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."