GIJON, Spain – Reputedly Spain's launching pad for edgier, independent fare, the Gijon International Film Festival kicks off Friday its 50th edition with all eyes on the new director and his stated plan to become the "Spanish Austin," with an eye on young talent, new styles and adult animation.
Nacho Carballo came to the helm of the festival, held in the picturesque town on Spain's northern Atlantic coast Nov. 16-24, after a controversial dismissal in January of his predecessor Jose Luis Cienfuegos who built up the festival after a falling out with the local sponsors.
But Carballo's goal for the much-loved festival is very clear. While Sundance is the ultimate platform for independent cinema, Carballo maintains that Austin and Rotterdam are truer to what he is striving for as the original spirit of showcasing less-mainstream voices.
"We want to continue to be the European capital of independent cinema and open it further so you can see a complete range of the best indie films from around the world, with new styles and new directors," Carballo said. "We're not looking to see what worked at Cannes and bring it here. We want fresh."
This year's program follows the formula outlined in previous years closely, with U.S. indie titles comprising about one third of the lineup, a handful of Spanish titles and international experimental films. More than 40 countries are represented across the festival's categories.
Romania's nomination for the foreign-language Oscar, Cristian Mungiu's portrait of modern Romania Beyond the Hills will open the official competition, which will screen 18 feature films. Others to vie for the 25,000-euro ($31,820) Principality of Asturias Award include: Marshall Lewy's California Solo, Adam Leon's urban tale Gimme the Loot, Lee Sang Woo's Korean clash with the American dream Barbie, Jordi Molla's choral-cast, hotel room film 88and Atiq Rahimi's Afghan The Patience Stone.
New this year and indicative of Carballo's plan to "innovate and create a more groundbreaking project" is the newly created Animaficx sidebar, showcasing 13 adult animated films like Goro Miyazaki's From Up on Poppy Hill with a script co-signed by his father, Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki to Joann Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux's The Rabbi's Cat, Patrice Lecounte's The Suicide Shop, Jung and Laurent Boileau's animated documentary about an abandoned boy in Approved for Adoption.
While budget cuts pushed the festival organizers to tighten costs, the 15,000 euros ($19,000) prize for the Spanish distributor of the winning film proved untouchable.
"It could have added funds to our budget to eliminate it, but it's very important," Carballo said. "Lots of distributors come here because the kind find new proposals that they didn't know about and that are interesting. We want to help them find their way to theaters."
Another "must" for the budget? Parties. To celebrate 50 years, Gijon will host a party every night at the local casino, followed by music concerts in keeping with the indie air. Friday night, Micah P. Hinson will rouse things in Gijon with the inaugural concert.