In the last few decades, Spain has emerged as one of the leading players in the European film industry, and with over 40 separate film festivals, gatherings and celebrations of all types on the calendar annually, the country now plays host to more cinema related events than most other nations on the continent.
What’s more, with participation of both public festival-goers (both international and Spanish) and luminaries from every pocket of every global cinema industry increasing year on year, the stage is set for Spain’s claim to one of Europe’s top destinations for film buffs and star spotters to continue to grow and flourish.
Main Features of Spanish Film Festivals
Like most major destinations that enjoy the favour of film-tourists Spain’s cinematic festival calendar has its roots in art house and independent works that were for the most part home grown productions from Spanish directors looking to make a name for themselves in the underground cinema-scene of Western Europe. However, today the picture has broadened and Spanish film events now cover a broad range of individual genres and styles; from world cinema and horror to animation and comedy.
What’s more, the Spanish film festival has adopted something of a more democratic feel than many of its continental counterparts. Where the iconic French festivals at Cannes and elsewhere are traditionally the territory of high-profile stars and industry figureheads from Hollywood and other major cinema hubs across the globe, the Spanish festival has opened itself unashamedly up to include the public in a variety of ways. Visitors to any film event in the country will notice the distinct appearance of public vote categories and open-invitation ceremonies where fans mingle in the same crowd as the stars they’ve come to see.
San Sebastián International Festival
The beginning of Spain’s film festival high season is marked by the biggest event of the year - The San Sebastián International Festival. Since its creation in the early 50s this one’s attracted some seriously big names - from Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn, to Robert De Niro and Mel Gibson – while many point to the attendance of prolific Polish director, Roman Polanski as one of the defining and formative points in his, now extremely well known, career.
The iconic centre point of the San Sebastián Film Festival is the modern-chic Kursaal Palace, where both opening and closing ceremonies take place each year, while cinema venues across the whole of the Basque city of Donostia. San Sebastián in the corner of northwest Spain come alive for the whole period in late September, when some of the industry’s most recognisable faces and critics flock to the city for premiers before release.
International Film Festival in Valladolid
However, while San Sebastián is the king-pin event in the whole Spanish-speaking cinematic world, there are now a record number of events across the country and plenty more to see than just Donostia’s jet-set fest of high-profile art house and nu school cinema.
In 1956 the north central city of Valladolid inaugurated its own International Film Festival, Seminci, as a forum for religious filmography and Catholic cinema works. However, with an increasing shortage of films either meeting the demanding quality mark that the festival had become known for by the 70s or failing to satisfy the ‘Christian art’ criteria that was an enduring feature of the festival since its inception, the event opened its categories to a broader audience and now accepts any films related to religious themes, human values or morality.
Sitges International Film Festival
From the 10th to the 20th of October each year, the Sitges International Film Festival is held in Catalonia and has an overtly fantasy theme to it. Claiming to be the highest profile annual event of the genre, the Sitges festival has traditionally attracted a number of acclaimed directors and animators.
Film Festivals in Other Cities
Also in early October the city of Granada hosts its yearly youth film festival in conjunction with regional film schools, Madrid has a gay and lesbian cinema event and Barcelona launches its alternative film festival with categories for independent artists and filmmakers in the Spanish speaking world.
In Valencia, the Peniscola Comedy Film Festival has been increasing in size since its foundation. Held every June, the magnificent surroundings of the so called ‘Gibraltar of Valencia’ has made this date a favourite amongst travelling film buffs looking to enjoy a little of Spanish culture in-between showings and film forums.
While the Spanish film festival calendar hits its peak in the autumn months (from October to late November) it remains peppered with a variety of niche events and gatherings all year round; from the international festivals in San Sebastian on the forefront of global cinema to the smaller genre-focussed events in Peniscola, Granada and in other enticing venues right across the country.