30 October, 2008

European Cinema Hightlights In Hawaii

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

One of the more intriguing showcases for European cinema in the past few weeks was at the Hawaii International Film Festival, which was held October 9 to 19 in the sunny capital city of Honolulu. The Festival's lead sponsor is high end retailer Louis Vuitton, so a taste for European haute couture is definitely part of the event and its festivities.

The European Showcase section of the Festival was a potent grab bag of some of the more impressive European films of the year, including ABSURDISTAN (Germany), director Veit Helmer's inventive and allegorical comedy about a fictional yet very emblematic country in central Europe; THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS (UK), a fictionalized story told through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy shielded from the reality of World War II by director Mark Herman; the German/French co-production CHERRY BLOSSOMS-HANAMI,a poetic story of selfless love by iconic director Dorris Dorrie; THE CHICKEN, THE FISH AND THE KING CRAB (Spain), a virtuso documentary look at the Olympics of haute cuisine, bringing 24 chefs from around the world to compete against one another in Lyon every other year; A CHRISTMAS TALE (Un Conte De Noel), French director Anraud Desplechin's dysfunctional family drama that features an all-star cast including Catherine Deuneuve and Mathieu Almaric; FIGHTER (Denmark), the story of a Turkish immigrant student who is also a passionate kung fu fighter; THREE MONKEYS, award-winning Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's searing psychological drama about the unspoken dynamics in a dysfunctional family; and THE MERMAID (Russia), director Anna Melikyan's modern fairy tale in which age-old myths and
youthful imagination are merged in a surreal urban romance.

The Festival, which is a major showcase of Asian cinema, presented its Maverick Award to the Koran director Kim Jee-woon for his box office smash THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE WEIRD, while also honoring the film's lead actor Jung Woo-sung with an Acting Achievement Award. The Festival also presented its "Vision In Film" Award to the Shanghai Media and Entertainment Group (SMEG), which among other things, sponsors the prestigious Shanghai International Film Festival.

For more information on the Festival, log on to the Festival website:

25 October, 2008

Andrzej Wajda Retrospective At New York's Lincoln Center

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

It is not stretching to declare the director Andrzej Wajda is indeed one of Poland's great cultural treasures. Well into his eighties, Wajda remains a current and consistent icon of European cinema. His last film, a meditation on one of the great tragedies of World War II, the massacre of Polish officers by the invading Russians in the film Katyn, was nominated for an Oscar last year. It is one of many international prizes the director has garnered in a career that spans over five decades, including an Honorary Oscar in 2000 for his illustrious career achievements.

For those who have not seen his ground-breaking films or those who want to re-experience them on the big screen, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, in association with the Polish Cultural Institute, has mounted a near-complete retrospective of the filmmaker's oeuvre, which is currently on screen at the Walter Reade Theater, the Film Society's flagship cinema at the Lincoln Center cultural complex in New York. The series will tour, thus renewing Wajda's status as an important cultural figure and a prolific filmmaker of over 50 films for the big screen and television.

Andrzej Wajda was born on March 6, 1926, in Suwalki, Poland. He described his childhood as a happy pastoral country life before the Second World War. His father, named Jakub Wajda, was captain in the Polish infantry and died at the Katyn Woods massacre in 1939 (the subject of his Oscar-nominated film Katyn). Wajda survived the Second World War with his mother and his brother in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Following the war, he moved to Krakow, where he studied painting, particularly the impressionist and post-impressionist painting, and was especially fond of Paul Cezanne. This interest in the visual arts translated into an interest in the moving image. In 1950, he moved to the city of Lodz to enroll in its world-famous Film School (which has produced other Polish film auteurs from Kieslowski to Polanski).

In 1955 he made his debut as director of a full-length feature, A Generation, about a generation of youth coming out of age during the Nazi occupation of Poland. This was followed by the two other films in a triology of Polish life during World War II. Kanal (1957), a dramatic recreation of the Warsaw uprising in 1944, won a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, bringing international fame to the 30 year old director. This was followed by Ashes And Diamonds (1958), about Polish resistance fighters, which won the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize at the Venice Film Festival. In probably his most famous film, Landscape After Battle (1970), Wajda adapts a celebrated novel of an Auschwitz survivor to tell a harrowing story of the liberated prisoners of a Nazi concentration camp.

Wajda was often at odds with the Soviet-dominated Polish authorities who tried to compel him to make jingoistic propoganda films that extolled the Communist paradise of post-war Poland. Wajda, positioned himself as an artist who was above the conflict. He still managed to make the films that he wanted during this repressive period, mainly due to his international status.

His Oscar-nominated The Promised Land (1975), a depiction of early 20th century capitalism in Poland, held criticisms of the meager lives that characterized Poland's citizens during the Communist period by contrast. The shooting of workers in the final scenes was a direct reference to the policies of killing outspoken proletarians that tooks place in both Russia and Poland in the 1960s. In the companion films Man Of Marble (1977) and Man Of Iron (1981), Wajda unmasked the Communist regime's manipulations against the "Solidarity" labor movement of Lech Walesa. Man of Marble won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, which heightened his international prestige but also put him in direct opposition with the Polish government, which considered the film an embarassment to their policies.

Under continued pressure from the Polish authorities, Wajda spent the next decade working in France, producing a number of historical epics, including The Possessed (1988), an adaptation of a Dostoyevsky novel about young Russian revolutionaries and Danton (1985), featuring an Oscar-nominated performance from Gerard Depardieu as the fiery French revolutionary statesman.

Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Poland's move towards democracy, he returned to his native land. From 1989-1991, he served as a Senator for the newly elected republic and then became the leading member of the Presidential Council for Culture. In recent years, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 2000 and an honorary Golden Bear at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival.

For a complete list of the films to be screened in the Wajda series, log on to the website of the Film Society of Lincoln Center:

21 October, 2008

Norwegian Film Wins Top Prize At Hamptons Film Festival

TROUBLED WATER (Norway/Sweden)

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Hamptons International Film Festival concluded its 5-day marathon run of films, special events and oh-so-fabulous parties with its Gala Awards Ceremony, held today at the United Artists Theaters in the heart of tony East Hampton. Handling hosting duties was writer/comedienne Lizz Winstead. Presenters included Festival Board Chairman Stuart Match Suna, Executive Director Karen Arikian, Director of Programming David Nugent, Board Member Alec Baldwin and members of the Festival juries.

The Golden Starfish Best Narrative Feature, carrying an awards package of over $185,000 of in-kind production services, was presented to TROUBLED WATER (Norway/Sweden) by Norwegian director Erik Poppe. The tense drama is the story of Jan Thomas has served his eight year term for the murder of a young boy, and is released back into society a rehabilitated man. He begins to believe that he has truly left his past behind him – but now another boy is missing, and he is the prime suspect. The film also won the Festival Audience prize. Previously, the director won an Amanda Award, the Norwegian Oscar, for his 2004 film HAWAII, OSLO.

The Zicherman Family Foundation Award For Best Screenwriter, carrying a $5000 cash prize was awarded to Romanian screenwriters Alexandru Baciu, Razvan Radulescu and writer/director Radu Muntean for the film BOOGIE. The film, about a group of aging buddies who try to relive their lost youth, had its premiere in May at the Cannes Film Festival.

Another film from the Balkans region won the Brizzolara Family Award for Films of Conflict and Resolution. The prize, which carries a $5,000 cash prize each, was awarded to Bosnian director Aida Begic for the film SNOW. The film tells the tale of a government delegation that comes to a quiet Bosnian town four years after the war, offering the villagers money for their land, but find that the locals are not willing to abandon their homes and the memories they hold so dear.

The Golden Starfish Documentary Feature Film Award, carrying a cash prize of $5,000, was won by director Megumi Sasaki for the film HERB AND DOROTHY (USA). The film is an affectionate portrait of a working class couple, a librarian and postal worker, who amass one of the most important private art collections in the country. The audience pleaser also won the Festival Audience Prize as Best Documentary.

The Kodak Award For Best Cinematography, worth $6,000 in kind services and product, was nabbed by Israeli cinematographer Ram Shweky for his exemplary work on the film VASERMIL ( Israel). This Israeli drama depicts the lives of disaffected and struggling teenage boys confronting the volatile elements of clashing cultures and generations, when a football coach tlaches the boys some valuable life lessons.

Other awards included: The RoC Gold Standard Award for Female Feature Director, which was presented to Australian director Elissa Down for her film THE BLACK BALLOON; the Heineken Red Star Award, created to provide increased exposure and visibility to an American independent filmmaker, was won by Patrick Read Johnson for his film '77; and the $25,000 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Film Prize in Science and Technology, given to a feature-length film that explores science and technology themes in fresh, innovative ways, which was awarded to American director Marc Abraham for the film FLASH OF GENIUS, a David & Goliath story based on the life of Robert Kearns, who took on the Detroit automakers who he claims stole his idea for the intermittent windshield wiper.

One can only hope that some of these strong films that have not yet found distribution in North America will have their careers buoyed by winning prizes at one of the best run regional film festivals on the circuit. Hats off to you, Hamptons!!

17 October, 2008

Hamptons Film Festival Partners With European Film Promotion

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Hamptons International Film Festival and OK! Magazine will continue the popular Rising Stars Showcase, welcoming three North American actors to highlight their talents and films at the 2008 Festival. This year the Festival is expanding this program for the first time to officially include three actors from the Shooting Stars program, an initiative of European Film Promotion (EFP).

Entering its 12th year, Shooting Stars, which debuts each year at the Berlin International Film Festival, showcases young actors who are well known in their native countries, and on the way to international recognition. The actors are selected by a jury of industry professionals, and represent the best up-and-coming talent from the 28 member countries of EFP. For the first time, EFP will bring the program to the US , introducing three young European actors at the 2008 Hamptons International Film Festival.

“Through the Shooting Stars initiative we have seen many talented young actors emerge and move into very successful careers in film,” says Renate Rose, Managing Director of European Film Promotion. “Our aim in this new venture is to actively incude the actors in the marketing of their films, and at the same time, to help them make the jump from national to international recognition. ”

The three European actors being welcomed in the Hamptons include:

Hannah Herzsprung (Germany, Werther) made her feature film acting debut in the 2007 Hamptons International Film Festival Audience Award winner Four Minutes (Vier Minuten) directed by Chris Kraus. Herzsprung earned the 2007Bavarian Film Award for "Best Young Actress" for her role in Four Minutes, as well as the Bunte readership's "New Faces Award".

Anamaria Marinca (Romania, Boogie) first came to public attention in 2005 when she won the “Best Actress” BAFTA for her performance in the British Channel 4 TV mini-series Sex Traffic by David Yates. She next appeared in Cristian Mungiu’s Palme d'Or-winning drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days, which was her feature film acting debut. Her performance earned her a “Best Actress” nomination during the 20th European Film Awards in Berlin and the “Best Actress” prize at the Stockholm International Film Festival. She can also be seen in The Aviatrix directed by Ineke Smits and Hans Christian Schmid’s Storm.

Maryam Hassouni (The Netherlands, Dunya & Desie) starred in the award winning original series Dunya & Desie. In 2005, Maryam received and Emmy Award for “Best Actress” in Sacrifices. Other works include Shouf Shouf! and Albert ter Heerdt's Kicks. Maryam reprises her role as Dunya in Dana Nechushtan's theatrical film Dunya & Desie which will have its premiere at the Festival and which is this year's Oscar submission from Holland .

All participating actors will be part of an intimate mentoring brunch this afternoon, led by Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand.

15 October, 2008

Valentino Documentary To Open Hamptons Film Festival

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

As one festival closes, another one begins…..such is the film season in New York. The venerable New York Film Festival ended this past Sunday, after an impressive array of film talents presented their films on the glorious screen of the Ziegfield Theater, the city’s largest single-screen establishment (a vestige of cinema’s past glory). After taking a breath for only two solitary days, the cinema action begins anew, this time about 100 miles to the east of the great metropolis, in the idyllic setting of the Hamptons.

Th Hamptons International Film Festival, celebrating its 16th anniversary, has become a destination event for a wide array of film talents, industry attendees and local audiences with a penchant for independent and international cinema. The Festival, which this year will present 122 films, including 14 World Premieres and 23 North American Premieres, runs through this Sunday, October 19. The main event is centered in the upscale beach resort of East Hampton, with additional venues in the storied towns Southampton, Sag Harbor and Montauk.

The Festival was founded to celebrate independent film and to introduce a unique and varied spectrum of international films and filmmakers for its local and visiting audiences. “The process of compiling the slate of films for the 2008 Festival was truly a process of discovery,” says David Nugent, Director of Programming. “The cross-section of films we are seeing this year represent unique and often unheard voices in film. From films made in China, Iran and Denmark, to those made right here in Montauk and East Hampton, I'm excited to be presenting our audiences global perspectives and local voices.”

This year’s event is the first under the helm of Karen Arikian, who came on board last Spring after 3 years as the Co-Market Director of the European Film Market (Berlin). Arikian brings a trans-continental approach to the event, drawing on her many contacts and affiliations over the years. “Our aim this year was to begin to develop long-term partnerships - both here and abroad - in order to solidify the foundation of our festival and to broaden its reach and appeal,” Arikian commented. “I think, with this diverse program, and the many international guests we are expecting, we have achieved this goal.”

The Festivities begin this evening with the U.S. Premiere of Valentino: The Last Emperor, a documentary by Matt Tyrnaner that chronicles the final days of the fashion designer’s 45-year reign at the helm of his own fashion dynasty. The film was produced by Acolyte Films and is being sold internationally by French uber-agent Celluloid Dreams. The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and generated strong buzz at its screening at the Toronto Film Festival last month.

"I know what women want…..they want to look beautiful", says the perpetually tanned Italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani near the beginning of this intimate portrait. Valentino has built an almost fifty-year career on this maxim, forging a global brand out of the refined art of haute couture. Tyrnauer, a journalist for Vanity Fair, set out to chronicle the twighlight years of an old-fashioned stylist who succumbs to the pressure of a globalized economy (a place where there is hardly any room for personal craft or expression). What emerges however is an intimate portrait of a supreme diva, but also an understated love story that charts the 45-year personal and professional relationship with the level-headed Giancarlo Giammetti.

The documentary begins with the Paris pret-a-porter show in February 2007 that turned out to be Valentino's last. The film takes us into the fashion mogul’s Rome-based atelier, where we are reminded that beyond the dazzle and the glamour of the fashion runway, there are a team of hard-working, no-nonsense dressmakers and seamstresses. Fashion at this level is in fact a hand-crafted art, with all the detail and temperament that it implies.

The film revels in unexpected moments of surrealistic comedy, including scenes involving Valentino’s ridiculously pampered dogs, who defecate during photo shoots, have their teeth cleaned by hand, and take up the hostess seat on the designer's private jet. Other priceless moments of high comedy come when Giammetti and Valentino bicker about each other's excess fat, or when Giammetti tells the near-orange couturier that he is perhaps "a little too tanned". Celebrity friends like Gwyneth Paltrow, Elton John and a gaggle of minor Euro-royals provide background color, contributing to a circus-like atmosphere that jet sets from Rome to Paris to New York to Venice.

For those infatuated with the glamour of it all or outsiders who may be intrigued by what goes on behind the scenes at fashion show extravaganzas, the film points out that the glory is bolstered by lots of hard work, agonizing indecision and an agonizing tension that what one dreams is not exactly what one sees in the end. That makes Valentino as much of an artist as any painter or sculptor, and his moody nature belies the pleasures of a life lived at the top of the fashion heap.

13 October, 2008

Film In Focus: TULPAN

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Despite its simple story and subtle cinematic form, I cannot get the images of the film Tulpan out of my head. Perhaps because the film takes one to a truly exotic location (the vast emptiness of the Hunger Steppe plain in southern Kazakhstan) and brings you up-close-and-personal with the toughened people who inhabit that truly forlorn environment, that it has made an impression that is light years away from a National Geographic special (although its visuals are comparably beautiful). The film made its U.S. Premiere at the New York Film Festival this past week.

Celebrated Kazakh documentarian Sergey Dvortsevoy won the Prix Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival for this, his first dramatic feature — an astonishing ethnographic drama-cum-wildlife movie. The story circles around a young nomad named Asa who, upon completion of his military service, returns home to his brother-in-law’s yurt with hopes of becoming a shepherd. He also wants to find a wife, any wife, but the pickings are slim on the steppe. So, he must find a way to win the affection of his beautiful neighbor Tulpan, a young woman he has never even seen.

The film brings its natural environment to vivid life. There are long scenes of dust storms, tornados and lighting storms….a natural parallel to the longings and emotional upheaval of its protagonists. In this sense, Dvortsevoy is an heir to that pioneering faux-documentarian Robert Flaherty, who also mixed strict documentary stylings with staged scenes to increase the dramatic effect.

In the film’s most remarkable scene, Asa helps a sheep give birth, then gives the newborn mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. This comes after his beloved Tulpan has left the scene, with either a different marriage prospect or the possibility of a new life in a different part of the world. That Asa finds his own place in his unkind universe by understanding that his future is linked to his past and that being a shepherd with a regard for all life is about the highest aspiration he can imagine. That, in the end, may be the most exotic element of this beautiful and touching film.

The film is a co-production of Pandora Films (France) and Pallas Films (Germany), with international sales activity by the Match Factory (Germany).

07 October, 2008

Strong European Presence At New York Film Festival

Hunger (Steve McQueen, UK)

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The New York Film Festival, which is celebrating its 46th anniversary this week, has long been a supporter of European cinema. Over the decades, it has showcased and many times cemented the reputations in the United States of such iconic filmmakers as Michaelangelo Antonioni, Jean Luc Godard, John Schlesinger, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Pedro Almodovar, Ingmar Bergman, Roman Polanski and many others.

That tradition continues this year, with almost half of the Festival's films being entirely European in origin or part of a co-production pudding with European film resources. New Yorkers are avid Europhiles, so the marriage is a good and lasting one.

French cinema, as has already been reported in this blog, is always an audience favorite, with the Festival showing four French films and various co-production efforts. A Christmas Tale by Arnaud Desplechin brings together some of France's most celebrated actors (Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Almaric, Melvil Poupaud and Chiara Mastroianni) in an acerbic portrait of modern family life. Family tensions and rivalries are also at the core of Summer Hours (L'Heure d'Ete) by director Olivier Assayas, which features a sparkling cast led by Juliette Binoche. Let It Rain (Parlez-moi de la pluie) is the latest film from urbane social satirist Agnes Jaoui, exploring the realms of class, power and sexual politics in a seemingly simple story of a feminist novelist who returns to her small country town. Daniel Leconte, the French investigative journalist and satirist, chronicles the messy legal trial surrounding cartoons published in the weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo that lampooned Muslim fundamentalism, in what has to be the Festival's most unusual title, It's Hard Being Loved By Jerks (C'est dur d'etre aime pare les cons).

Italian cinema is having a mini-renaissance and one of its more controversial films was screened this past week. Gomorrah, directed by Matteo Garrone, is a stylistic and brutal depiction of the influence of the Mafia in a tapestry of five personal stories. The film is graphic in its violence but its visual artistry also leans to the poetic. The same can be said for Hunger, by UK video artist Steve McQueen. The winner of the Cannes Camera d'Or, the film is a brutal neo-realist portrayal of the final days of Bobby Sands, an IRA revolutionary who starved himself to death while being incarcerated in a British prison. Michael Fassbender, a German-born but Irish-raised actor, gives a haunting and physically demanding performance as he literally becomes skeletal in pursuit of justice for his compatriots and his cause.

Although it has an American director (Steven Soderbergh) and a South American protagonist (Che Guevera), the film Che, a 4 1/2 hour biopic of the famed revolutionary that premiered at Cannes this year, is indeed a French/Spanish co-production. The film, which features an extraordinary performance by Benicio del Toro that will surely be remembered at awards season, faces major challenges because of its length and attention to detail. However, it is certainly destined to be one of the most talked about films of the season.

Other European films premiering at the Festival include Bullet In The Head (Spain/France), an intensely claustrophobic film about modern surveillance that is also a superb mystery by director Jaime Rosales; Chouga (France/Kazakhstan), a modern day version of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina by Kazakh director Darezhan Omirbaev; Four Nights With Anna, an existential thriller by Polish director and NYFF favorite Jerzy Skolimowski; Happy Go Lucky, the breezy yet profound new meditation on life and love by UK director Mike Leigh; Northern Land, Portugese director Jao Botelho's adaptation of a prize winning novel that interlocks stories that cross centuries, classes and lifestyles; and Tulpan (Germany/Kazahhstan/Poland/Russia/Switzerland), a beautifully rendered story of love and desire set on the empty fields of the Kazakhstan Hunger Steppe.

With their various genres, subjects and visual stylings, one thing is abundantly clear. European cinema remains an intriguing counterpoint to Hollywood and the source for much pleasure and inspiration for audiences willing to take their particular journeys.

03 October, 2008

Waltz With Bashir: An Israeli/European Co-Production Comes To The New York Film Festival

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The effects of combat take on an added dimension, caught somewhere between nightmares and surrealism, in the celebrated Israeli animated epic Waltz With Bashir. The film, which had its US Premiere at the New York Film Festival last night, brings the viewer in the furtive and fervent imagination of director Ari Folman.

Beginning with the startling image of wild dogs running straight towards the camera, the film exists between psychological turmoil and existential distress as it explores the psyche of soldiers forced to witness (and commit) crimes against humanity. By adding the expressionistic art of animation, the film is able to penetrate deep into an amnesia of facts, a blurring of morality and an urge to uncover the truth that is both universal and incredibly personal.

"I wanted to explore the troubling memories that I have carried with me for almost 25years", director Ari Folman said at the press conference following the press screening of the film yesterday. "For my friends and myself, these were dark memories that continue to haunt us. Doing the film allowed me and them to try and describe how this experience has marked our lives."

The film blends anime technique with classic documentary approaches (talking head interviews, voice over narration, up-close-and-personal camera technique) to offer a bold visual statement that is also an involving anti-war chronicle of an element of the Israel/Palestine conflict. As its animated characters dig deep to reveal the pain and disillusionment of war, audiences will find themselves able to place themselves in this no man's land of modern warfare in a way that a standard live action documentary could never do.

The animation is used by Folman to illuminate what might be called his subjects’ historical imagination — in which actual lived experience combines with fears, fantasies and justifications. This "fog of war", even after 25 years, keeps the men (no women) interviewed in kind of paralytic purgatory, where they are both afraid to remember the past and afraid of moving forward into the future.

The film was wildly received at its world premiere in Cannes and is a prime example of an international co-production (between Israel, France and Germany) where each partner brings their own special gifts to the project. The film will open theatrically via specialty distributor Sony Pictures Classics, the arthouse divsion of Sony Pictures, on December 26, to capitalize on Oscar/Golden Globe season. SPC successfully distributed last year's animation success Persepolis, making it both a box office winner and also a serious Oscar contender.

To get more information on the film and view a trailer, log on to: