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September 19, 2012

The San Sebastián Film Festival

By Andrew Sessa | Films

The San Sebastián Film Festival
Courtesy of The Luxury Collection

Thanks to its five Michelin-starred restaurants, San Sebastián is possibly best known as a gastronomic capital. But this Belle Epoch resort town, the capital of Basque Country and long a retreat for Spanish aristocrats, also likes movies, kicking off the 60th annual San Sebastián Film Festival on September 21.

A top stop on the autumn cinéaste circuit, San Sebastián offers a slightly more tranquilo vibe than the recent to-dos in Venice and Toronto. It opens with the international premiere of the financial thriller Arbitrage, starring Susan Sarandon and Richard Gere, and closes with Quartet, Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut featuring Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon in a the-show-must-go-on plot set at a retirement home for aging opera divas. Hoffman will also receive the festival’s Donostia Award, along with Tommy Lee Jones, Ewan McGregor, Oliver Stone and John Travolta. 

Many of these notable names will be spending time at the Hotel Maria Cristina (rooms, from $325; Paseo Republica Argentina 4; 34-943/437-600; starwoodhotels.com), the city’s turreted, 100-year-old grande dame (now part of the Luxury Collection), which emerged from a $25 million, nine-month renovation just in time for the festivities. Fully booked well in advance of this year’s event, the hotel’s 136 platinum-hued rooms and suites feel light and modern despite classic silk, marble and crystal. (The River View rooms are the ones to reserve.)

Some of the biggest buzz at the hotel surrounds its bar and restaurant. The folks behind Dry Martini, a chic speakeasy in Barcelona, took on the former; chefs from one of Madrid’s top interpreters of Chinese cuisine helm Tse-Yang, the Cantonese-style eatery. Food has a starring role in the festival, too. Its Culinary Zinema: Cinema and Gastronomy section features nine films, including Les Saveurs du Palais, about François Mitterrand’s private cook, and the 1987 Danish classic, Babette’s Feast. September 21 to 28; sansebastianfestival.com.