1989 Bette Davis is the first woman to receive the Donostia Award, an honorary award to deserving film personalities. She died 15 days later in Paris.

Bette Davis-Honorary award-San Sebastian
Bette Davis-Honorary award-San Sebastian

08| The festival has several venues: the Victoria Eugenia Theater, the Kursaal Congress Centre designed by the architect Rafael Moneo and several cinemas scattered through the city. Without a doubt, one of the most outstanding is the Anoeta cycle track that projects films in a 4300 sq ft screen. In one edition, there was even an open-air cinema in the sand of the Ondarreta Beach.

Kursaal Congress Centre-San Sebastian

09| One of the most remembered anecdotes was when Willem Dafoe thought that the Christ statue upon the Urgull hill was placed there to promote his film The Last temptation of Christ.

San Sebastián - Monumento al Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, Monte Urgull

Crist statue upon the Urgull

Willem Dafoe

Photo: Georges Biard. Adapted under license (CC BY-SA 3.0)

10| In San Sebastian film Festival is common to find the stars in a relaxed way enjoying the city, feeling themselves at home! You can easily see them in the Maria Cristina Hotel cafeteria or in the famous Michelin awarded restaurants. Last year you could see Hugh Jackman running every morning and Kirk Douglas is still remembered in a Guetaria Gastronomic Society. Glenn Ford even refused to leave San Sebastian when in 1988 he came to collect his Donostia prize!

Glenn Ford

Glenn Ford

Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas