Charlize Theron, MarkWahlberg, Isabelle Huppert and Harvey Keitel provided the star wattage for theopening weekend of the Donostia-San Sebastian International Film Festival butit was a controversial Basque documentary and a strike by workers at thefestival's traditional social hub, the Hotel Maria Cristina, that dominatedconversations here.
By Sunday evening, JulioMedem's La Pelota Vasca, La Piel Contra La Piedra, a special screening in the Zabaltegi sidebar, hadsparked more interest than a competition line-up noticeably light on worldpremieres.
Fernando Perez's openingnight film Suite Havana and TomMcCarthy's The Station Agent weregenerally well-liked, but other titles including Per Fly's Inheritance and Gerardo Herrero's out-of-competition TheGalindez File were greeted with amore subdued response.
In La Pelota Vasca, Medem explores the ongoing fight for independencefrom Spain of the Basque Country, in which the town of San Sebastian issituated, both politically and through the terrorist activities of ETA.
Medem interviewedpoliticians, journalists and intellectuals about this extremely charged debatein Spain.
Eyebrows were raised whentwo of Medem's interviewees asked to be cut from the film last week, claimingthe finished documentary was biased. Medem left them in, and festival directorMikel Olaciregui withstood calls from politicians to pull the film from theline-up.
Journalists emerging fromthe first press screenings of La Pelota Vasca on Sunday morning were met by a barrage ofinquisitive TV crews.
The film went on to receivea standing ovation at its official screening later that morning, althoughpoliticians from the reigning Popular Party were notably absent.
A welcome last-minuteaddition to the festival is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 21 Grams, which will get a special screening early this week.The film's absence was noticeable considering that its star Sean Penn, who lastmonth picked up the best actor prize at Venice for the film, will travel to theSpanish town later this week as one of three recipients of career achievementDonostia Awards. (The other two are Huppert and Robert Duvall.)
UIP Spain, the localdistributor of 21 Grams, wasunderstood to be initially reluctant to screen the film at the festival so farahead of its expected 2004 release date. Mexican-born Gonzalez Inarritu'sfollow-up to his 2001 international Spanish-language hit Amores Perros also squares perfectly with San Sebastian's profileas a platform for Latin talents.
When he arrives in towntoday Penn may be called upon to make his own bed at the festival's five-starHotel Maria Cristina if an agreement is not met in the ongoing strike there.Remaining hotel staff members have rallied together to provide VIP treatmentfor star guests including Theron and Wahlberg, in town promoting The ItalianJob, and Keitel, here with TheGalindez File.
Theron admitted she wasstill getting room service but Walhberg said he had to carry his own bags.
Guests also faced a group ofvocal strikers banging homemade drums in front of the hotel each day.