19 February, 2009

Return of A Political Classic

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Z, Costa-Gavras’ Academy Award-winning political thriller, this year celebrating its 40th anniversary, will be shown in a new 35mm print at New York’s leading art house theater, the Film Forum, prior to a national tour.

Although it starred such iconic French actors as Yves Montand and Jean-Louis Trintingnant, the film was a politically sensitive hot potato for its French producers. Greek expatriate Costa-Gavras’ adaptation of Vassili Vassilikos’s novel of the real-life Lambrakos case of a military coup d’etat in Greece was skillfully filmed on a shoestring in Algeria (doubling for Greece), utilizing a pulsating score pieced together from earlier works by famed composer Mikos Theodorakis (who was under house arrest in Greece at the time of the filming).

The film, which was an international sensation in its day and which was one of the first non-English language films to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, was shot by New Wave camera legend Raoul Coutard, whose raw faux-documentary style gave the film its breakneck pace and visual style. The film won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize and the Best Foreign Language Oscar, along with a record 50 other international awards in 1969.

The film established the international career of director Constantin Costa-Gavras, who continues to direct film well into his 70s. For more information on the Film Forum, log on to:

16 February, 2009

South American Surge At Berlinale Awards

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The cinema of South America made a considerable noise at the closing ceremonies of the 59th Berlin International Film Festival, winning most of the top prizes. In a year that saw weak entries from Europe and the United States, the glory migrated south of the border.

THE MILK OF SORROW (La Teta Asustada) by Peruvian director Claudia Llosa won the evening’s top honor, the Berlinale Golden Bear. The film is a personal story that recalls the dark period of the 1980s and 1990s, when tens of thousands of people were murdered by the country’s repressive regime. The title refers to a disease that a woman contracts from her mother’s breast milk, that solely affects Peruvian women who were abused or raped during the days of sorrow. While these incidents were historically in the past, the lead character is a living reminder of those turbulent times, which have yet to be fully addressed in the national consciousness decades after. The film is a Spanish/Peruvian co-production being sold internationally by German sales agent The Match Factory (

A debut feature by Uruguyan director Adrian Biniez was the night’s big winner, copping three prizes, including the Berlinale Silver Bear (shared with German director Maren Ade’s ALLE ANDEREN), the Alfred Bauer Prize (shared with Polish icon Andrejz Wajda’s TATARAK) and a special nod for Best First Feature. GIGANTE focuses on the loneliness of a 35 year old supermarket security guard who begins a mysterious relationship with a late night cleaning woman. Both are working the “graveyard shift”, which only fuels their obsessions and the mystery surrounding their involvement. Eventually, the guard begins to revolve his entire life around the cleaner’s daily routine, which eventually leads to a telling confrontation. The film was co-produced with Argentina, Germany and The Netherlands and was being sold in Berlin by The Match Factory (make that 2 and 0 for the Cologne-based sales agency).

The Silver Bear for Best Director was won by Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi for his cross-cultural drama ABOUT ELLY (Uber Elly). The film focuses on an Iranian man who returns to his native land after a failed marriage upends his life in his adopted country of Germany. Upon his return, he becomes involved with a young nursery school teacher, who mysteriously disappears.

Acting honors were split between German actress Birgit Minichmayr for her dramatic turn as a disillusioned spouse in the drama ALLE ANDEREN (Everyone Else) by Maren Ade, and veteran Algerian actor Sotigui Kouyate for his role as a father who comes to London to discover more about the death of his son in the 2005 London terrorist attacks and his encounter with the mother of another victim, played by Brenda Blethyn.

For a full list of winners, visit the festival’s website:

07 February, 2009

European Film Market Opens With Sparse Attendance

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The European Film Market, the professional component of the Berlinale, opened yesterday at the historic Martin Gropius Bau with more of a whimper than a bang. Attendance on the opening day and for today's first official day of market screenings was definitely sparse compared to years past, with hallways amazingly empty and ample empty seats available in the cafe and meeting points.

"This is the slowest Berlin I've ever experienced", one veteran sales agent told me. "The German buyers are here, but there are far fewer buyers from the rest of Europe, North America, Asia and Latin America. I'd be content with a German sale to cover the expenses of attending."

This year, the Market has extended to three floors of the Berlin Marriott Hotel, where sales agents have taken hotel rooms as office spaces, as they routinely do in Cannes. The traffic was equally light in the hotel passages, with many sellers sitting in their offices with a houndog look on their faces. Clearly, the troubling world economy has affected the attendance and the willingness of buyers to purchase anything but the creme de la creme of film product. However, the film trades are reporting a decent amount of sales activity....although it mainly is concentrated on films that have previously been seen at earlier film festivals.

One of the most high profile deals announced yesterday was the acquisition by American artthouse distributor Strand Releasing of rights to A WOMAN IN BERLIN. The film being sold here by German sales outfit Beta Cinema, is set in 1945 during the Red Army invasion of Berlin.
The World War II drama has been sold in more than 20 countries including Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Portugal, Greece, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, former Yugoslavia, Israel, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Colombia. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and had its U.S. Premiere as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, where it won the award for Best International Film.

04 February, 2009

The Strange Case of Bergman Film Rights

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

In one of the most unlikely battles of copyright, the rights to Ingmar Bergman’s entire library of films has been at the center of an 8-year legal battle between Swedish media giant Svensk Filmindustri and a tiny U.S. company.

A judge in Colorado has transferred all of Svensk’s film rights to the former owners of a multiplex cinema in the ski resort town of Aspen after Svensk refused to pay damages resulting from a renovation of the Isis Theater in the late 1990s. Svensk bought the theater, along with other American cinema multiplexes, as a way of expanding its base in North America.

The judge has ruled that the entire Bergman library held by Svensk would now be officially owned by the small American company, which recently opened a website (, where it is selling copies of such Bergman classics as THE SEVENTH SEAL, THE VIRGIN SPRING, CRIES AND WHISPERS and FANNY AND ALEXANDER.

According to the website, Isis Litigation now owns exclusive rights to the Bergman library, something that Svensk refuses to acknowledge. Isis has even been paid royalties from various DVD companies such as Janus Films, which distributes the Bergman classics. Svensk is currently facing a $2500 per day fine imposed by the judge, which has totaled more than $10 million. For its part, Svensk refuses to honor the Colorado judge’s decision and insists that its ownership is still intact. This is indeed a bizarre coda to the work of one of cinema’s great artists.

Sundance FF Fetes International Cinema

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

While American indies remain the focus of much of the deal making at Sundance this year, a number of international films have emerged as prize winners, maximizing their chances of distribution not only in North America but internationally. The Festival, which concluded last weekend, has become a major showcase for international cinema. The World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to ROUGH AUNTIES, directed by Kim Longinotto (United Kingdom). The film showcases the 'Rough Aunties' protect, which cares for abused, neglected and forgotten children of Durban, South Africa.

The World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to THE MAID (Chile), directed by Sebasti├ín Silva. In this comedic thriller, a bitter and introverted maid wreaks havoc on a household where the mistress has brought on another servant to help with the chores. Chilean cinema has been having a great run at international film festivals, and is the current “Latin American cinema” du jour.

The World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary was presented to AFGHAN STAR (Afghanistan/UK), directed by Havana Marking (who also won a Best Director prize). The story chronicles the popularity of “Pop Idol”, a television singing competition that has been embraced by millions of Afghans who are still in the midst of an ever-increasing war zone. The World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic was presented to AN EDUCATION, the latest film from Danish director Lone Scherfig. With a script by Nick Hornby, the crowd-pleasing film is set in the early 1960s and tells the tale of a sharp 16-year-old whose hook up with a handsome older man sidetracks both her and her parents.

The World Cinema Screenwriting Award was presented to FIVE MINUTES OF HEAVEN (United Kingdom/Ireland), directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel from a screenplay by Guy Hibbert.