Ten things you need to know about Spain's San Sebastián Film Festival

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 18 Sep, 2015 Updated Fri 18 Sep 2015 12:23 CEST
image alt text

The Local counts down ten essential facts about the most important film festival in the Spanish speaking world, as it gets underway in the Basque seaside city.


1. The San Sebastián International Film Festival (Festival Internacional de cine de San Sebastián in Spanish and Donostia Zinemaldia in Basque) was founded in 1953. Although it was originally intended to honour Spanish language films, it soon allowed international films to compete and since 1955 has attracted the great and the good of world cinema. 

Spanish actress Penelope Cruz at San Sebastian in 2012. Photo: AFP

2. The film festival was started by a group of San Sebastián businessmen and Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, perhaps surprisingly, immediately gave it his blessing. He saw the festival as an opportunity to present Spain as a more open and friendly country on the international stage. 

The Kursaal in San Sebastian. Photo: Ander Elexpuru/Flickr 

3. This year's festival - the 63rd - will take place between September 18th and 26th in the Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium on San Sebastián's seafront, designed by Spanish architect, Rafael Moneo. 

Woody Allen being presented with his lifetime achievement award by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar in 2004. Photo: Festival Archive

4. It is one of only 14 category 'A' film festivals accredited by the FIAPF (International Federation of Film Producers Associations) alongside such other illustrious film festivals as Venice, Cannes and Berlin.

Elizabeth Taylor arriving at the San Sebastián Film Festival in 1973. Photo: AFP

5. Some of cinema's most classic moments were brought to the screen for the very first time at San Sebastián: it hosted the international premiere of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, an event attended by the iconic film director himself, as well as the film's star, James Stewart.

Alfred Hitchcock at the San Sebastian Film festival in 1958. Photo: Festival Archive

6. Berlin has its Bear and Cannes its Palme, so what is the prize doled out at San Sebastián? Quite aptly for this seaside city, it is the Shell of course! The Golden Shell is awarded to the best film of the festival, while the best actor and actress receive a Silver Shell. 

The festival's main award, the Golden Shell for best director. Photo: Festival Archive 

7. While San Sebastián is not one of the most headline-grabbing events on the film festival calendar, it has attracted quite a few cinematic icons in its time. Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Meryl Streep, Robert de Niro and Brad Pitt have all attended - among many others. 

Meryl Streep accepting her lifetime achievement award at the festival in 2008. Photo: Rafa Rivas / AFP

8. The festival's lifetime achievement award is the Donostia award, given every year to honour one more more actors for their work. In 2008 living legend Meryl Streep won alongside arguably the world's most famous Spanish actor, Antonio Banderas. This year, British actress Emily Watson will receive the award on September 25th. 

Michael Fassbender at the festival in 2011. Photo: Festival archive

9. In 1989 Bette Davis, one of the most classic stars from Hollywood's golden age came to the festival to receive the lifetime achievement award. It would be her last ever public appearance, she died two weeks later. 

Regression, starring Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson. Photo:

10. This year’s jury is headed by spicy-sounding Scandinavian actress Paprika Steen. British film, London Road, a musical about a serial killer, will close this year’s festival, which will also feature Freeheld, starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page and Regression, starring Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson and directed by Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar. 

This year's film festival poster. 



The Local 2015/09/18 12:23

Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also