09 November, 2008
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.