30 December, 2009

North American Market Wrap Up

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

With 2009 coming to a close, which represented a challenge to the specialty distribution market in North America (and everywhere else), French cinema was the sole bright light in what has become a shrinking market for European quality film. While there were some celebrated films from Germany (The Baader Meinhof Complex), Spain (Broken Embraces), Italy (Gomorrah) and the UK (Bright Star, Hunger), their overall box office performances were considered very modest. The BBC co-production An Education has grossed more than $8 million to date, with a continuing theatrical career ahead, particularly if its star Carey Mulligan is the recipient of Best Actress honors in the weeks ahead.

European films must, out of necessity, rely on positive critical acclaim and strong word of mouth. With the clout of critics (particularly newspaper and magazine film scribes) being diluted and the inability of specialty films to stay in theaters long enough for wider audiences to discover them, this has been a difficult one-two punch that has diminished the performance of the films in the North American film. Add to that the recent closures of seveal specialty studio distribution divisions and the economic challenges of independent distributors, and the landscape is definitely a challenging one.

However, several films from France, long a favorite for American audiences, have bucked the trend and done quite well. The most successful foreign language film of the year, Coco Before Chanel, has grossed over $6 million at the American box office. Of the eight foreign-language films that have grossed over $1 million at the box office, most were either full-on French productions (including The Class and Summer Hours) or French co-productions (Sin Nombre, Gomorrah and Departures). The newest Almodovar film, Broken Embraces, a French/Spanish co-production, is still in theaters and has grossed over $1.5 million in less than six weeks (although it will probably not make as much as the Spanish director's previous Volver).

French films have also figured strongly in end of the year critics prizes, including a nod to Yolande Moreau as Best Actress by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for her role in Seraphine as a naive, underappreciated artist and Summer Hours, which picked up Best Foreign Film trophies from the Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC film critics.

Hopes are high for French cinema in 2010, with the opening next month of A Prophet, director Jacques Audiard's hard-hitting prison film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and recently won the Best Actor prize at the European Film Awards. The film, which will be released in North America by Sony Pictures Classics, is also nominated for Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Awards and just might be on the Oscar shortlist when the nominations are announced in a few weeks.

Hopes are high that with the American economy staging a modest comeback and the increased revenues to be realized by day-and-date simultaneous releases in theaters and on video-on-demand cable and satellite systems, that a continuing stream of quality European films will continue to reach the American public. These are definitely challenging times but the continued high quality of European cinema finds its own water marks.

23 December, 2009

Golden Globe Snubs and Surprises

Jeremy Renner in THE HURT LOCKER

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

It happens every year.....key performances, outstanding films and worthy indies and international titles that seem primed for awards consideration are inexplicably ignored. This has happened again with the announcement last week of the Golden Globe Award nominations, considered second only to the Oscars.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group of 80 international film critics and journalists who vote for the prizes, is known for favoring big stars over lesser known performers. This unfortunately was played out with some surprising snubs of quality performances from somewhat smaller films. Both Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie were conspicuously left out of the running in the Iraq war drama THE HURT LOCKER. Alfred Molina, who has generated the best reviews of his career as the disapproving father in AN EDUCATION was also ignored. Samantha Morton, an Oscar nominee for Woody Allen's SWEET AND LOWDOWN, was snubbed for her role as the grieving widow of an Army captain in the indie drama THE MESSENGER.

For Best Picture honors, two films that received some of the strongest reviews of the year, Lone Scherfig’s 1960s-set AN EDUCATION and Clint Eastwood’s history lesson/rousing sports drama INVICTUS failed to make the cut in the Best Drama category. Joel and Ethan Coen’s A SERIOUS MAN was overlooked in the comedy or musical category. Although their films were nominated, directors Lee Daniels (PRECIOUS) and Rob Marshall (NINE) were absent from the list in the Best Director category.

The Golden Globes are also notorious for their surprise picks and this year, heads wagged at the news that Julia Roberts was picked for the middling caper comedy DUPLICITY and Tobey Maguire, Spiderman himself, was chosen for his histrionic performance in BROTHERS. For several lead actors, this year's nominations came in twin size, with double nods for Sandra Bullock (THE PROPOSAL and THE BLIND SIDE), Meryl Streep (JULIE AND JULIA and IT'S COMPLICATED) and Matt Damon (INVICTUS and THE INFORMANT).

The Golden Globes will be handed out at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 17 in Los Angeles, in a live telecast ceremony hosted by the British comedian Ricky Gervais.


“The Hurt Locker”
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Up in the Air”

“500 Days of Summer”
“The Hangover”
“It’s Complicated”
“Julie & Julia”

Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”
James Cameron, “Avatar”
Clint Eastwood, “Invictus”
Jason Reitman, “Up in the AIr”
Quentin Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds”

Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart”
George Clooney, “Up in the Air”
Colin Firth, “A Single Man”
Morgan Freeman, “Invictus”
Tobey Maguire, “Brothers”

Emily Blunt, “The Young Victoria
Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”
Helen Mirren, “The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, “An Education
Gabourey Sibide, “Precious”

Sandra Bullock, “The Proposal”
Marion Cotillard, “Nine”
Julia Roberts, “Duplicity”
Mery Streep, “It’s Complicated”
Meryl Streep “Julie & Julia”

Matt Damon, “The Informant”
Daniel Day Lewis, “Nine”
Robert Downey, Jr., “Sherlock Holmes”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “500 Days of Summer”
Michael Stuhlbarg, “A Serious Man”

Penelope Cruz, “Nine”
Vera Farmiga, “Up in the Air”
Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”
Mo’Nique, “Precious”
Julianne Moore, “A Single Man”

Matt Damon, “Invictus”
Woody Harrelson, “The Messenger”
Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, “The Lovely Bones”
Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”

A Prophet
Broken Embraces
“The Maid”
The White Ribbon

“District 9”
“The Hurt Locker”
“It’s Complicated”
“Up in the Air”
“Inglourious Basterds”

Michael Giacchino, “Up”
Marvin Hamlisch, “The Informant”
James Horner, “Avatar”
Abel Krozeniowski, “A Single Man”
Karen O. and Carter Burwell, “Where the Wild Things Are”

“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”
“Fantastic Mr. Fox”
“The Princess and the Frog”

“Cinema Italiano” from “Nine”
“I Want to Come Home” from “Everybody’s Fine”
“I Will See You” from “Avatar”
“The Weary Kind” from “Crazy Heart”
“Winter” from “Brothers”

SAG Awards: Actors In The Spotlight

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Screen Actors Guild, the most important union of actors and actresses working in the American film and television industries, have announced their award nominees for this year. With the focus squarely on the acting arts, the list of those tapped for possible awards makes another pit stop in the road to the Oscars (which will be given out this year on March 7).

As expected, lead and supporting actors in the films as UP IN THE AIR, PRECIOUS and INGLORIOUS BASTERDS scored well, each receiving three acting nominations. These nods have heated up the race for the Golden Globe and Oscar award races. UP IN THE AIR saw SAG nominations for its three principal cast members: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick - but was surprisingly snubbed for Best Cast Ensemble. In that category, considered the most prestigious in the SAG Awards race, were Quentin Tarantino's World War II-set INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and the urban drama PRECIOUS, alongside the Iraq War drama THE HURT LOCKER, the 1960s-set AN EDUCATION and the musical extravaganza NINE.

Aside from the snub of UP IN THE AIR, the other major surprise was the choice of Diane Kruger for her Best Supporting Actress role in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. She was chosen over such possible favorites as Julianne Moore as a boozy expat in A SINGLE MAN and Samantha Morton as a grieving widow in the indie drama THE MESSENGER. The Coen Brothers' film A SERIOUS MAN and the American remake of the Danish film BROTHERS also did not secure a single nomination.

Others who did not make the list included Daniel Day-Lewis and Marion Cotillard for the musical NINE; Alfred Molina as the disapproving father in AN EDUCATION; Emily Blunt as the virgin queen in THE YOUNG VICTORIA; and Christian McKay, who garnered strong notices for his turn as the young tyro director in ME AND ORSON WELLES.

The Screen Actors Guild Awards will be announced on January 23, 2010at a televised ceremony in Los Angeles.


Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
An Education
“The Hurt Locker
“Inglourious Basterds”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart”
George Clooney, “Up In The Air”
Colin Firth, “A Single Man”
Morgan Freeman, “Invictus”
Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”
Helen Mirren, “The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, “An Education
Gabourey Sidibe,“Precious”
Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Matt Damon, “Invictus”
Woody Harrelson, “The Messenger”
Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, “The Lovely Bones”
Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Penelope Cruz, “Nine”
Vera Farmiga, “Up In The Air”
Anna Kendrick, “Up In The Air”
Diane Kruger, “Inglourious Basterds”
Mo’Nique, “Precious”

AN EDUCATION Leads London Critics

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

AN EDUCATION, the 1960s-set drama by Danish director Lone Scherfig, led the pack at the announcement of the 30th London Film Critics’ Circle Awards nominations. The film scored seven nominations, including British Film of the Year and notices for actors Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike and Olivia Williams.

AN EDUCATION will compete for Best British film with the likes of Jane Campion’s BRIGHT STAR, Armando Iannucci’s IN THE LOOP, Andrea Arnold’s FISH TANK, and Duncan Jones’s MOON. Nominees for Best Film of the Year included such Oscar contenders as James Cameron’s AVATAR, Kathryn Bigelow’s THE HURT LOCKER, Jacques Audiard’s A PROPHET, Michael Haneke’s THE WHITE RIBBON and Jason Reitman’s UP IN THE AIR.

Additionally, the LFCC announced that they will award Quentin Tarantino its highest honor, the Dilys Powell Award for Excellence in Cinema, at their ceremony on February 18, 2010 at the Landmark Hotel in London.




The Hurt Locker

A Prophet

The White Ribbon

Up in the Air


Bright Star

An Education

Fish Tank

In the Loop



The Class


Let the Right One In

A Prophet

The White Ribbon


    Jacques Audiard – A Prophet

    Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker

    James Cameron – Avatar

    Michael Haneke – The White Ribbon

    Jason Reitman – Up in the Air


    Andrea Arnold – Fish Tank

    Armando Iannucci – In the Loop

    Duncan Jones – Moon

    Kevin Macdonald – State of Play

    Sam Taylor-Wood – Nowhere Boy


    Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart

    George Clooney – Up in the Air

    Tahar Rahim – A Prophet

  • Michael Stuhlbarg – A Serious Man

    Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds


    Abbie Cornish – Bright Star

    Vera Farmiga – Up in the Air

    Mo’Nique – Precious

    Carey Mulligan – An Education

    Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia


    Peter Capaldi – In the Loop

    Colin Firth – A Single Man

    Tom Hardy – Bronson

    Christian MacKay – Me and Orson Welles

    Andy Serkis – Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll


    Emily Blunt – The Young Victoria

    Helen Mirren – The Last Station

    Carey Mulligan – An Education

    Katie Jarvis – Fish Tank

    Kristin Scott Thomas – Nowhere Boy
  • 04 December, 2009


    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    The world premiere of a new film, particularly one from Romania, which has had a very high international profile of late, is a major event for a film festival. And here at POFF, the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, the arrival of a new Romanian talent, in a co-production that includes Romania, Moldova and Luxembourg, is an event worth noting.

    Napoleon Helmis (born in 1969, Topana, Romania) graduated the National Theater and Film's Art University in Bucharest in 1996, where he currently teaches film direction. In 2004, he made his feature debut with THE ITALIAN GIRLS. WEDDING IN BESSARABIA, his second full-length feature, is competing in the Eurasia International Competition here.

    Bessarabia is a historical region whose capital is the current Moldovan capital of Chisinau. The area was part of Romania from 1918-1940. In 1940, the Soviet Union formed the Moldavian SSR by annexing Transnistria to the central and northern part of Bessarabia. A heated argument over influence in Moldova persists to the present day between Russia and Romania.

    What is most exciting about the film is how it fits into a classic European tradition while also revealing the subtleties of a culture that remains quite obscure. The film opens on a train, where young Vlad and Vica are having a heated quarrel. Mirroring arguments in countries across the globe in these trying, economic times, the conflict has to do with money, which has become especially needed since a child is on the way.

    Hoping to find an easier way to make a living, the train is taking them from the hard life of Romania to to the girl's homeland of Moldova, where the wedding will be held. The wedding not only reunited her with her family but also allows the couple the chance to receive presents and cash that they desperately need to start their new life together.

    In the midst of political debate, social complexities and economic hardships, what emerges is a portrait of a community that celebrates joie de vivre and humanity. The film holds on to its optimism while it delights artistically in the socio-political complexities of a region that has known its share of sorrows.
    For more information on the film, visit:

    Eurasia Competition at Tallinn FF

    ENTER THE VOID (Gaspar Noe, France)

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    The main event here at POFF, the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, which is entering its final weekend, is the Eurasia International Competition, a mix of 21 films hailing from Europe and Asia. The films on view have been acclaimed at other film festivals on the circuit and are making their Eastern European or Baltic Premieres at the event. As a whole, this is an astonishing survey of current trends in world cinema.

    European titles includes films from Germany, Belgium, Denmark, France, Norway, Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Poland, Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom. Representative Asian titles hail from Israel, Lebanon, India, Iran, South Korea, Japan and Sri Lanka. One of the films in the competition "Wedding In Bessarabia", directed by Romanian filmmaker Napoleon Helmis is a world premiere in Tallinn.

    The films are a diverse group of visual essays and filmmaking of the highest order. The standout selections are perhaps French filmmaker Gaspar Noé’s eccentric visual trip Enter the Void”; the Hungarian director György Pálfi’s improvisational I Am Not Your Friend”; the neo-Hitchcockian Austrian gem "Lourdes"; . the hyperstylized Belgian film "Altiplano" and the Israeli/German co-production "Ajami”, co-directed by an Arab, Scandar Copti, and an Israeli, Yaron Shani. The Iranian film “No One Know About Persian Cats” by celebrated director Bahman Ghobadi reveals how underground rock n roll music and musicians survive in the repressive culture of contemporary Teheran.

    Among the well-known European directors included in this competition section are Francois Ozon, the French auteur of "Le Refuge", a moving tale of drug addiction and redemption; Ukranian director Kira Muratova who offers the melancholy “The Melody of Street Organ”; the Finnish director Klaus Harö's human drama Letters to Father Jacob and Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat’s “Women without Men”, a tour de force art film for which she won Best Director honors at the Venice Film Festival.

    For more information on the Eurasia International Competition, visit:

    02 December, 2009

    North American Indies At Tallinn FF

    DON'T LET ME DROWN (USA, Cruz Angeles)

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    While covering the events and atmosphere here in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, for POFF, the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, I should come clean and let readers know that I have been hired by the Festival to bring quality American and Canadian films to the event this year. In all, a record 25 films from North America will be showcased in Tallinn this year. And while this blog is supposed to focus on European films in North America, I am altering the menu this week to discuss American films in Europe......independent cinema makers all being cousins and comrades.

    Here is the copy written by me as an introduction to the 10-film NORTH AMERICAN INDEPENDENTS COMPETITION, which the Festival has inaugurated this year for the first time to showcase important American and Canadian indie films that have yet to be seen or distributed in Eastern Europe:

    "Hollywood has such a strong presence that it is easy to imagine that the only films coming out of North America are special-effects extravaganzas, vampire romances or star-heavy blockbusters. American film is one of the country’s most influential exports and, in many ways, defines the North American experience for most people around the globe.

    However, an alternative to the Hollywood cinema has emerged, blossomed and strengthened. Independent cinema, produced outside of the Hollywood studios and not dependent on the financial and aesthetic demands of the celebrity culture, has created its own set of rules. Independent cinema is where the new ideas, new techniques and new approaches to visual storytelling begin to take root. They may come from directors and actors with names not widely known to the general public, but for those audience members willing to take the ride, the rewards can be great.

    It is in that spirit that the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival introduces a new section to this year’s program. The North American Independents Competition brings together a group of smart, courageous and unusual films from a new generation of film artists in the USA and Canada. The goals are to generate awareness, interest and a hunger from the Estonian public for the films being produced by a new band of visual storytellers.

    The 10 films in this program offer unique twists on established film genres, bringing much-needed oxygen to recognized film forms. The rewards and pitfalls of modern relationships are explored in the films SORRY, THANKS, PAPER HEART and PETER AND VANDY. Young people coming into their own form the subtext of such films as DON’T LET ME DROWN and MOMMY AT THE HAIRDRESSER’S. The bonds and rivalries between family members and friends is investigated in the films THE EXPLODING GIRL, THE PERFECT AGE OF ROCK N ROLL and UNTITLED. The theme of finding your own essential truth is movingly expressed in THE LEGACY and YOU WON’T MISS ME.

    Taken together, the films have one common theme that runs through them…..the very human need for connection and community, which remains a powerful necessity for an individual and a nation. By opening themselves up to the experience of these films, hopefully audiences here in Tallinn will note the differences but also relate to the similarities of the human experience that unites us all."

    01 December, 2009

    Baltic Event Brings Film Pros To Tallinn

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    Straying a little bit from my regular beat covering European cinema in the North American market, I am at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. The huge event with over 250 films screening from around the world, includes a number of strong industry initiatives under the umbrella title of BALTIC EVENT.

    BALTIC EVENT is the largest regional film market, bringing together film distributors, financiers, film festival reps and other professionals to meet the Baltic film industry. Comprised of seminar panels, one-on-one networking opportunities and a dedicated Market screenings sidebar, BALTIC EVENT brings together intriguing, challenging, and promising projects with the best producers from the region and representatives of international sales and distribution companies.

    The Baltic Event Co-Production Market is showcasing twelve new film projects in the development phase and gives their producers an opportunity to pitch and propose collaborations with a host of film professionals from all across Europe. The Market is set up around one-to-one meetings between project representatives and potential financiers. All meetings are organized by the Market team in advance, so that a producer can have as many as a dozen meetings in one day to pitch their projects. Participants this year include production outfits from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Romania, Albania, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine and Finland.

    New this year is the Black Market Industry Screenings, which presents industry-only presentations of newly completed films. This year's crop of films include entries from Armena, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Romania, Finland, Tajikstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Russia.

    Another new initiative is the Coming Soon program, which screens trailers of Baltic film projects in post-production, with the aim of bringing them to the attention of sales agents and distributors before they hit the film festival circuit. This first peek gives motivated buyers a look at the exciting films from the region that will be making waves in 2010.

    Sales agents, distributors, film festival directors and producers participating in the three-day parallel market events include representatives from Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bosnia Herzigovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Latvia, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tadzhikistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uzbekistan.

    For more information on these events, visit:

    28 November, 2009

    Asian and European Films Top IDFA Awards

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    Asian and European films dominated the top awards at IDFA, the International Documentary Film Festival, which held its awards gala yesterday afternoon at the historic art nouveau movie palace, the Tuschinski. The audience, made up of filmmakers, professionals and doc film buffs, loudly applauded the winners and the overall excellence of this year's program.

    The VPRO IDFA Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary (with a cash prize of €12,500) went to Lixin Fan for Last Train Home, about the heroic journey undertaken by countless Chinese workers each year from the new industrial areas to their families in the provinces. The film, which was produced with funds from the Festival's Jan Vrijman Fund, impressed the jury with its cinematic technique and the strong emotional pull of the story. The jury also awarded a Special Jury Award to Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith for The Most Dangerous Man in America (USA). The film is a portrait of Daniel Ellsberg, the man who in 1971 leaked the seven-thousand page report The Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, an act of defiance that turned the tide of public opinion against the war and eventually led to both the end of the conflict and the termination of the presidential reign of Richard Nixon.

    Bong-Nam Park received the NPS IDFA Award for Best Mid-Length Documentary (€ 10,000) for Iron Crows (South Korea), about the largest ship-breaking yard in the world, which is in Bangladesh. The jury was impressed by the raw courage of the workers depicted in the film, as well as the moral stance of the filmmakers documenting their lives. The same jury awarded Marcin Janos Krawczyk the IDFA Award for Best Short Documentary (€5,000) for Six Weeks (Poland). This short documentary is an intimate portrait about the amount of time, following the birth, given to parents in Poland in which to change their minds about giving up their child for adoption.

    The IDFA Award for First Appearance ( €5,000) was presented to the Irish team of Ross McDonnell and Carter Gunn for Colony (Ireland/USA), which deals with the phenomenon Colony Collapse Disorder, whereby bee colonies disappear without trace after swarming.

    The first Dioraphte IDFA Award for Dutch Documentary (€5,000) went to John Appel for The Player. In this film, Appel goes in search of the essence of the gambling addiction, taking his late father as the starting point.

    The Nederland 2 IDFA Audience Award (€5,000) was presented to The Cove (USA) by Louie Psihoyos. This spirited action documentary promotes the cause of dolphins, who are captured and killed in large numbers in the Japanese coastal resort of Taiji.

    Sabrina Wulff received the IDFA Award for Student Documentary (€2,500) for Redemption (Germany), a film about three deserters from the American army who fled to Canada, from where they relate their memories of the – in their opinion senseless – war in Iraq.

    The IDFA DOC U! Award, consisting of €1,500 awarded by a separate jury of young people, went to The Yes Men Fix the World (France/USA) by Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno. In this sharp, entertaining documentary, the Yes Men pretend to be spokespersons for large companies, using this ruse as a platform from which to criticise the free market.

    Before the winners were announced, Amsterdam alderman for Culture, Carolien Gehrels, officially launched IDFA TV. IDFA TV is the online documentary channel, where more than 30 documentaries from the IDFA archives can be seen all year round, for free. Next year, the selection will be expanded to approximately 200 documentaries. Most of these films will be available free of charge, but IDFA is also planning to experiment with pay systems. The documentaries concerned will be both recent and older films that have screened at IDFA.

    Festival Director Ally Derks introduced the event, announcing with great fanfare that this year's edition would have its highest attendance figures ever. More than 165,000 audience members are expected to attend screenings through the end of Sunday. The number of international guests reached a record of 2300 this year, bringing together documentary makers, financiers and distributors from a wide spectrum of media.

    IDFA is not only a festival with a mission, but it is remarkably a very public event with strong mainstream support. Most screenings were sold out in advance, with enthusiastic audiences that lingered at the various screening theaters to discuss and debate the themes in the films they had just seen. With multiple audience and professional events studded throughout the Festival, this is an experience that engages and involves the audience in a very unique way. Hats off to the IDFA team for creating such a professional and committed atmosphere that leaves one enriched, sometimes enraged and energized to fight the good fight.

    All Eyes Turn To Tallinn

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    In the year-round film festival circuit, a roundelay of more than 2000 individual film events held in almost every corner of the globe, one moves as if part of a gypsy caravan, lingering in one place before taking up stakes for the next location. For me, it is a lateral move across Europe from Amsterdam, where I have been attending the IDFA International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, and the host of the 13th annual POFF, Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

    Tallinn, an economic boom town before the current economic collapse, is a city on the verge, with a mix of a charming old town center and some of Europe's most radical modern buildings. What you feel in Tallinn is a reemergence of the city's traditional openness to outside cultures, after a long period of (forced) insurality under the Soviet Union. As befits a port city, the winds from other countries are making their way to Estonia this week, by way of filmed images projected on a white screen.

    PÖFF's main program comprises 220 feature films from 74 countries. The international competition programme EurAsia, held for the sixth year, features 20 films from Europe and Asia. The Tridens Baltic Feature Film Competition, held for the second time, presents 9 feature films from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This year PÖFF also introduces the North American Independent Film Competition, comprising 10 films from the United States and Canada , many of which are European premieres.

    All competition programmes are judged by international juries. Baltic films are judged by representatives from the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI), and there are also juries from the International Federation of Film Clubs (FICC) and the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC).

    PÖFF's programme includes 17 films that have been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film by their respective countries. 13 films featured in the program have been nominated for European Film Academy (EFA) awards, including A Prophet (directed by Jacques Audiard, France) and The White Ribbon (directed by Michael Haneke, Austria). EFA Winners will be announced in Berlin on 12 December, but next year the European Film Awards will be presented in Tallinn, a first for Eastern Europe.

    PÖFF is presenting a host of world and European premieres. Having their first exposure at the Festivala are "Wedding in Bessarabia", a Romanian/Moldavian co-production competing in the EurAsia competition program, and the Finnish documentary "I Draw Therefore I Am". Half of the films in the new North American Independents Competition are European premieres, including "Don’t Let Me Drown", "The Golden Age of Rock'n'Roll", "Peter and Vandy", "Sorry, Thanks" and "(Untitled)".
    This year, special Festival focuses include a survey of Portugese cinema and screen versions of the novels of celebrated author Knut Hamsun. In addition to the competition sections, the Festival features focuses on fashion, documentary films, midnight cult movies and films that deal with human rights issues. A new section debuting this year is "Vitamin Boost", a recommended program composed by the Festival program team.

    Aside from screening premieres, special events and chic after-parties, POFF also hosts a parallel industry conference titled The Baltic Event. Various seminars and workshops will be presented as well as a first-ever film market, the Black Market Industry Screenings, introducing the latest productions from Northern, Eastern and Central European countries to the representatives of the film industry. Also, for the first time, a literary rights market named "Books Into Movies" will introduce works from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Finland, Norway, Georgia and the Ukraine.

    For more information on the Festival, visit: and return to this blog site, where we will present the excitement and talents of Tallinn.

    18 November, 2009

    The New Home For International Cinema

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    With foreign-language films (with "dreaded" sub-titles) becoming more and more difficult to find theatrical distribution, the action has moved to the home screen for even films that have been major presences on the international film festival circuit. IFC Films, which still does do day-and-date simultaneous openings in theaters and on its on-demand television network, is increasingly showcasing films strictly on its IFC ON DEMAND service, available via cable and satellite television to millions of viewers. The argument here is that these films are exclusive television fare that could generate more viewers at home than they ever could at the cinema house. The theory is a good one and potentially more lucrative for everyone involved, but represents a further diminishing of the theatrical "window" for us Neanderthals who still like our films up on the big screen.

    Oh least the films are getting out of the strictly film festival ghetto and getting a shot at wide exposure. And while I live in New York City, where luckly specialized cinema is still making a last (althought increasingly desperate) stand, there are millions of people scattered around the US who do not have an arthouse cinema near them and therefore would miss out on these wonderful films. You don't have to go far beyond the Manhattan island into the vast world of suburban multiplexes to realize how difficult it is to see a quality European, South American or Asian film.

    This week, IFC ON DEMAND is launching a French film on its video-on-demand service that not too long ago could have been a modest theatrical hit. It illustrates the sorry state of theatrical distribution for films that dare not speak English. While European titles in general are finding scarce space at the multiplex, at least French films have been doing somewhat better. The recent hits LA VIE EN ROSE, SUMMER HOURS and COCO BEFORE CHANEL demonstrated that the American art crowd's love affair with Gallic cinema remains strong.

    The actress/writer/director Josiane Balasko (TOO BEAUTIFUL FOR YOU, FRENCH TWIST) has had many of her previous films shown on the arthouse circuit, but her latest FRENCH GIGOLO (Cliente), is also bypassing a theatrical release and showing up on-demand on IFC. One would think that with "cougar culture" (an older woman who beds a younger man) so prominent now in America, that this film would have justified a full-on theatrical release.

    But discriminating television audiences will delight in the wonderful actress Nathalie Bay who plays a 50-something television personality whose sexual needs are met by casual encounters with young male escorts she connects with online. She becomes particularly enamoured of a sexy 30-year-old (played with oodles of charm by Eric Caravaca) who is secretly married. The film, which premiered at last year's Sundance Film Festival, is a very revealing comedy/drama about the confluence of sex, power and money.

    If a French film about sex cannot be seen in movie theaters, the crisis may be worse that even I understand. But at least IFC Films, which has been picking up a good number of quality European films of late including VINCERE, CRACKS, HADEWIJCH, ANTICHRIST, FISH TANK, MAMMOTH, DEAD SNOW, GOMORRAH and HUNGER to name a few, is in the game. Look for the focus to move into online offerings in the months to come. But will the audience for these kinds of films remain very slim or will the availability create an added spark of interest (particularly among young people)? Not even the movie mavens have an answer for that one......

    16 November, 2009

    CRACKS Finds Home At IFC

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    CRACKS, starring Eva Green (Casino Royale, The Dreamers), which premiered to critical acclaim at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival, has been picked up for North American distribution by IFC FILMS. The UK/US co-production is the directorial debut of Jordan Scott, who was born in England and has directed campaigns throughout the world for RSA Films. She directed a short-film advertising campaign for Prada as well as public service announcements advocating gun control. She also co-directed the short film Jonathan for the collection All the Invisible Children (05).

    CRACKS follows an elite group of boarding school girls who compete for the attention of their free-thinking and glamorous young teacher Miss G (Green). She encourages them to indulge their desires, flout the establishment and pursue a life of independence and travel. The girls are thrilled to have such an inspiring teacher, but the status quo is threatened when the arrival of an exotic and beautiful Spanish student (Maria Valverde) disturbs the girl’s rigid and remorseless power structure.

    CRACKS was produced by Scott Free, Future Films, Element Pictures, Industry Entertainment and Killer Films in association with John Wells. Studio Canal will handle the French and Benelux releases and Optimum will distribute in the UK. Ridley Scott and Tony Scott served as executive producers.

    IFC Films will release CRACKS in 2010 via its IFC in Theaters platform which brings critically-acclaimed independent movies to on-demand viewers at home the same day they premiere in theaters.

    10 November, 2009

    European Winners At FLIFF

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF) is one of the important regional festivals in the United States. For the past 24 years, it has been a key showcase of international cinema, with a special emphasis on European and American Independent Films. At this year's event, European films were especially strong and also figured in the Festival's Awards, which were announced on Sunday evening.

    Best Foreign Film honors went to the French film QUEEN TO PLAY (Joeuse), directed by Caroline Bottaro and starring Sandrine Bonnaire as a french maid whose passion for the game of chess lead her to a chance at a championship and a new shot at life. Serbian director Darko Lungolov took home the Best Director/Foreign Film prize for HERE AND THERE, an inventive tale that told the parallel stories of an American in Serbia and a Serbian in the United States. The Best Actor/Foreign Film prize was awarded to John Hurt, for his triumphant return to his famous role as iconic gay wit Quentin Crisp in the dryly amusing AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK.

    Winning the top documentary prize was MOUNT ST. ELIAS, a breathtaking eco film, shot and directed by Austrian documentarian Gerald Salmina. The French animation film AZUR AND ASMAL walked off with the Best Children's Film prize for its director Michel Ocelot. An Italian film, appropriately titled ITALIANS by Giovanni Veronesi, won the Audience Favorite Award, chosen by audience vote. Other European films that scored included a Special Jury Award for the British eco doc BEYOND THE POLE and the Best Screenplay Prize for the Turkish drama PANDORA'S BOX, directed by Yesim Ustaoglu.

    In the American Independent categories, ENTRE NOS, a hard-hitting drama of an illegal immigrant and her childrens' struggle for humanity on the mean streets of New York City, swept the top awards including: The Seashell Award for Best Film of the Festival, Best Actress/International (Paola Mendoza), a Special Jury Award for Child Debut and The President’s Award for Best Feature Film. Another big winner was the off-beat comedy PUNCHING THE CLOWN, knocking out three wins for Best American Indie Film, Best Actor in an American Indie (Henry Phillips) and Best Director of an American Indie (Gregori Viens). David Thornton tied for the Best Actor category for his performance in HERE AND THERE. Another highly praised American indie at the Festival, the feminist drama TRUCKER, took home awards for its star Michelle Monaghan as Best Actress In An American Indie and the film's director James Mottern as Best First Time Director. Monaghan, whose appearance on the Festival's opening weekend drew record crowds, also received the Festival's Star on the Horizon Award.

    The 24th edition of FLIFF featured a host of celebrity talents receiving career awards. Lifetime Achievement Awards were presented to veteran film, television and theater actor Kevin McCarthy and Italian cinematographer Mario Tosi. Actor Matthew Broderick was honored with the Career Achievement Award and attended the premiere of his new film WONDERFUL WORLD.
    After three extensive (and exhausting) weeks, audiences in South Florida were able to experience the best of American Indie and international cinema, without having to leave the tropical paradise, abundant sunshine and ocean breezes of their city. Hats off Greg, Bonnie, Hal, Jan, et al. for another great year of cinematic gems.

    06 November, 2009

    Italian Neorealism At New York's Lincoln Center

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    It doesn’t get much better than this…..the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which presents the New York Film Festival each Fall, is in the midst of a revelatory review of one of the major film movements of the 20th century, presenting a list of acknowledged classics along with previously unknown (at least to me) gems. ITALIAN NEOREALISM AND THE BIRTH OF MODERN CINEMA is an exhaustive look at the cinema that flourished in Italy in the post-war period and that still remains a high point of film’s desire to capture the reality of the moment on screen.

    Organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Cinecittà Luce and the Fondazione Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia-Cineteca Nazionale, with the support of the Italian Ministry of Culture – Film Department and the Italian Consulate General, the program of 40 films runs from October 30 to November 25 at the Society’s flagship Walter Reade Theater.

    In 1945, with Europe in ruins, an unlikely but compelling revolution was taking place in the rubble-strewn landscapes of Italy. A group of films that were soon dubbed Italian Neorealism offered a very different kind of cinema than Italy or the world had ever seen before, drawing on the harsh deprivations and moral complexities of the times. Filmmakers, newly liberated from the grip of Fascism, used their limited resources to capture an indelible moment in time. Using real locations, available light, non-professional actors, and presenting stories of moral courage and depravity, these cinema revolutionaries created a new template that eventually influenced Hollywood and world cinema, while also giving artistic impetus to independent filmmakers around the globe to simply “go out and do it”.

    Some of the titles are perennially listed as the greatest films ever made: OPEN CITY, BICYCLE THIEVES, PAISAN, UMBERTO D….films that still pack extraordinary power due to the vibrancy of the performances, the boldness of the stories, the innate humanity that survives in the most unlikely of circumstances. These humanist qualities combined with a spare modernist storytelling style not only influenced the filmmakers of the 1940s and 1950s, but their resonance carries through today.

    What this ambitious program makes clear is that aside from the well-known classics from such iconic filmmakers of the period as Robert Rossellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittoria De Sica, the film movement known as Neorealism included impressive achievements from such talents as Alberto Lattuada, Renato Castellani, and Giuseppe De Santis, while also providing cinematic training for such masters Pietro Germi, Federico Fellini, Ermanno Olmi, Francesco Rosi, and Pier Paolo Pasolini. And aside from the directors’ triumphs, the era fed such indelible acting talents as Anna Magnani, Silvia Mangano, Gina Lollabrigida, Vittorio Gassman, Alberto Sordi, Marcello Mastroianni and, most scandalously, Ingrid Bergman (who turned her back on a Hollywood career to follow the voyage to Italy with future husband Rossellini).

    The series includes among its themes: life during wartime (a traumatic period that remains specific and universal at the same time), the roots of the Italian gangster film (that still flourishes to this time with such recent triumphs as GOMORRAH) and a very specific type of Italian low comedy (with more than a snippet of social satire). Like a good Italian meal, this series tempts the palate and invites the filmgoer to devour more (or consider a $99 series ticket for a full Italian course). For more information on the series, visit the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s website:

    03 November, 2009

    Italian Cinematographer Mario Tosi Honored At FLIFF

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    It is a long journey from Nazi-occupied Rome to the sunshine glitz of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.....but this is the journey that cinematographer Mario Tosi has taken to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award in Cinematography at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival on Wednesday evening prior to the screening of ITALIANS by writer/director Giovanni Veronesi.

    Mr. Tosi has shot over 35 films including such Hollywood projects as HEARTS OF THE WEST (Jeff Bridges, Blythe Danner, Andy Griffith), CARRIE (Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, Piper Laurie), MACARTHUR (Gregory Peck), THE BETSY (Laurence Olivier, Robert Duvall, Katharine Ross, Tommy Lee Jones), THE MAIN EVENT (Barbra Streisand, Ryan O'Neal), THE STUNT MAN (Peter O'Toole), RESURECTION (Ellen Burstyn), WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY (Richard Dreyfus, John Cassavettes), SYBIL (Sally Field), among others. Over the past month and a half, FLIFF has paid homage to Mr. Tosi with a retrospective.

    In a mini-memoir published in the Festival catalogue, Mario Tosi reflected on his journey from Rome to Hollywood to Fort Lauderdale:

    "I was born in Rome in the middle of WWII --not an easy time! My parents had no connection with films or show business. My father worked for the government and my mother raised three kids.

    However on my street just outside the Roman wall, they were many friends trying to succeed in the film industry as technicians, directors, actors -- some became very successful--like Michele Lupo, Marcello Mastroianni and Gina Lollobrigida - and even when they became famous they always came back, time to time in our caffe' to tell stories and from those my interest grew.

    I started working with a Director of Photography learning the basics and went on location in South Africa to work in two productions. My big break came in Johannesburg replacing an injured second cameramen, working with a famous director of photography from Sweden that filmed many Ingmar Bergman movies. The film TEAR ON JOHANNESBURG was banned in that country because it was against the apartheid.

    Soon my desire was to come to America-- Hollywood--and see were the big movies were made! A cinematographer from the American Society of Cinematographer wrote back to my enquiry with advice. And there I was in Hollywood. However, big movies were made with union members…very difficult to join, so I began helping in lowest budget film imaginable and doing intense testing on my own and learning new equipment - films stock, camera, lighting. Finally I did find an independent producer-director who gave me the opportunity to shoot a love story in black and white.

    The final cut turned out more beautiful than I expected and that was the break. From then on was one project after another -with director Daniel Petri I did BUSTER AND BILLY and four others with him. Jim Harris director hired me to shoot SOME CALL IT LOVING, and THE GLORY STOMPER with Dennis Hopper. I have special memories of working with Richard Rush director of THE STUNT MAN. It was the most interesting and rewarding work of my career."

    28 October, 2009

    European Cinema Shines At FLIFF

    Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodovar's BROKEN EMBRACES (Spain)

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    European cinema has always had a strong presence at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. This year is no exception as FLIFF showcases a strong collection of films from a mix of emerging and established European film talents.

    Most of the European films are situated in the World Cinema section, which is not exclusively but overwhelmingly dominated by European titles. AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK, UK director Richard Laxton’s biopic on gay icon and wit Quentin Crisp, focuses on the raconteur’s final 20 years in the Big Apple. John Hurt reprises his celebrated turn in a role he was clearly born to play. He originally appeared in the 1975 telefilm THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT, based on the memoir of the gay pioneer.

    Also from England comes BEYOND THE POLE, an adventure mockumentary of two friends who attempt the first organic expedition to the North Pole. Director David Williams, a founding partner of Shooting Pictures, brings an interesting spin to the wacky tale, focusing on the ecological point of the trip and the camaraderie between the two jokey adventurers.

    Italian cinema is represented by COLPO D’OCCHIO (AT A GLANCE), a Hitchcockian thriller directed by Sergio Rubini. In a love triangle between a beautiful young woman and her two loves (one a prominent art critic, the other a struggling artist waiting for his big break), Rubini has created a potent story of fiery romance, competition and the dark heart of suspense that brings the audience to the edge of its seat with the film’s unexpected twists and turns. The film has been a box office hit in its native Italy.

    Also from Italy is the comedic road movie ITALIANS, written and directed by Giovanni Veronesi. The director of the popular comedy MANUAL OF LOVE returns with a film that is divided into tangy vignettes, each revealing a different side of the Italian culture, obsessions and neurotic attachments. Sex, food, romance and the eternal war between men and women are at the heart of this delightful film that was nominated for several David Di Donatello awards (the Italian Oscar) this past year.

    From Turkey comes the vibrant drama THE MARKET: A TALE OF TRADE, written and directed by American filmmaker Ben Hopkins. Set in Turkey, the film focuses on a market trader (played by Turkish superstar Tayanc Ayaydin) who is given the chance of a lifetime to invest in an exciting business deal. Not having the necessary cash, he turns to the outlawed black market and risks both his livelihood and life in that morally complex underworld. The film won several Golden Oranges (the Turkish Oscar) for Best Film, Best Screenplay and Best Actor.

    Also representing the revitalized Turkish cinema is PANDORA’S BOX, a family drama by Yesim Ustaoglu. The film tells the tale of an elderly mother who disappears in her small village on the Black Sea coast and the coming together of her three 40-something children who set aside their problems to come together. Like the film’s title, a sea of tension is released as the children are forced to work together and accept each other’s limitations. The film won awards for Best Director and Best Actress at the 2008 San Sebastian Film Festival.

    In a film that combines eros and haute cuisine, the Spanish comedy MEDITERRANEAN FOOD is a sumptuous tale of yet another love triangle. At the center of the love match is Sofia, who was raised amidst the stovetops and tables of her parents’ restaurant. Into her life come two men: one a respectable professional, the other an artistic chef with a flair for offbeat cuisine. Together, the threesome come to a professional and love arrangement that will revolutionize her culinary and personal universe. The film, written and directed by Joaquin Oristrell, was a sleeper hit at last year’s Berlin Film Festival.

    One of the more anticipated films of the season also hails from Spain. The newest work from Pedro Almodovar is always a treat for his many international fans. In his latest masterworks, he again teams with Penelope Cruz in BROKEN EMBRACES, a film that combines film noir aesthetic with a nice dash of mystery, romance and sexual tension. Again bringing a heightened melodrama to the proceedings, Almodovar tells the tale of a blind screenwriter and his amour fou relationship with the mistress of a ruthless business mogul. In a screenplay that is at turns witty and winsome, Almodovar creates another intriguing portrait of the power, responsibility and ultimate dissolution of passion.

    French cinema, always a favorite at FLIFF, is represented this year by two very different films. QUEEN TO PLAY, written and directed by Caroline Bottaro, stars Sandrine Bonnaire as a maid who learns about life through mastering the game of chess. Her teacher and employer, an expatriate American played by Kevin Kline, opens up a whole world for her beyond cooking meals and washing clothes. The film had its US Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and is making its Southeast Premiere in Fort Lauderdale.

    Another Sandrine, this one named Sandrine Kiberlain, is the erstwhile star of ROMAINE 30 BELOW. She stars as Romaine, whose boyfriend decides to take her on a wilderness vacation in northern Canada at Christmas time. The fateful adventures that await her in snowy Quebec are rife with hilarity and unexpected twists. Kiberlain, a talented comedienne in the mold of classic Hollywood screwball actresses, is a delight as she becomes more and more outrageous, while winning hearts of all she encounters (of course).

    European cinema shines in Fort Lauderdale this week.......

    26 October, 2009

    John Hurt Reprises His Iconic Gay Role

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    "I've played all kinds of roles, but the one that seems to have stayed in the imagination of the public was one I did way back in 1975", veteran British actor John Hurt shared with audiences at the Berlin Film Festival last winter following the premiere screening of AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK. "When I played real-life gay pioneer Quentin Crisp in the television film THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT, it made an immediate impact not only on my life but on that of Mr. Crisp himself."

    The television film, based on Crisp's autobiography of his outre life as an "out" gay man in the repressive British society of the 1940s and 1950s, was a pioneering film in its native England and became a major cause celebre at the time. Crisp himself was 65 when the film came out and he suddenly was thrust into instant celebrity and gay icon status as a result.

    Hurt reprises his celebrated role in AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK, which chronicles the later life of Crisp, who came to New York City on a speaking engagement in the early 1980s and stayed for the final 20 years of his life. Catching up with the out pioneer and wit during his autumnal New York years, Richard Laxton’s made-for-BBC film showcases Crisp's reconciliation of his icon status. The film makes its Florida premiere tonight at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival.

    It was not a charmed period for Crisp, although he was widely embraced by the gay community as an original and early pioneer. However, his acerbic comments on the growing AIDS epidemic (dismissing it in a published interview as a "fad") created a wedge between him and his former supporters which never completely healed until his final days.

    The new film does not quite live up to the status of the original, but is absolutely worth seeing as a showcase for a brilliant John Hurt performance. He brings to it the full skill of his decades as an actor; it’s a snappy, razor-sharp performance, full of bitchy charm and devilish grins.
    The film ends Sting’s closing title song (it’s from his 1987 album …Nothing Like The Sun and is based on Crisp, who was casual friends with the singer), leaves the viewer with a warmth and good cheer.

    Crisp remained a controversial figure to his last days, but at least he lived his life by his own moral compass and was a trendsetter and pioneer in ways that contemporary gay culture accepts as its right rather than as a privilege. Without defiant individuals like Crisp, the gay world might still be hiding in its closet.

    24 October, 2009

    Serbian Immigrant Drama Premieres At FLIFF

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    After winning the Best New York Narrative prize at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival, the Serbian immigrant drama HERE AND THERE has become a hot hit on the international film festival circuit. It makes its Southeast Premiere at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival on Saturday night.

    In his debut film, Serbian helmer Darko Lungulov tracks two strangers in two strange lands, contrasting the adventures of an enterprising young Belgrade native in New York with the discoveries of an aging down-and-out New Yorker in Belgrade. With its mordant Eastern European humor tempered by a gentler sense of absurdity, with veteran actress Mirjana Karanovic a serene presence, the film is another worthy addition to the recent space of immigrant movies, including THE VISITOR and GOODBYE SOLO.

    A standout in the film is American actor David Thornton, whose singular brand of world-weary cynicism and depression defines his character, Robert, a 52-year old jazz musician. Unable to work (he hasn't touched his saxophone in months), newly evicted and rapidly becoming persona non grata with Rose (Cyndi Lauper, Thornton's real-life wife), whom he's staying with, Robert accepts an offer of $5,000 to travel to Serbia and marry his Serbian mover's girlfriend, in order to legally get her into the United States.

    Once in Belgrade, Robert unexpectedly begins to thaw, under the influence of the Serbian mover's mother, which makes him realize his connection to people around him. Lungulov intercuts scenes of Robert in the busy streets, markets and cafes of Belgrade with the travails of his Serbian benefactor, the moving man Branko, who's thrust into the junkyards, back alleys and police stations of the Big Apple after the theft of his van.

    Telling both stories with humor and humanity, HERE AND THERE makes for a fascinating tale of contrasts. However its insistence that we all inhabit a community of interest is an important lesson in itself. The film won Best Director and Best Actress honors at the Serbian National Film Festival, as well as scoring a Sony D-Cinema prize at the Skip International Film Festival in Japan. It screened over the summer at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival as part of the Variety Critics Choice: Europe Now program. For more information on the film, visit:

    09 October, 2009

    Checking The Pulse of European Cinema

    Penelope Cruz in BROKEN EMBRACES (Spain)

    By Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    The New York Film Festival, which enters its final weekend today, has presented a program with a large emphasis on European cinema. With a strong showing of films from Portugal ( and
    France (, the Festival finds that contemporary European cinema from other nations not only has a strong pulse but is definitely on the rise.

    Lars von Trier, the enfant terrible of Danish cinema, is back at the Festival with the highly controversial ANTICHRIST, a shocking psychological thriller about a couple (played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) who attempt to find their love again after a tragic loss and play out a sado-masochistic cat-and-mouse game in the forests which unleash the hidden monsters lurking in their souls. Another meditation on contemporary couples is explored by German director Maren Ade, in the film EVERYONE ELSE. Winning both the Silver Bear for director Ade and the Best Actress prize for Birgit Minichmyr at the Berlin Film Festival, the story charts the ups and downs, joys and jealousies, frustrations and fulfillments of a young couple on a summer holiday. Inner truths are revealed which are both harrowing and heart-stopping.

    Also director from the Berlin Film Festival, where it won the prestigious Albert Bauer Prize, is the latest meditation on human relations by iconic Polish director Andrejz Wadja. The celebrated storyteller returns with SWEET RUSH, a bold, somewhat experimental work that juxtaposes a story about a terminally ill doctor’s wife who rediscovers romance and a deeply emotional monologue written and performed by the actress Krystyna Janda about the death of her husband. The film, which Wajda had once planned to make as a straightforward drama, was interrupted by the death of Janda's real-life husband (and Wajda's frequent cinematographer), Edward Klosinski, prompting the director to reconceive the project as a film about the filmmaking process.

    Another European film playing with cinematic technique and form is ROOM AND A HALF, a film by the celebrated Russian animator/filmmaker Andrey Khrzhanovsky. Creating a kaleidoscope of scripted scenes, archival footage, various ty[es of animation and surrealist flights of fancy, the film ultimately is a stirring portrait of poet Josef Brodsky and the postwar literary scene that he inhabited. The film had its world premiere at the Rotterdam Film Festival and has since become a favorite on the film festival circuit.

    Looking back at recent history provides a deep well of contemplation of human behavior in any age for the celebrated directors Marco Bellocchio and Michael Haneke. In VINCERE, Bellochio harkens back to pre-Fascist Italy and a secret marriage that Mussolini had with Ida Daisler that produced a son born out of wedlock. When the future dictator categorically denies the marriage and the son born from it, it becomes a fascinating meditation on the manipulation of truth and history that is necessary for government to retain its legitimacy amidst human foibles and errors in judgment. The film was the big winner of the awards given by the Italian National Syndicate of Journalists, winning top honors for Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Production Design and Best Actress (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). The film is the current favorite for Italy’s submission to the Academy Awards.

    Looking at an earlier formative period, the Austrian director Michael Haneke offers a stark yet beautiful portrait of small town life in northern Germany circa 1913 (just prior to the outbreak of World War I). In THE WHITE RIBBON, a series of violent behavior, including the physical and emotional torture of several children, exposes the treachery, small mindedness and innate cruelty of the residents. With the exploration of the cruely wrought on children by their parents and by authority figures in general, Haneke present a thought-provoking perspective on how this youthful generation would grow into the German citizens who either tacitly approved or actively engaged in the Nazi campaigns of dehumanization and murder. The film, which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes, and has since tantalized audiences at film events in Europe and North America, is a disturbing and numbing tale that rewards its audiences with the beauty of its imagery and the revelatory nature of its acting.

    The Festival saves the best for last, with the Closing Night Gala of BROKEN EMBRACES, the latest melodrama from Spanish stylist Pedro Almodovar. Again starring his muse, the actress Penelope Cruz, the film marks the director’s eighth film at the New York Film Festival. Almodovar tells his story in shifting time periods, drawing lines of relationships between all the protagonists that fully reveal themselves by the picture’s end. A blind screenwriter, living and working under a pseudonym, learns of the death of a powerful industrialist who once served as his producer. The tale then spirals into a morality lesson of naked ambition, forbidden love and devastating loss. With his characteristic mix of melodrama, film noir, romance and candy-colored comedy, the director creates not only a hommage to film in general, but a look back at his own influences and stylistic exercises. BROKEN EMBRACES opens in November via US arthouse distributor Sony Pictures Classics and could figure strongly in the awards season later this year.

    30 September, 2009

    HBO Films Directors Dialogues At NYFF

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    The New York Film Festival provides extraordinary access to some of world cinema's most interesting film talents via the HBO Films Directors Dialogue Series. Among those who are participating (all of whom have films in the festival proper):

    With a career that spans the heyday of 60s Italian art cinema (Fists in the Pocket, China is Near) to religion (My Mother’s Smile, NYFF 2002) to political drama (Good Morning, Night, NYFF 2003 and this year’s Vincere), Marco Bellocchio has been one of the most perceptive and provocative chroniclers of all things Italian, from the Church to family values. Mr. Bellocchio will discuss his development as a film artist, the important focus on “outsiders” that has proved a constant theme in his work, as well as his thoughts about the future of Italian cinema.

    After working as a casting director, Lee Daniels crossed over into film producing, bringing to the screen such tough, edgy works as The Woodsman and the Academy Award-winning Monster’s Ball. Now with Precious—only his second film as a director—Daniels has leapt to the forefront of American cinema with what will sure be one of the most hotly–debated films of the year (which won the Grand Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Audience Prize at the Toronto Film Festival). Daniels will talk about Precious, his personal trajectory through the film industry, and the contemporary landscape for African American film production.

    As he has shown with The Piano Teacher, Code Unknown, Funny Games (the German and English language versions)both versions) and Caché , Paris-based Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke is a peerless artist-provocateur who has never met a situation of bourgeois stasis he didn’t want to explode—quietly, precisely, and with devastating effect. With this year’s NYFF selection (and Palme d’Or winner at Cannes) The White Ribbon, Haneke has made what many consider his most remarkable work yet. In a one-on-one, intimate conversation, Haneke will share his thoughts on filmmaking as well as his often chilling world view that has made him one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary cinema.

    For over twenty years—in works such as Beau Travail (NYFF 1999), Friday Night (NYFF 2002) and this year’s White Material, Denis has created some of the most challenging, meaningful and unpredictable works of contemporary cinema. Denis will discuss her unique approach to cinematic storytelling and to working with actors.

    For more information on the series, visit:

    Portugese Cinema At New York FF

    TO DIE LIKE A MAN (Joao Pedro Rodrigues)

    by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

    Portugese cinema has had a bit of a low profile of late (overshadowed by its Iberian neighbor Spain) but this year's New York Film Festival has a surprising number of new films from Portugal that are among the highlights of this year's film gathering.

    Reaching one's 100th birthday is an accomplishment for anyone anywhere, but while most in their centenary are content to sit on the back porch reminiscing about their lives, director Manoel De Oliveira is in the trenches doing the work he loves best, helming a new film. ECCENTRICITIES OF A BLOND HAIR GIRL is the director's 37th feature film, in a career that began in the 1940s. He may well be the Guinness World Record holder for oldest working director, a distinction that is both impressive and mind-boggling.

    For his newest film, the director has adapted a complex love story by novelist Eca de Queiroz. The central plot is a wry, moving tale of a pure if frustrated love between a young Lisbon accountant (played by the director's grandson, Ricardo Trêpa) who falls deeply under the spell of the titular fair-haired lass (comely Catarina Wallenstein) he spies fanning herself across the office courtyard. A moving evocation of passion, mystery and even battle-of-the-sexes satire, the film had its world premiere at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival.

    Pedro Costa, best known for his earlier films IN VANDA'S ROOM (2000) and COLOSSAL YOUTH (2006), moves seamlessly between feature dramas and documentaries. For his NYFF entry, Costa is presenting an expansion of his celebrated documentary short, NE CHANGE RIEN, a visual homage to the French actress and chanteuse Jeanne Balibar. Using expressive black-and-white cinematography, the film offers an unusual portrait of an intuitive artist, while also featuring the actress-turned-singer's growing maturity as a belter. The highlights of the film include three song segments, including an original composition, shot in what looks like a green room; a second song written by Jean-Luc Godard; and a third song, written by Kenneth Anger, called “Torture”. Costa brings a heightened theatricality to these renderings that is intimate, expressive and memorable.

    Theatricality also flourishes in TO DIE LIKE A MAN, a tragicomic story about a veteran drag performer, written and directed by Joao Pedro Rodrigues. Fado-singing, pooch-pampering trannie grows old and tries to erase his/her background as a man. She must confront competition from younger performers with a more contemporary vibe and the demands of her boyfriend that she change her sex. The film, which had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, is a deep and fabulously sad fable, as well as an example of lyrical, playful and unpredictable filmmaking.

    From veterans to newcomers, Portugese cinema seems to be having a long overdue renaissance worth paying attention to. For more information on this year's festival, visit: