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: