27 November, 2008

Austrian Documentarist Nikolaus Geyrhalter At IDFA

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

IDFA has selected Austrian documentary filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter to present the annual Top Ten program at this year's Festival. As part of the program, Geyrhalter will present a few of his own films and other documentaries that have influenced him.

Among those Geyrhalter films being showcased are Pripyat (1999), which won the Diagonale Grand Prize Award at the Diagonale Film Festival, as well as the SCAM Award at France's Cinema du Reel. His best known film, Our Daily Bread (2005), a look at the international business of food farming, was a major documentary hit, winning nominations as Best Documentary at the European Film Awards and winning the Special Jury Award at IDFA. His latest film, 7915km (2008), about the people who live along the route of the Paris-Dakar rally, is competing in the Joris Ivens Competition here.

Among the films that have influenced Geyrhalter's visual style, the program will screen such landmark films as Good News: von Kolporteuren, toten Hunden und anderen Wienern (1990) by his compatriot Ulrich Seidl, Koyaanisqatsi (1982) by Godfrey Reggio and Gambling, Gods and LSD (2002) by Peter Mettler. The sole fiction film in the group is iconoclastic director Terrence Malick’s The New World (2005). On Sunday, 23 November, Geyrhalter gave a master class in which he discussed his Top 10 and his own work.

Introducing The Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

When I recently told family and friends that I was soon to attend a film festival in Tallinn, Estonia, a queer look came over their faces. This was really testing their geographic skills. Did they known that Estonia was its own kingdom for centuries before being part of the Russian empire. The photos I've seen show a civilization that has been around since the 14th century, with a prosperous port on the Baltic Sea. I don't arrive until Monday but I can tell it will be quite an experience, a real revisiting of early European history. On top of that, I had programmed 15 US and Canadian films for the Festival, introducing myself while also introducing them to this somewhat exotic part of the old Europe.

More impressions and photos later, but first here's today's lesson: the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival is celebrating its 12th anniversary starting this Friday. In a little over a decade, the Festival has become the most forward-thinking in Eastern Europe, with a healthy curiosity about films from all over the world. However, to put a special spotlight on emerging filmmaker talents from the region, the Festival sponsors a special competition section.

Along with programs devoted to animation, fashion and films for children and young adults, the Festival explores new trends in filmmaking via its International Panorama section. The section that I programmed, 15 films from the US and Canada, is entitled CRAZY COOL: North American Independents. It is a survey of some of the more celebrated and admired films of the past year, mixing features with documentaries. More on the section in a later article.

To top it all off, the Festival hosts The Baltic Event, a co-production and networking forum where producers, programmers and talent from the region and Eastern Europe have a chance to meet their contemporaries in Western Europe and beyond. I'm very curious to see how this meet-and-greet is organized and what new developments I can hear about coming from the Baltic region.

It will be stimulating and informative, and I will keep my readers informed. Please come back to this blog site during the next 10 days, while we cover one of the intriguing newcomers to the world stage: the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. And by the way, "black nights" refers to the more than 16 hours of dark in these short winter days in Tallinn. Darkness in Tallinn, both outdoors and inside the theaters......festival film noir.

To find out more information, check out the film festival's website:

12 November, 2008

A Mahon On A Mission

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Don’t let the twinkle in his eyes or the lilt in his Irish accent fool you….. Irish director Mark Mahon is indeed a man on a mission, at least when it comes to his feature film directing debut, the boxing drama STRENGTH AND HONOUR. The film, which screened last weekend to an enthusiastic audience response at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, is a redemptive story about the emotional and professional comeback of a wounded fighter, in many ways a parallel to Mahon’s own dramatic story.

A native of Cork City, Ireland, Mahon started out as a singer/songwriter. At the age of 18, he was accepted into the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art where he trained as an actor of both contemporary works and the classics. At the age of 22, Mark was severely injured in an accident and spent several months in a hospital during a slow and painful recovery. Confined to a wheelchair for over three years, he turned his love of acting to writing film screenplays.

In the past few years, he has not only completed five scripts and one novel, but also set up his production company Maron Pictures with offices in Ireland and Los Angeles. In 2005, his unproduced screenplay FREEDOM WITHIN THE HEART won the Best Unproduced Screenplay Award at the International Action on Film Ceremony in Los Angeles. Even more daunting for a young man left with a permanent disability, he made the bold move this past year of writing, producing and directing the ambitious STRENGTH AND HONOUR, his feature helming debut.

STRENGTH AND HONOUR tells the story of an Irish-American boxer (played with great sensitivity and the right physical dimension by American actor Michael Madsen) who promises he will never fight again when he accidentally kills his friend in the ring while sparring. The film then cuts to seven years later, when he discovers that his only son is dying of the same hereditary heart disorder that claimed the life of his loving wife. Determined to raise the money for the boy’s operation in the only way he knows how, he sets out to train for the bone-crushing, bare-knuckles street fight known as The Pump, against some of the most physically imposing and violence-prone heavies seen on the screen in a long time. Chief among these is Vinnie Jones as the intimidating and near-psychotic “Smasher”, whose nickname aptly describes the man’s violent temperament and no-holds-barred style of fighting.

As important as the boxing match that offers the film its final climatic crescendo is the delicate handling of the Madsen character’s inner pain and the depiction of the hardscrabble lives of the itinerant Irish gypsies known as “travelers” who provide the film with its particular setting and its deep-seated emotional core. Irish actors Patrick Bergin and Gail Fitzpatrick bring a lived-in quality as the male and female leaders of this unique community that prizes loyalty above all else.

What is most impressive about STRENGTH AND HONOUR, is not only Mahon’s sensitive direction of the small-scale scenes between Madsen and his son or among the gypsy “travelers”, but his deft handling of complex crowd panoramas involving dozens of extras. “I worked by storyboarding the entire film so that we could work within our limited budget and yet shoot a sprawling film with many characters and extras”, Mahon shared with me in an interview earlier this week. “I really wanted the film to honor the authenticity of its characters and the environments in which they lived to make their stories feel very real for the audience.”

Mahon approached the Irish Film Fund about financing, but was rejected. "The project was deemed too American because it had an American actor in the lead and also prominently featured American actor Richard Chamberlain in a key supporting role. It was really silly because the rest of the cast is solidly Irish or English and the crew was entirely Irish, we shot on location in Ireland and did our post-production work in Dublin and London. The film is entirely financed with private monies, making it quite unusual for an Irish movie."

STRENGTH AND HONOR was completed in late 2007 and has since blazed a successful trail at North American and international film festivals, winning Best Feature prizes at the Boston, New York Independent and Mount Shasta film festivals, with Madsen picking up Best Actor honors at the Boston Film Festival. Mahon himself has been praised with Best Director prizes and nominations at the International Action On Film Festival and the Irish Film & Television Academy. The film had its international premiere at the Shanghai Film Festival and will also compete at next month’s Cairo Film Festival. Mahon picked up another Best Director honor on Sunday night in Fort Lauderdale. The film has also screened at the Strasbourg and Cambridge Film Festivals in Europe, and has opened theatrically in Ireland via Eclipse Pictures.

“It’s been an amazing experience so far”, Mahon expressed. “People have really responded to the film in ways that I could never even imagine and I feel proud to show what someone who has had his own share of personal challenges can do when given the chance.” For more information on the film and writer/director Mark Mahon, log on to the website:

09 November, 2008

Fort Lauderdale FF Hosts European Cinema

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

As winter spreads its cool tentacles across most of North America, all eyes turn to the sunshine state, Florida, where the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, one of the formidable regional festivals on the scene, concludes its three-week marathon of films, special events and parties this weekend.

The Festival, affectionately known as FLIFF, is celebrating its 23rd anniversary this year, as an important Florida cultural resource and also a strong advocate for world cinema. And that is not only a month-long commitment during the Festival. The Fort Lauderdale Film Society is a year-round organization that sponsors film screenings and events, and hosts local premieres of international titles at its flagship Cinema Paradiso. A converted church that is now a temple of independent and international film, the theater showcases prominent European and international titles that would not otherwise come to the theatrical marketplace here.

At this year's Festival, nearly a third of the films are from Europe, hailing from such countries as Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, The Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The UK is most represented, with five films in the program, including Mike Leigh's latest HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, director Matt Lipsey's Welsh-set comedy CAUGHT IN THE ACT, the stringent urban satire A DEAL IS A DEAL, the UK/US co-production REZ BOMB by director Steven Lewis Simpson, and the darkly comic short film MEET ME AT DAS FOOD by director David Gibson.

Irish cinema (which has experienced a renaissance of late) is well represented in the program. 32A is an Irish/German co-production by director Martha Quinn with a terrific cast of young teenage girls that was a box office hit in its native Ireland. STRENGTH AND HONOUR by writer/director Mark Mahon is a hard-hitting yet sensitive redemption tale of a washed-up boxer who finds a reason to return to the ring, featuring great performances by American actors Michael Madsen and Richard Chamberlain and European talents Patrick Bergin, Vinnie Jones and Gail Fitzpatrick. SATELLITES AND METEORITES by writer/director Rick Larkin is a quirky love story set in the subconscious imagination of two coma patients.

France is represented by the prize-winning (and possible Oscar-contending) film I'VE LOVED YOU FOR SO LONG (Il Ya Longtemps Que Je T'Aime) by Phillipe Claudel and the Jewish family saga CYCLES (Les Murs Porteurs) by writer/director Cyril Grelblat. A contemporary story about Europe's melting pot, CIAO BELLA by Swedish director Mani Masserat-Aghat,looks at a young Swedish girl of Iranian descent who does not fit into the cliched mold of the blonde virgin. DUNYA AND DESIRE by Dutch director Dana Nechushtan has a similar theme, in a story about two 18 year old girlfriends, one from a Moroccan family and the other as Dutch as cheese and tulips.

Other distinguished European films in the program include the prize-winning O'HORTEN by Norwegian director Bent Hammer; the local box office hit, and biggest budget film to come out of Latvia, the historical epic DEFENDERS OF RIGA by director Aigars Grauba; the absurdist comedy thriller NIGHT BUS by Italian director Davide Marengo; the Russian/Cuban co-production OCEAN by writer/director Mikhail Kosyrev; and the Hungarian family comedy VIRTUALLY A VIRGIN by veteran director Peter Bacso.

With so many of the above films not yet in the traditional theatrical distribution mix, the screenings at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival afford local audiences the rare opportunity to see these films on the big screen. Hopefully their warm embrace by the local FLIFF crowd will add momentum to their distribution chances. Once again, FLIFF uncovers some of this year's most intriguing European talents and gives these worthy films a berth in the difficult American market.

06 November, 2008

Finzi Heads From Locarno To Miami

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Tiziana Finzi, formerly of the Locarno Film Festival has been appointed the new Director of the Miami International Film Festival. Finzi, a seasoned film professional with more than 20 years of experience in film festival programming and coordination, will assume her new post on December 1.

Finzi served as head of programming for the Locarno Film Festival for the past nine years and deputy director since 2005. During her tenure, Finzi introduced various innovations at the venerable Swiss film event, including the expansion of the sections “Cinéastes du Présent” (Contemporary filmmakers), “Compétition Vidéo” (Video Competition) and “In Progress,” a visual arts collaborative section with some of the preeminent museums and galleries worldwide.

Prior to her tenure at Locarno, the Italian-born Finzi served as a programmer for the Venice Film Festival from 1995 to 1999 and served as head of programming for the Pesaro and Taormina film festivals in 1999. Additionally, she has served as a consultant and curator for several international film festivals and institutions such as Italia Cinema and the Trieste Film Festival, among others.

“I am looking forward to building on the great successes of the first quarter century of the Miami International Film Festival", Finzi commented in a prepared statement. "I am also looking forward to connecting with Miami’s dynamic community.”

The 26th edition of the Miami International Film Festival , preented by Miami-Dade College, will be held March 6-15, 2009. The Festival is renowned as a key platform for the presentation of films from Spain, Portugal and Latin America, as well as premieres from the worlds of International and American Independent cinema. For more information, visit the Festival's website:

04 November, 2008

New German Cinema at New York's Museum of Modern Art

Hanami (Doris Dorrie)

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Kino 2008, the Museum of Modern Art’s 29th annual survey of new films from Germany, will bring a selection of contemporary fiction features, documentaries, student works, and animated films—all New York premieres—for one week beginning on November 5. The film series, by both veteran and debut filmmakers, open with Hanami (Cherry Blossoms/Kirchblueten) (2008), a tender, emotionally intense, and profoundly moving story of family by Doris Dorrie, one of Germany’s foremost filmmakers. The series also includes Eye to Eye-All About German Film (2008), a lively and passionate survey of German film history through the eyes and films of key contemporary German filmmakers such as Wim Wenders, Dorrie, and Andreas Dresen, whose new film, Wolke 9 (Cloud 9), explores the sexual relationship between a 65-year-old married woman and her 70-plus-year-old lover. Die Welle (The Wave), directed by Dennis Gansel, is a suspenseful account of one high school teacher's lesson in fascism going horribly awry. Kino 2008 is presented with the support of German Film, the national promotion board and the Goethe Institute New York.