29 June, 2009

European Films Highlight Tribute To Strand Releasing

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Being an independent distributor of European films in the American market is more a labour of love than it is a ticket to monied success. Among the most hard-working and celebrated of these arthouse distribution companies is Los Angeles-based Strand Releasing, which is receiving a 20th anniversary tribute next week at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

MoMA is presenting a six-film showcase of recent titles from Strand Releasing in the exhibition Carte Blanche: Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans, the names of the co-founders of the company. Strand Releasing has been at the forefront of independent and arthouse cinema, with a particular focus on films with gay content and by gay filmmakers. Founding their visionary company in 1989, Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans have since maintained a dedication to risk-taking directors who privilege innovation and authenticity over commerciality.

Although the company has distinguished itself with contemporary films from around the world, it has always had a strong focus and allegiance to the new European cinema. Included in the six-film tribute, programmed by Hu and Gerrans themselves, are such landmark European titles as LE TEMPS QUI RESTE (Time To Leave), an existential meditation on death, eroticism and the human legacy by French filmmaker Francois Ozon; AUF DER ANDEREN DER ANDEREN SEITE (The Edge of Heaven, 2007), Turkish/German director Fatih Akin's award-winning look at cross-culturalism in the new Europe, with an outstanding cast led by actress Hannah Schygulla; and AVANT QUE J'OUBLIE (Before I Forget, 2008), a semi-autobiographical memory film about an aging gay gigolo, written and directed by and starring Jacques Nolot.

Several European co-productions that introduced international talents on the world film stage are also included in the tribute, including SUD PRALAD (Tropical Malady, 2004), Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Thai/French co-production about the mystical love affair between a young soldier and the country boy he seduces.; the French/Taiwan co-production TIAN BIAN YI DUO YUN (The Wayward Cloud, 2005), an erotic musical fantasy about a jaded porn film star that established the international reputation of Taiwanese writer/director Tsai Ming-Liang; and Argentine director Lucrecia Martel's LA MUJER SIN CABEZA (The Headless Woman, 2008), an arresting film about a bourgeois woman who loses all sense of memory, that was co-produced with Spain, France and Italy.

Strand Releasing remains quite active in the current theatrical marketplace, with plans to release the following European films in the next few months, including A WOMAN IN BERLIN (Max Foberbock, Germany), LE CHANT DES MARIEES (Karin Albou, Tunisia/France), and DONNE-MOI LA MAIN (Give Me Your Hand, Pascal Alex-Vincent, France). For more information on the Museum of Modern Art program, visit: For more information on Strand Releasing, visit:

22 June, 2009

European Documentaries Strong At SILVERDOCS

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

European documentaries continue their international winning streak at film festivals around the world. At the SILVERDOCS Documentary Film Festival (, the prestigious American event held in the Washington DC area, films from UK and Denmark were among the winners at the event, which ran from 15-22 June.

The Festival, which is co-presented by the American Film Institute and The Discovery Channel, screened over 120 films representing 58 countries and included more than 1000 filmmaker and media professional attendees at the concurrent International Documentary Conference, with its particular emphasis on youth, education and next generation media artists. Winning filmmakers received over $70,000 in combined cash and in-kind prizes.

The SILVERDOCS Sterling Award for a World Feature was won by MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN (, co-directed by Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson. The UK documentary explores, through the lens of a 74-year-old white farmer, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s deeply controversial land seizure program, which intended to re-distribute white-owned farmland. The film made its US Premiere at SILVERDOCS, with the directors returning home with a $10,000 cash prize.

In a second European win, the SILVERDOCS Sterling Award for a Short Film was given to the Danish film 12 NOTES DOWN, directed by Andreas Koefoed. This engaging short film documents 14-year old star choir performer, Jorgis, after his voice starts changing and he decides to make an unexpected yet graceful exit from choir.

The Festival divides its documentary competition into two sections, one for specificially American films and the other for a range of international productions. In the 10-film SILVERDOCS Sterling World Feature Competition, European documentary films predominated.

In the Hungarian film ANOTHER PLANET, director Ferenc Moldovanyi offers a powerful globe-spanning tale about children who are struggling to survive as trash scavengers, soldiers and sex workers. Award-winning UK documentarian Richard Parry focuses his camera on war photographer Robert King, whose insightful images drawn from his travels to Chechyna, Afghanistan, Rwanda and Iraq bring those trouble spots to vivid life in the film BLOOD TRAIL. Another UK documentary that drew a strong response was Oscar-nominated director Jon Blair's DANCING WITH THE DEVIL, an intense and kinetic story of the drug wars in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, which world premiered at the Festival.

In the highly inventive COOKING HISTORY, Slovakian director Peter Kerekes offers an unusual perspective on the history of modern European warfare as seen through the eyes of the field cooks, bakers and kitchen staff who "catered" some of the most significant conflicts of the past century. Norwegian director Thomas Lien details the astonishing story of a man who wakes up one day on a train in China not remembering his name or how he came to be in a country halfway across the world in the film HUNTING DOWN MEMORY. A similarly engaging portrait is the focus of RENE, Czech director Helena Trestikova's intimate film that follows a career criminal for 20 years, as he evolved from a teen delinquent to a hard-core criminal. A portrait of some one long since gone is the focus of THE SOUND OF INSECTS---RECORD OF A MUMMY, Swiss director Peter Liechti's deeply poetic film about a hunter who stumbles upon body remains and a diary of a man who committed suicide from self-starvation over a two-month period.

In the non-competitive Silver Spectrum section of the Festival, European titles were among the most intriguing. In French director Samuel Collardey's THE APPRENTICE, the filmmaker spends one year in the life of a French high school student, which shows the ups-and-downs in the life of the current generation. In OUR FORBIDDEN PLACES, a French/Moroccan co-production by Leila Kilani, a series of Moroccan families confront government secrets and personal losses of family members abducted and then never again heard from in the years following Morroco's independence from France. In the French/Cameroon film SACRED PLACES, director Jean-Marie Teno uncovers the hidden charms of the unknown neighborhood of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, during that city's famed African Film Festival.

Netherlands had a strong representation in the program. In BLOODY MONDAYS AND STRAWBERRY PIES, director Coco Schrijber offers a cinematic examination of boredom, narrated by actor John Malkovich. In the deliciously comic CARMEN MEETS BORAT by director Mercedes Stalenhoef, a small community in Romania is forever changed after it hosts a crew from the famed film satire BORAT. In the expressionistic ENJOY POVERTY, visual artist and filmmaker Renzo Martens offers an aburdist look at how African countries exploit poverty as a natural resource in order to attract tourist and NGO monies.

From Scandinavia came two provocative films. In LET'S BE TOGETHER, Danish director Nanna Frank Moller offers the compelling portrait of a waif-like young man who fondness for eyeliner and fine couture make him an oddball in his small fishing community. In the Swedish documentary LONG DISTANCE LOVE, a young man and his new bridge in the Krgyzstan plains must endure a forced seperation while he goes looking for work in Moscow.

UK films were also a standout at this year's Festival. Outstanding British documentaries on tap included AFGHAN STAR, director Havana Marking's intriguing tale of an American Idol-like television talent competition set in war-torn Kabul; the rousing ONLY WHEN I DANCE, director Beade Finzi's inspiring tale of two aspiring teenage dancers and their inspirational journey from the favelas of Rio to the heighest of international ballet; THE TIMES OF THEIR LIVES by director Jocelyn Cammack offers an intimate look at two elderly women who refuse to let their advancing years hold back their enthusiasm for life as they spend their last years at an enlightened senior citizen living center. European films were also strong in the Festival's many shorts anthology programs, with the Danish film 12 NOTES DOWN winning top honors.

For European documentaries, the SILVERDOCS Documentary Film Festival is a springboard for recognition of their efforts by enthusiastic audiences and the many film professionals who come to the event to sample potential films for distribution pick-up or showcasing at other festivals. For more information on these and other films at this year’s exemplary SILVERDOCS Documentary Film Festival, visit:

15 June, 2009

The Good Pitch At SILVERDOCS

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The SILVERDOCS Documentary Film Festival, one of the most prestigious film events devoted to the non-fiction form, has joined forces with UK's Channel Four BRITDOC Foundation ( and the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program ( to present the North American tour of THE GOOD PITCH, a co-production market initiative that will be part of the Festival's industry events this week.

The initiative received over 300 applications, with the final group of 8 filmmaking teams having been selected to pitch their films to an invited audience, comprising leading national and international NGOs, foundations, broadcasters, campaigners and media in order to maximise the impact of their social-issue documentary projects. The pitching session will take place in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, 16 June.

Media professionals confirmed to attend include: Cinereach, IMPACT Partners, Fledgling Fund,, Katahdin Foundation,, Amnesty International, ITVS, Tribeca Film Institute, Wide Angle, Indiepix, BAVC Producers Institute for New Media Technologies, POV, Incite Productions, 1% for the Planet, The Impact Arts + Film Fund, Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media and the Phoebe Haas Charitable Trust.

The selected filmmakers and their projects include:

Budrus has a Hammer
Dir. Julia Bacha
A Palestinian community organizer unites Fatah, Hamas and Israelis in a Gandhian struggle to save his village, unleashing a non-violent movement - with women on the front lines - that is still gaining ground today.

Cape Wind: The Fight for the Future of Power in America
Dir. Robbie Gemmel
Cape Wind illuminates the divisive controversy surrounding the Cape Wind Project – a proposal to build 130 wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod – translating the furor which exploded on the Cape Cod community into a story of transcendent national importance for the future of sustainability in America.

Ethiopia’s Exchange
Dir. Hugo Berkeley
Ethiopia’s Exchange tells the story of a woman on a mission - and a world of trouble standing in her way. Eleni Gabre-Madhin, a charismatic Ethiopian economist, wants to end hunger in her famine-plagued country. She designed the nation's first commodities exchange, which she hopes will revolutionize an age-old market system.

Green Shall Overcome
Dir. Megan Gelstein
Green Shall Overcome takes an in-depth look at the green-collar job movement through the lens of Van Jones, an African-American civil-rights lawyer. Jones envisions the new green economy as a pathway out of poverty for low-income Americans while simultaneously solving challenges of environmental destruction. After years of advocating for change, Jones is recruited by the Obama Administration and appointed Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation by the White House Council on Environment Quality.

High Tech, Low Life
Dir. Stephen T. Maing
High Tech, Low Life is about one of China's first citizen reporters and the achievements of a fearless new digital youth generation. The film follows the evolution of a young vegetable seller from blogger to internet celebrity as he reports on sensitive news stories in China.

Hungry In America
Dirs. Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush
Hungry in America will investigate why nearly 38 million Americans - including 14 million children - go hungry here, in one of the richest nations on earth.

Out in the Silence
Dir. Joe Wilson & Dean Hamer
Out in the Silence uses the story of a small American town confronting the firestorm of controversy ignited by a same-sex wedding announcement to illustrate the challenge of being an outsider in a conservative environment and catalyze new ways of making resources and support available for those working for change.

Split Estate
Dir. Debra Anderson
Split Estate follows an unfolding conflict in the Rocky Mountains. With cries from Washington for more domestic gas and oil production, the citizens of Colorado and New Mexico find themselves in the path of an unstoppable rush to drill that is destroying their health, their homes, and their communities.

11 June, 2009

The Challenge Of Human Rights

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

These challenging times call for courage, determination and a selflessness that was woefully out of fashion in the Me-Me-Me Decade that preceded the worldwide economic collapse. That there is potential for the global community to learn from its mistakes is always a hopeful sign (although let us remember that the Great Depression was followed almost immediately by its antidote, World War II). When this moral courage needs to be inspired in each one of us, it helps that courageous filmmakers are documenting the stories of those who are suffering and others who respond by tapping into their innate compassion and righteous activism.

These are the themes and the goals of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, which opens its New York edition at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater this evening. Sponsored by Human Rights Watch, one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, the Festival is a clarion call for witnessing and acting on human rights abuses that sometimes get scant attention in the traditional news media.

The Festival features a number of strong entries from European directors. The event begins this evening with the premiere of EDEN IS WEST (Eden A L'Ouest), the epic story of an immigrant's journey, directed by the legendary Greek/French filmmaker Costa-Gavras (Z). The film follows a young man's journey from the Agean Sea to the ports of heaven and hell, until finally arriving in that most magical of cities, Paris. That this was intended to echo Homer's Odyssey is purely intentional and gives Costa-Gavras an exceptional palette to explore the themes of immigratioTn, fulfillment and human aspiration. The director himself will appear at tonight's screening for a conversation with Carroll Bogert of Human Rights Watch, followed by a reception.

Other European highlights of the film series include: AFGHAN STAR, a rousing depiction of an "American Idol" talent competition set in Afghanistan by UK director Havana Marking; THE AGE OF STUPID, British director Franny Armstrong's apocalyptic mix of drama, documentary and animation set in an Artic fortress archives fifty years in the future; BACK HOME TOMORROW, Italian directors Fabrizio Lazzaretti and Paolo Santolini's absorbing tale of two children in war-torn Darfur and Afghanistan and the remarkable work of the Italian aid organization Emergency; IN THE HOLY FIRE OF REVOLUTION, Dutch director Masha Novikova's portrait of chess-champion-turned-social activist Garry Kasparov; KABULI KID, an eye-opening look at the daily life-and-death adventures of a taxi driver in Kabul, from French Afghani director Barmak Akram; SNOW, a stunning debut feature from Bosnian director Aida Begic which chronicles the drama of life in a Bosnian village that was devastated during the tragic war of the 1990s; and TAPOLOGO, the moving story of a migrant labor camp in South Africa where a group of former sex workers living with HIV have created a network of solidarity to care for themselves and others living with HIV, directed by the Spanish team of Gabriella Dewar and Sally Gutierrez Dewar.

These films challenge us to be witnesses and to find a way to light a candle rather than curse the darkness For a full list of films screening this year, along with seminars, shorts programs and special events, log on to the websites: or

09 June, 2009

05 June, 2009

UK Film Opens New York Gay Film Festival

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

In what has so far been a very wet beginning of the summer season, the month of June is heralding the start of the gay film festival season in the mecca cities of New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In New York, the 21st edition of NewFest, the New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Film Festival, had its gala opening last night at its new home in the heart of the city gay-centric Chelsea district, the School of Visual Arts Theater. Boasting the second largest screen in Manhattan and a full digital projection system, the SVA Theater has become the go-to screen for some of New York's best alternative film events (including recent uses by the Tribeca and Gen Art film festivals).

NewFest will occupy the theater's two screens for the next week, giving the Festival a much needed home in the heart of the city's gay community of choice. Festivities kicked off last night with the U.S. Premiere of MR. RIGHT, a multi-character romantic comedy written and directed by UK debut helmer Jacqui Morris. The film is centered in London's own gay district of Soho, where the aspirations and romantic tensions of a group of gay men intersect.

"I've lived in Soho for over 25 years, before it even was a gay neighborhood", an ecstatic Morris told the crowd. "I made this film for a ridiculously low budget but was able to draw on the support of the restaurants, bars and production houses that call Soho home." The film features long set pieces on Old Compton Street, Soho's gay promenade, and in the cafes and nightclubs that gives the street its late-night frenetic energy.

Using a loose style that intercuts encounters of drama and comedy, the film follows a group of sexy men (and their "fag hag" female buddy, an obvious stand-in for the director herself) as they negotiate career ambitions, relationship tensions and the obsessive needs to find and nail down a relationship with their own version of Mr. Right.

"Only two of the men in the film are actually gay", Ms. Morris explained during a lively q+a following the screening. "The rest are familiar television actors who really responded to the script and wanted to be part of a quality project that showed gay men as having many dimensions." While sex is definitely a driving force for the characters, stability and fufillment trump everything else and by the end of the film, everyone has found themselves at a better, sometimes unexpected, place. Even the sole female's boyfriend, whose exposure to the gay men bring out his inner queer. "One word of advice", Ms. Morris cautioned. "Never introduce your straight boyfriend to your gay male's a recipe for disaster." Wise words, indeed.

MR. RIGHT is one of several British films screening at the week-long festival. Also from the UK are director Richard Laxton's AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK, featuring a reprise by British actor John Hurt of his celebrated turn as gay raconteur Quentin Crisp, in a fictionalized account of the icon's final years in New York City; GREEK PETE, a documentary/fiction mix by director Andrew Haigh that follows a group of real life London male escorts; and SHANK, a contemporary coming-of-age film by Simon Pearce, set among gang members in London's working class districts that deals with both class and sexual identity issues.

Other European films making their debut at the Festival will be profiled in the next article. For more information on NewFest, visit their newly designed website:

03 June, 2009

The Italian Invasion Of New York

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

With the tabloids on both sides of the Atlantic covering the nasty divorce spat between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his former-actress wife (a spicy melange of adultery, illicit sex with teenage "models" and political corruption), the Italian penchant for soap opera and high drama continues unabated. Our on-going interest and curiosity about all things Italian continues with a double sided invasion of Italian cinema in the next few weeks in New York City and its environs.

This has been a banner year for Italian film. GOMORRAH, the relentless film from Matteo Garrone about the Napolitean crime scene, has been an arthouse hit throughout the world and offers a non-romantic view of the Mafia that contrasts with the romanticized view of the GODFATHER films. IL DIVO, the stylized tale of Prime Minister Guilio Andreotti, directed with a Visconti-like flair by Paolo Sorrentino, has also been widely embraced for its mix of the grand and the petty (which describes the Italian political scene at its most colorful).

With this double header of films creating renewed interest in Italian cinema (which has been a favorite of Americans since the post-war years of neo-realism), two new film programs debuting this week are highly anticipated. One looks back, while the other looks forward, to establish a lineage of Italian film language and sensibilities that continues to fascinate.

The Jacob Burns Film Center, that beacon of cinematic art located in Westchester County just north of New York City, will be presenting some of the masterpieces in the Italian canon. Beginning this Friday, the Center is presenting its program of Classic Italian Cinema, which includes the chefs d'oeuvres of some of world cinema's most legendary filmmakers. The program begins with a ravishing new 35mm film print of AMARCORD (1973), director Federico Fellini's lyrical and gorgeous memory film of his youth in pre-war Italy, with superb visuals by director of photography Nino Rota and one of film composer Nino Rota's most beautiful film scores. The opening night premiere will be followed, most appropriately, by a food and wine reception that includes the obligatory Italian buffet. Fellini is represented again in the series by his ROMA (1972), a sprawling semi-documentary love letter to his adopted city that includes some of the master's most memorable vignettes and set pieces.
Other unmissable films in the series include: the masterful OPEN CITY (1945), director Roberto Rossellini's neo-realist classic that remains a shattering and raw portrait of Rome under the occupation by the Nazis, featuring a for-the-ages performance by Anna Magnani; THE DAMNED (1969), stylist Luchino Visconti's magnum opus of German society during the rise of Hitler, with a brilliant international cast that includes Dirk Bogarde, Charlotte Rampling and Helmut Berger; JEALOUSY, ITALIAN STYLE (1970), a delicious sex comedy by Ettore Scola, featuring a dream cast that includes Marcello Mastrioanni, Monica Vitti and Giancarlo Giannini; and the lesser-known DILLINGER IS DEAD (1969), an anarchic comedy commenting on violence and hero worship by Marco Ferreri that features a wonderful performance from Italian everyman Michel Piccoli. The film series continues through June 25. For more information, visit the website:

While it is always a treat to revisit the classics, the vision of contemporary Italian filmmakers is equally compelling. A little burdened by the celebrated masters of the past and a rather dysfunctional film industry and government support structure, contemporary Italian film artists depend more on their wits to create cutting-edge examinations of their cherished if often tattered society. In this sense, they have a close affinity to the American independent film movement, which also must rely on its own resources to survive.

Giving contemporary Italian artists a major resource of visibility is the goal of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which is presenting its annual OPEN ROADS: NEW ITALIAN CINEMA program beginning on Thursday. The series offers a snapshot of both established talents and emerging artists on the Italian film scene and their world views.
The program opens with BRAVE MEN, an intriguing melodrama by Edoardo Winspeare that offers the story of a judge who unknowingly falls in love with the aid of a female mob boss. Other highlights of the series include: AS GOD COMMANDS, a compelling road movie by local sensation Gabriele Salvatores; THE GERMANS' FACTORY, a documentary/fiction mix that looks at lives lost in a factory accident by Mimmo Calopresti; GIOVANNA'S FATHER, a 1930s-set melodrama of murder and madness by the popular Pupi Avati; THE MAN WHO LOVES, a non-sentimental love story that is the sophomore film of Maria Sole Tognazzi, the daughter of legendary actor Ugo Tognazzi; and A PERFECT DAY, featuring a Venice Film Festival Best Actress performance by Isabella Ferrari, as directed by Ferzan Oztepek.

Many of the film directors, producers and actors will be present for the screenings held at the flagship theater of the Film Society, the luscious Walter Reade Theater. For more information on the program, visit:

For two marvelous weeks, the Italians are invading New York......and not a moment too soon.