Aaron and his wife Keri and me and my wife Kris flew from Boston to Paris, then took a connecting flight to Berlitz in the far southwest corner of France. Picking up a rental car, we drove into Spain from there, arriving in San Sebastian about an hour later.
Ian Somerhalder and fellow “Lost” star Maggie Grace arrived separately, as did Ron Wyman our documentarian and Mark Constance, one of our producers. Ron suffered quite a trauma getting there as his cameras were lost in transit (and never recovered except for insurance replacement months later) and Mark’s plane connections delivered him to the hotel in the middle of the night, long after Opening Night ceremonies were over.
Travel traumas aside, San Sebastian is an incredibly beautiful ancient city on the northwest coast of Spain. The town has all the classic features of centuries-old buildings–narrow cobblestoned streets, hidden plazas, and in the nearby hills, ruins from eras even further back in time. Our hotel, just off the huge curve of beach front and boardwalk, was adjacent to the old part of the city which is filled with what seems like hundreds of restaurants. The festival’s main venue–a huge theatre complex called the Kursaal–was within walking distance through the old part of town. The setting for a film festival can’t get any better than this.
Arriving the day before our premiere screening in the Zalbategi (New Directors) festival category, we had a chance to get acclimated and meet with our PR people, who guided us through the press procedures and went over our schedule of interviews with European press in the coming days. They also warned us not to attend the press screening of our film that was scheduled for that very night—the night before our premiere. They said that a large contingent of the press who attended these screenings were notorious for only staying long enough to get an idea of the film and then get up and walk out—not a pleasant thing for us to witness as we began our experience at a wonderful festival like San Sebastian. They also knew that some of these press folks were very vocal if the film they were watching didn’t fit their taste and would let everyone else know their displeasure as they noisily left the theatre.
We listened to our expensive PR people. And I’m glad we did, as we found out later that our film caused quite a stir at its press screening. I’m actually happy I’ll never know how that exactly manifested itself.
So then the big day arrived. Our screening was scheduled in the featured time slot for the Friday night of opening weekend at the second largest theatre in the Kursaal—a beautiful 800-seat venue. All decked out, we waited as a group for the festival limos to arrive at our hotel and drive us the several blocks to where our film was set to unspool at 9 pm. But as we were about to find out, we almost didn’t make it.
As our limos approached the Kursaal, suddenly we were stopped by a large and angry local Basque protest—a political demonstration timed to be staged on this very night to attract press attention from the dozens of reporters there for the festival. Our limo drivers didn’t know what to do. They kept driving us around the adjacent blocks over and over again as the clock ticked away, but they were unable to pull us up to the front of the theatre to drop us off as they had been instructed.
Then, as the clock was striking nine and we realized we were about to miss the opening of our world premiere, we finally convinced them to just let us out and we’d walk (or run as it turned out) the two blocks to the theatre. Moral to that little episode: the barriers for indie filmmakers never totally disappear…?
All of us finally got inside the building, hurried down hallways and up stairs and, out of breath, at last were ushered into the auditorium. What a moment: the place was packed with people dressed to the nines—all of them patiently waiting for us to show up (they’d been told of our unintended delay). We were shown to our seats, the house lights immediately dimmed, and there at last was this moment of magic as our film began playing on an immense 50-plus foot high screen in front of us.
Sitting there, it took me a few seconds to catch up to what was actually happening, but I quickly realized how special this moment was for all of us. Looking around at the audience, I wondered again how we ever managed to get to this point in our journey.
And, in spite of our difficulty in getting to the theatre that night, to this day I hold that moment in my memory as one of the true highlights of the entire experience of producing the film. For here we were in San Sebastian, Spain at a major festival witnessing the screening of our baby for the first time to hundreds of people who were there to see some of the best of new films selected from around the world. And right at that moment, this large gathering of European filmgoers was settling in to experience ours.
(Next: Having fun in San Sebastian…)