Spain's San Sebastian film festival, the biggest such event in the Spanish-speaking world, kicked off Friday with fewer stars and films on display, and with the international premiere of Woody Allen's new romantic comedy "Rifkin's Festival".

Travel restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic meant the 84-year-old director and other big names would not attend the event.

With virus cases rising again in Spain, a strict safety protocol was put in place requiring the use of face masks and limiting screenings to 40 percent to 60 percent of seating capacity.

Shot last summer in and around the northern seaside resort of San Sebastian itself, "Rifkin's Festival" centres on an American couple who come to its international film festival and are swept up by the fantasy of cinema and the charm and beauty of Spain.

Speaking by videoconference to the festival, Allen said that after decades making films he "had a lot of anecdotes and information, it was an easy atmosphere for me to write about."

The event will feature 17 movies which had initially been programmed to screen at the world's biggest festival at Cannes but which was cancelled this year because of the pandemic.

Oscar-nominated actor Viggo Mortensen, who played Aragorn in the popular trilogy "The Lord of the Rings", will be honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the festival, which will screen about a third less films this year than it did last year.

Thirteen movies are competing for the 68th San Sebastian film festival's Golden Shell award for best film -- fewer than usual -- which is to be announced on September 26 when the festival ends.

The festival was originally intended to honour Spanish language films but has established itself as one of the most important film festivals in the world.

It hosted the world premiere of Alfred Hitchcock's spy thriller "North by Northwest" in 1959 and Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melinda" in 2004.