This year’s 48th International Film Festival in Valladolid had a difficult assignment: to surpass last year’s edition which was in many ways outstanding, thanks to its very good official program and the ancillary ‘Punto de Encuentro’ section, but also due to the screened cycles of films by Wong Kar-wai, Basilio Martin Patino and a highly discerning selection of contemporary Polish films, a first-class competition selection of documentaries and the presence of a large number of important authors: Atom Egoyan, Larry Clark, Robert Guediguian, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Carlos Saura, Paul Laverty, Phillip Noyce, Geraldine McEwan…
Beside the fact that festivals with a program which is not characterized by a large percentage of premiere films, scarcely have such a number of relevant guests, one must bear in mind that the Valladolid Festival faces major problems. Unlike what one might expect, such problems are not related to finances, let alone creative ones. In fact one of the principal problems that this festival has to deal with stems from the fact that it takes place nearly at the same time as the one in Montpellier, briefly preceding the Festival in Thessalonica. To make things worse, back home in Spain it is preceded by San Sebastian and Valencia. Originally set up as a “festival of festivals”, the Valladolid Film Festival would probably be quite different – at least in the competition selection – if the Zabaltegi Program of the San Sebastian Film Festival had not “used up” a good number of films that Valladolid wished to have.
Bearing in mind the strength of the San Sebastian Film Festival as well as the interest of producers and distributors, Valladolid is the one that has to adapt itself to the circumstances. The investigative spirit of Valladolid is partially due to such adaptation, but also to the strong ambition to make this festival highly visible on the world film festival map – at least since the Festival is presided by Fernando Lara. Unlike in previous years, the Valladolid Film Festival did not propose winners from the festivals in Cannes, Venice and Berlin (in fact they cannot compete for the awards), but it did manage to secure a diverse and interesting selection of films (both in view of themes and of authors) that were screened before in other festivals.
This years edition of the Valladolid Film Festival has been marked by two works mirroring politics: “Talaye Sorgh” from Iran and “Osama” from Afghanistan, and as a counterpoint “Alila” from Israel and “Le Cerf-volant” from Lebanon). Bearing in mind the general attitude which author-oriented festivals have regarding American films, the four US made works in the main program were a pleasant surprise (in fact “Lost in Translation” directed by Sofia Coppola won two prizes).
As customary, the third circle was made up of Spanish films which are a direct reflection of the position that Valladolid has in the international film festival calendar. In view of the fact that Valladolid is not a festival with a major commercial weight (unlike San Sebastian – a major springboard for all the films aspiring to capture Spanish and South American cinema audiences), the Spanish authors and producers strive to score all possible points in international festivals that can bring them more glory or at least money. So, Valladolid is forced to fight for the authors that failed this test, i.e. for those that failed to finish their films before September, and for the authors that have only just appeared on the international scene. Such a strategy obviously has its price and it is really hard to remember any edition of the festival when Spanish films had a fair chance of scoring in the Valladolid competition program. Maybe back in 1996 with “Familia” by Fernando Leon de Aranoa and in 1997 with “Cosas que deje en la Habana” by Manuel Gutierrez Aragon and “La pistola de mi Hermano” by Ray Loriga. But that was years ago. The compulsory and always interesting Spanish Cinema Program unveiled how many good Spanish films had no access to the Valladolid competition program which is supposed to be premiering national films.
This year, the Spanish Cinema Program has been marked by the work of David Trueba, Enrique Urbizu, Miguel Hermoso, Isabel Coixet. I really do not know whether the fact that three films by Belgian director Lucas Belvaux have been included in the competition program was the aftermath of calendar adaptation or selectors choice. However, regardless of the reason, this was a highly risky move. Although the Lucas Belvaux trilogy comprising “Un couple épatant”, “Le cavale” and “Apres la vie”, certainly shows expertise, inspiration and particular diversity, it weighed heavily on the main program dynamics and would have functioned better in the “Punto De Encuentro” program. As far as the program harmonization is concerned, the principle of a balanced presentation of themes, authors and productions has been best honored in the case of Scandinavian film. In the main program we have seen “Dogville” (Lars von Trier), “Kitchen Stories” (Bent Hamer) and “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself” (Lone Scherfig), and in “Punto de Encuentro” “Dogville Confessions” (Sami Saif), “The Five Obstructions” (Jorgen Leth, Lars von Trier) and “The Punified” (Jesper Jargil). In brief, a worthy feature/documentary coverage of the causes and effects caused by Lars von Trier.
To return to the beginning and encompass all the elements used in making comparisons, I simply must stress the cycle of films directed by Costa-Gavras, who was the festival’s guest, and the “Tiempo de Historia” program of documentaries which was once again highly convincing. Essentially, as it could be expected, Valladolid 2003 failed to surpass its last year’s edition. But this certainly does not diminish its value. Au contraire! It has demonstrated that it is a respectable festival that must be counted on.
Having attended the festival for eight years, I can say without hesitation that Valladolid has secured and is fighting to preserve its place under the sun. More than 400 people involved in various ways in the production of films and over 200 national and foreign journalists were hosted by this well planed and organized festival. Taking into account that it doesn’t have the beach, Hollywood hits, and tourist references, that it takes place nearly at the end of the Spanish film festival season and that it is not a snobbish destination, the Valladolid Film Festival is managing (in spite of some minor shortcomings) to escape the visible and invisible traps, and to show (no matter how strange this might seem) that every year enough good films can be selected and sorted out to make a good festival.
© FIPRESCI 2003