Seminci: A 60 Year Old Journey through Cinema

in 60th Valladolid International Film Festival

by Margarita Chapatte Lopez

Seminci is the popular name of the 60 years old International Film Festival in the Castilian Spanish city Valladolid, where kings and legendary writers were born. “Sem” for “semana” (week), “in” for “internacional” (international) and “ci” for “cine” (cinema in Spanish): this acronym was first used by journalists to save space on telegrams. As it is my favourite film festival, I was glad to take part in the FIPRESCI jury of the festival’s 60th edition. The first FIPRESCI prize in Valladolid was given to La promesse, by the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, back in 1996.

When the festival was inaugurated back in 1956, during Franco’s dictatorship, it was called “a week of religious cinema”. The festival’s second edition presented films by Vittorio de Sica, Robert Bresson and Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront) and by the third year it was giving awards. The first winner was The Nights of Cabiria (Le notti di Cabiria, 1957) by Federico Fellini.

The festival kept growing and consecutive years brought high quality films such as Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet, 1957) and François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups, 1959). In 1960 the “religious” in the title was joined by “and of human values”.

The screening of Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960) was a ‘big shock’ for Valladolid audiences in 1961, as the festival was turning into an “anti-nazi week”, with Everybody Go Home! (Tutti a casa, 1960) by Luigi Comencini, Kapo (Kapò, 1960) by Gillo Pontecorvo and the Swedish documentary Mein Kampf (Den blodiga tiden, 1960) by Erwin Leiser in the program. Those years started seeing some changes, still under Franco’s dictatorship, but these films caused trouble for the festival team. The cinema week continued, though, increasing its international reputation. Its eighth edition brought to Valladolid around 200 accredited journalists, including ones from Variety and Osservatore Romano.

Retrospectives arrived in the next years, dedicated to Carl Theodor Dreyer, F. W. Murnau, Buster Keaton and others. In 1969 Luis Buñuel focused all attention as he himself presented The Milky Way (La voie lactée, 1969). The country’s censorship was furiously against this anti-religion film, but the times they were a-changin, as the song goes, and nothing could stop the festival’s evolution. John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (La caduta degli dei, 1969) as well as films by Roberto Rossellini,  Bernardo Bertolucci and Nagisa Ôshima were always screened to full houses. And with Kes (1969) Ken Loach started a long-lasting collaboration with the festival, which was renamed in 1973 as “Semana Internacional de Cine de Valladolid” – the Valladolid International Film Week.

Social cinema has always been, and still is, a major issue in the Valladolid program, with the participation of filmmakers such as Krzysztof Kieslowski, Bo Widerberg, Ettore Scola and, more recently, Michael Winterbottom, Atom Egoyan, Robert Guédiguian and many others. Almost all of them visited the festival to present their works, and to participate in press conferences, Q+As and debates.

My first visit to Seminci was back in 1989, and it was a great one. I still remember Stanley Donen’s dance steps when he got up to receive his honorary prize. That year his retrospective was one of the main events. Some years later, in 2008, another great moment was when Woody Allen finally decided to come to the festival and receive his Golden Spike award. The suspense – was he going to be there or not? – lasted until the very last minute.

Edited by Yael Shuv