They shoot turkeys, don't they?

Struggling film-makers are the focus of the Gijon Film Festival. Richard Combs was a member of the jury...

Serving on the jury of an international film festival must seem an anomalous activity. How can anything so onerous, public-spirited and, well, judicial as jury duty be equated with the global circus of the movie business?

The 33rd Internacional Festival de Cine was staged at the Spanish seaside town of Gijon. The festival may not be as famous as Cannes, but it features a lively programme devoted to independent, first-time or just young, struggling film-makers.

In the film industry, juries as well as stars get press conferences. The three English-speaking members of this one are presented to the local press as a group: Ken Dancyger, undergraduate head of film at New York University; Paul Bartel, actor, satirist and independent Hollywood film- maker (Eating Raoul); and myself.Bartel, deadpan, announces how disappointed he is to find that, as well as awarding prizes to the winners, he can't sentence the losers to death. Duly translated, this puzzles rather than amuses the press. The other two jury members are Spanish, and had their own press conference. Julio Medem, our president, is the most exciting young film-maker in Spain today; his two features, Vacas (Cows) and Red Squirrel, have been released in Britain. Diana Penalver is an actress in film, theatre and television, and has ventured to New Zealand to play the heroine in Brain Dead, for the outlandish master of splatter, Peter Jackson. Viscera, exploitation and low budgets, of course, are the natural element of aspiring film-makers. There's a non-competition section called "Bad Taste", and it contains some alarmingly graphic body horror. The young audience gives a rapturous reception to the film-makers - local heroes, not just Spanish but Asturian - who shuffle across the stage like Tim Burton lookalikes.

We do seem to be a remarkably cohesive jury. Perhaps our sessions would have been more temperamental if a sixth member, Malcolm McDowell, hadn't dropped out due to an offer of paid employment, or if Paul Bartel hadn't been substituted - he thinks - for the brat star of yesteryear, Matt Dillon. But the jury doesn't even get together to deliberate until the very end, six days of seeing two competition films a day. Until then, what we mainly have in common is that we are members of a rare and indulged race, taken everywhere by car, treated to elaborate meals morning and night. Other film-makers briefly alight at the festival. Paul Schrader is here to inaugurate a retrospective of his films, but his mind is on an Elmore Leonard novel he's due to shoot soon, although the deals aren't yet set. He's the cinema's most famous Calvinist, trying to shuck the overcoat of his past in Tinseltown. But perhaps they're not so incompatible: there's a certain steel in his will to party all night.

The British director, Stephen Frears, is here to give his blessing to a retrospective of Ealing director Alexander Mackendrick (The Man in the White Suit, The Ladykillers). Frears's troubled Jekyll and Hyde film, Mary Riley, starring Julia Roberts, has yet to be released. He has finished another Roddy Doyle adaptation, The Van, and he hints at a Western to be made in New Mexico. I meet him belting along the promenade the morning after his arrival. He is as restless and challenging in casual conversation as he must be in work. We've barely reached the hotel when he spots a cab and confidently announces that it must be for him.

Immediately after the last competition screening on Friday, the jury meets over dinner to consider their verdicts. First we select the films we think might be eligible. It's not difficult - three American independent films and an Australian feature. The English-speaking jurors expect some resistance, some element of Euro-support, from Julio and Diana. But the evidence is overwhelming. The only problem now is how to allocate the awards to films whose virtues and subject matter are strikingly similar:harrowing tales of lives lived close to madness, or an unhappiness or poverty akin to madness. Best is Heavy, a quiet, naturalistic film with Shelley Winters still in domineering mom form; best director is Michael Rymer for the Australian film Angel Baby, about a couple leading each other into madness; best actress award goes to the two girls who star in Fun (soon to be shown on Channel 4 as Fun USA) about the friendship of two unstable teenagers which leads them to murder an old woman. When Peter Jackson turned from cartoon gore to real-life crime, he made something similar in Heavenly Creatures.

Best actor is Jason Andrews from Rhythm Thief, made for $11,000, about survival on the streets in New York (this has already been shown on Channel 4). Andrews is in Gijon with the film, the only actor present from the films we've chosen. When he accepts the award on stage, he wonders modestly if this is is the main reason he was chosen over the undoubtedly excellent lead actors in Heavy and Angel Baby. There's an element of truth in this, but it's also true that he was picked for something more than performance - call it star charisma, or the ability to hold a film together.

Soon after midnight the decisions are sealed, and two jury members, Bartel and myself, turn back into film buffs and head off to another screening, Confessions of an Opium Eater (or Souls for Sale), in a section called "Secret Cinema". We emerge from the cinema at 2am to find a car waiting for us. "Ah," says Bartel, whose real, working life is as parsimonious as the films he has been judging, "I'm going to miss this."

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas