29 May, 2009

From Cannes To US Screens

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Additional announcements are now emerging about European films that premiered at the recently concluded Cannes Film Festival that have found distribution in the United States. The latest news hitting the film trades has startup American distributor Oscilloscope Pictures scooping up North American rights to Michel Gondry's new project, a documentary called THE THORN IN THE HEART (L'Epine dans le coeur) that was screened in Cannes as a special screening.

The film is a passion project for the director, centering on schoolteacher Suzette Gondry, the director's aunt and matriarch of his family, and her relationship with her son. The film is both a personal tale of one family's secrets and a larger story of life in rural France. Partizan Films produced and financed the pic, with Studio Canal in place as international sales agent.
Oscilloscope, which will release theatrically as well as on DVD and via digital platforms, has been active in picking up European and international titles for the North American market. They recently picked up North American distribution rights to Irish director Lance Daly's award-winning feature, KISSES, a romantic coming-of-age film about with remarkable performances from its two young leads (newcomers Kelly O'Neill and Shane Curry); and the documentary BURMA VJ, by Danish director Anders Ostergaard. Oscilloscope Laboratories is a film production and theatrical distribution entity launched in 2008 by Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys.

27 May, 2009

Palme d'Or Winner To Reach American Soil

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

THE WHITE RIBBON, the latest film from Austrian auteur Michael Haneke, was acquired on the eve of the Cannes Film Festival for North American release by Sony Pictures Classics. The pre-Cannes buy turned out to be a master stroke, with the film going on to win Palme d'Or honors.

This is the specialty US distributor's second second collaboration with Haneke, having previously released his film CACHE in 2005. The film also marks a long-standing reunion between the company and the producers Margaret Menegoz and Stefan Arndt. The film is a co-production between X-Filme Creative Pool in Germany, Les Films du Losange in France, Wega Film inAustria and Lucky Red in Italy.

THE WHITE RIBBON is set just prior to the start of WWI, where the quiet life of a small German village is mysteriously eroded by a series of inexplicable events. The film marks director Haneke’s fifth Cannes competition entry, following such modern classics as FUNNY GAMES, CODE UNKNOWN, THE PIANO TEACHER and CACHE, for which Haneke won Best Director honors at Cannes.

21 May, 2009

Controversial Von Trier Coming To America

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

As the Cannes Film Festival enters its final weekend and the announcement of its top prize winners, it is a strong certainty that the most controversial film to emerge this year is Lars Von Trier's ANTICHRIST. The film, starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourgh, is definitely of the "love-it-or-hate-it" variety which sometimes never get a chance to reach a wide audience.

Well, that concern has been addressed by the announcement that specialty distributor IFC Films has picked up North American distribution rights to the film, with a planned Fall release. Von Trier's latest tells the tale of a grieving couple who retreat to ’Eden’, their isolated cabin in the woods, where they hope to repair their broken hearts and troubled marriage. But nature takes its course and things go from bad to worse.

After its world premiere in Cannes earlier this week, there was an open question about whether the film was releasable in the United States. However, IFC Films, which has been one of the most active arthouse distributors in the past few years, with releases of such celebrated films as GOMORRAH, HUNGER and SUMMER HOURS, has not shied away from the pragmatic challenge of releasing the film. IFC has specialized in simultaneous day-and-date releases of their films in theaters and also on VOD cable and satellite systems. This dual approach has allowed the films to benefit from modest advertising and promotion budgets and have a surprisingly long life after their initial press reviews.

ANTICHRIST has raised hackles for its slow-moving storytelling style and its didactic interpretation of Biblical themes. Astute critics have perceived the film as an exercise in unorthodox theology and trace the story elements to a personalized version of the Book of Genesis, where Adam is cast from Eden because of the intrigue of Eve, and the devil assumes a powerful role in what was once a perfect world. This interpretation of Man's Fall From Grace is strong stuff and discriminating audiences will debate this one for a long time to come.

Look for the film to turn up at some of the top film festivals of the next few months, including Venice, Toronto, New York, San Sebastian and others. IFC Films also announced its pickup of LOOKING FOR ERIC, the latest film from UK director Ken Loach, who won the Palme D'Or two years ago with the epic THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY (which IFC Films also distributed in the US). To learn more about the film and view a trailer, visit the film's official site at:

18 May, 2009

Belgium's Best: The Dardenne Brothers

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

As the Cannes Film Festival unfurls along the Cote d'Azur in France this week, New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center has timed a tribute to one of Europe's most dynamic film teams.....alot closer to home. Starting on 27 May, the Film Society will present the most extensive New York retrospective of the works of the seminal Belgian auteurs Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. BEYOND L'ENFANT: THE COMPLETE DARDENNE BROTHERS will screen all of the brothers' major films, including early narrative and documentary works, and will appear in person at the Walter Reade Theater for an on-stage discussion following a screening of their breakthrough film LA PROMESSE. Their newest film LORNA'S SILENCE will open in theaters later this summer, following a worldwide tour of the international film festival circuit.

Born and raised in the Belgian town of Seraing , outside of Liège, Jean-Pierre (b. 1951) and his younger brother Luc (b. 1954) Dardenne studied drama and philosophy, respectively. One of Jean-Pierre’s teachers inspired the brothers to document the lives of the working-class in their native town. In 1975, the brothers established a production company, Derives, which they used to produce over 60 documentaries about the blue-collar lives in surrounding towns. This immersion in documentary work informed the neo-realist style that they later developed in their narrative films, giving them a mix of realism and poetry.

The series opens with ROSETTA (1999), a neo-realist look at a poor teenager who lives in a trailer park with her alcoholic mother, which was the first Belgian film to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The film's teenage lead Emilie Dequenne, won Best Actress honors at Cannes and a slew of other awards for her heartbreaking performance.

The series will also present some of the brothers' better known films, including LA PROMESSE (1996) and LE FILS (The Son), which won a Best Actor prize for lead actor Olivier Gourmet. L'ENFANT (The Child) won a second Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2006 and further cemented their reputation as realists with a touch of the poet. Lesser known, and making this series a true treasure trove of discovery, are the screenings of two rarely screened early films: FALSCH, their first dramatic film, an adaptation of a play by Belgian writer René Kalisky about the melancholy reunion of a family of Holocaust survivors; and JE PENSE A VOUS, the story of a steelworker and family man who loses his job. The series even unearths the Dardennes’ early experimental left-wing documentary pieces, including REGARD JONATHAN (1983); JEAN LOUVET, SON OEUVRE (1983), a profile of 18th century radical playwright Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Couvrai and several others mainly produced for Belgian television.

This is a rare opportunity to view the (almost) complete oeuvre of one of the most celebrated and significant team of filmmakers working in the world today. Their commitment to film as art and film as provocation have created a unique legacy for artists whose most powerful is undoubtedly yet to come.

08 May, 2009

European (And Other) Winners At San Francisco FF

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

European films were among the big winners at the San Francisco International Film Festival, which ended yesterday evening after two weeks of film premieres and special events. On 6 May, the Festival, the oldest in North America, announced its Golden Gate Awards, which included cash prizes of close to $100,000 for the lucky winners. The Best Investigative Documentary prize, with a cash award of $25,000, was given to BURMA VJ: REPORTING FROM A CLOSED COUNTRY, by Danish director Anders Østergaard. The film, which chronicles the human rights abuses in Myanmar/Burma, also won the Joris Ivens Award at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam, one of the world’s most prestigious documentary film events.

The Best Documentary Prize, including a $20,000 cash award, was given to the Swiss documentary NOMAD’S LAND, by director Gaël Métroz. The film looks at the lifestyles and cultures of nomadic tribes in Asia, Africa and Europe. The film had its international premiere this past summer at the Locarno Film Festival. Winner of the Best Bay Area Documentary Feature prize, with a cash award of $15,000, was local filmmaker Jim Granato for his feature debut D TOUR, a portrait of a San Francisco rock band.

Eleven films from around the world were in competition for the Festival’s prestigious New Directors Award, a $15,000 cash prize given to a first-time filmmaker whose work exhibits a unique artistic sensibility. The jury chose director Bosnian director Aida Begic's SNOW, an intimate and effecting look at the aftermath of the 1990s war in a small mountain town. SNOW, which had its world premiere at last year’s International Critics Week sidebar of the Cannes Film Festival, went on to win the Grand Prix in that showcase, as well as awards the Hamptons and Thessaloniki film festivals. Begic was nominated for a European Film Award as Best Newcomer for her sensitive work.

The FIPRESCI jury, comprised of Mihai Chirilov, Rob Nelson and Charles-Stéphane Roy, awarded the Critics Prize to the American indie film EVERYTHING STRANGE AND NEW, by local San Francisco filmmaker Frazer Bradshaw. The film, which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, is an unflinching portrait of a family under the stress of the downward economic climate. The San Francisco International Film Festival is one of only three festivals in the United States to host a FIPRESCI jury and award a FIPRESCI prize.

The Festival’s enthusiastic audiences also voted for their favorites, giving Audience Awards to the American films DON’T LET ME DROWN, a Latino themed narrative by Cruz Angeles, and SPEAKING IN TONGUES, a heated debate on bilingual education by local Bay Area filmmakers Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider. The controversial film made its World Premiere at the Festival earlier this week.

The Festival used its awards ceremony as a platform to announce a new filmmaking grant sponsored by the San Francisco Film Society and the Kenneth Rainin Foundation. The SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grants support films that through plot, character, theme or setting significantly explore human and civil rights, antidiscrimination, gender and sexual identity and other urgent social justice issues of our time. The first grant of $35,000 has been awarded to Richard Levien to develop the script for LA MIGRA, a family drama about a young girl’s struggle to save her illegal immigrants from deportation. Levien has had his short films presented at over a dozen film festivals. The SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grant will disburse over $3 million over the next five years to assist independent filmmakers with script development, preproduction and postproduction support. For more information on the Festival, visit:

01 May, 2009

European Talents Shine In San Francisco

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

At mid point of the 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival, the oldest in North America, films from European directors have been making the most impact. With its cosmopolitan air and its distinctive European ex-pat communities, San Francisco is not only a destination for European artists but also a place to sample the best of the new European cinema.

Most of the European films on display are congregated in the World Cinema section. Among the highlights from European talents: BULLET IN THE HEAD, Spanish director Jaime Rosales' political thriller about the assassination of French policemen by Basque terrorists; DELTA, Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo's provocaive story of the taboo relationship between a young man and his half sister; EASY VIRTUE, a veddy British all star cast (Colin Firth, Kristin Scott Thomas) based on a Noel Coward play; HEAVEN'S HEART, a Bergman-esque exploration of marriage by Swedish director Himlens Hjarta; THE TIGER'S TAIL, an Irish satire on class warfare directed by John Boorman; TROUBLED WATER, an intense drama about a man's return to his former life after serving time in prison for murdering a child, by Norwegian director Erik Poppe; and WILD FIELD, Russian director Mikhail Kalatozishvili's beatifully filmed story of a doctor connecting with the inhabitants of the desolate Kazakh steppes.

As no great surprise, French cinema talents dominate the World Cinema section. Catherine Breillat, the provocateuse of contemporary French film, is represented by BLUEBEARD, an original take on the 17th century wife killer. Tunisian-born director Karim Dridi offers a neo-realist vision set in the Roma community on the outskirts of Marseilles in the evocative KHAMSA. Director Jean-Francois Richet won a Cesar Award for his direction of the nearly four-hour biopic MESRINE, the story of one of France's most notorious crime bosses (with Vincent Cassell in a career-defining role). The dynamic duo of Pierre Trividic and Patrick Mario Bernard team up for THE OTHER ONE, a feminist drama about a middle-aged woman's identity crisis when she is dumped by her younger love for a girlfriend his own age. Olivier Assayas, one of France's most prolific and controversial directors, is back at the Festival with his meditative SUMMER HOURS, about a family gathering where secrets and lies are revealed. The always provocative Claire Denis examines the tensions between a father and his rebellious daughter in the engaging 35 SHOTS OF RHUM.

New European talents figure in the Festival's New Directors Competition section. Turkish director Ozcan Alper has emerged as one of his country's newest talents to watch in the beautifully acted AUTUMN, about a political prisoner's return to his native village in order to find himself again. In her debut feature, Dutch director Esther Rots examines the psyche of a young Dutch woman who is shattered by a random act of violence in the penetrating CAN GO THROUGH SKIN. In another striking debut, Swiss director Ursula Meier cast French icon Isabelle Huppert as a woman who lives with her family outside of the mainstream in HOME. A co-screenwriter of the international arthouse hit GOMORRAH, Italian director Gianni Di Gregorio won a Best New Film Prize at the Venice Film Festival for the family drama MID-AUGUST LUNCH. Bosnian director Aida Begic has scored with her debut film SNOW, which earned the Grand Prix at the Cannes Critics Week and has been a success on the international film festival circuit.

Lucky San Franciscans are able to do a tour of Europe from the comfort of their own city as the San Francisco International Film Festival serves up a multi-course repas of outstanding European films. For more information on the Festival and the San Francisco Film Society, visit: