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Iraq and Afghanistan in Spain: San Sebastian Film Festival kicks off

An Afghan 6-year-old girl’s struggle to learn the alphabet in her war-torn nation and Iraq war - a massacre of civilians in the town of Haditha – two films are.

Political and social stories again take center stage at the San Sebastian film festival - the oldest and most prestigious in the Spanish-speaking world - which kicks off on Thursday evening.

The Iraq conflict gets high-profile attention with Nick Broomfield's "Battle for Haditha" in the official competition, an investigation into the 2005 killing of 24 civilians in Haditha by U.S. Marines.

Also featured is 18-year-old Iranian director Hana Makhmalbaf's film "Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame," about a girl's daily struggle to go to school in Bamiyan, the Afghan village where Taliban soldiers demolished centuries-old Buddha statues in 2001.

A total of 16 films will vie for the festival's Golden Shell, awarded by a jury presided over by U.S. novelist-director Paul Auster, who will also present his film "The Inner Life of Martin Frost" but outside the main competition.

The 10-day festival was to open Thursday evening with David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises," a thriller about London's criminal underworld starring Australian actress Naomi Watts and U.S. actor Viggo Mortensen.

Other candidates are Paolo Barzman's "Emotional Arithmetic," a drama about three Holocaust survivors who reunite after 40 years apart, Spain's Iciar Bollain's "Mataharis" and Gracia Querejeta's "Seven Billiards Tables," as well as the comedy "La Maison" by French director Manuel Poirier.

Asian films include South Korean Kim Mee-Jeung's "Shadows in the Palace" and Hong Kong director Pang Ho-Cheung's "Exodus."

"This year's festival has a wide and varied look to show different forms of understanding cinema," festival director Mikel Olaciregui told reporters at the presentation of the 55th edition.

A natural history documentary called "Earth," which tracks the yearly migration of three animal families, and British jewel heist film "Flawless," directed by Michael Radford and starring Michael Caine and Demi Moore, will also be screened out of competition.

U.S. actor Richard Gere and Swedish actress Liv Ullmann will be honored with the Donostia Prize for their life's work. Donostia is the Basque word for San Sebastian.

Winners are to be announced on Sept. 29.

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