Spain'sDonostia-San Sebastian International Film Festival kicked off its 53rd annualedition Thursday night.

The inaugurationat the coastal city's glass-box Kursaal auditorium commenced with news thatdirector Robert Wise, the subject of one of the festival's two retrospectives,had passed away just one day earlier.

The festivalplayed a short video of Wise thanking San Sebastian forthe honor. AbelFerrara, the other retrospective subject this year, was on hand and lamentedWise's passing in a short speech.

Also on handwere Anjelica Huston, presiding over the official jury, Fipresci prizewinnerKim Ki-Duk and Marilina Ross, the Argentinean star of La Raulito, one of the films included in thethematic retrospective Rebellious and Untamed, dedicated to films about "thesocial revolution of women."

A clip promotingthe Films in Progress completion financing initiative got cut short, promptingactress and co-presenter Rosa Maria Sarda to quip that maybe money troubleswere befalling film festivals now too.

Not so for SanSebastian, which has overcome last year's belt-tightening (including shorteningthe event by a day) with new sponsorship from public broadcaster TelevisionEspanola, which broadcast Thursday's inaugural ceremony live.

Opening film Obabafrom local directorMontxo Armendariz screened immediately following the ceremony in the Kursaal.

Coming at theend of the A-list autumn festivals and especially right on the heels ofgargantuan Toronto arguably steals some of San Sebastian's thunder. Even Obaba premiered first in Toronto, news whichSan Sebastian director Mikel Olaciregui admitted came as a surprise to himafter having announced the film as a world premiere.

He reasoned: "IfI don't put up obstacles for a Korean film to go to Toronto before SanSebastian because it's useful for international sales then I can't put upobstacles for Spanish films. But it is true that I wouldn't have announced Obabaas a world premiereknowing it was screening in Toronto."

Another film -Denis Tanovic's L'Enfer - was dropped from San Sebastian's official competition into asidebar after getting a gala slot in Toronto.

SanSebastian's response is to hold strong to its identity as a director-friendlyfestival dedicated to the art of cinema. Its reputation as a hotbed forSpanish-language talents continues, while this year a new mini-market opens upa niche as a platform for North African films. Career achievement DonostiaPrize recipients are Ben Gazzara and Willem Dafoe.

Its Europe-heavyofficial competition line-up this year spans new talents and veterans,including a high number of San Sebastian repeats. The first competition titlesto screen this weekend reflect that mix: Fabian Bielinsky's The Aura, Michael Winterbottom's A Cock AndBull Story, Per Fly's Manslaughter, Zhang Yang's Sunflower, Alberto Rodriguez's 7 Virgins, Andreas Dresen's Summer In Berlin and Farid Benlyazid's A Dog's Life ForJuanita Narboni.

The first star to excitecrowds gathered outside the central Maria Cristina hotel on Thursday was CubaGooding Jr, in town to promote his film Shadowboxer, a contender in the Zabaltegi New Directors'section. Also screening in the New Directors competition this weekend areStephen Woolley's Stoned,collaborative film L'Iceberg,Jose Alcala's Alex and FabienneGodet's Burnt Out.