14 December, 2010

Spanish Cinema Comes To New York

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Returning for its 18th edition, the popular series Spanish Cinema Now is currently being presented at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, one of New York's film treasures. First presented in 1992, the series has followed the renaissance of Spanish filmmaking over the past two decades. Inspired by the international successes of such filmmakers as Pedro Almodovar, the Spanish industry is producing a record number of films which are finding favor on theatrical screens and at film festivals the world over. The series, which runs through December 23, is again presenting a wide ranging program of all film genres to illustrate the prolific nature of the country's film industry.

Looking back at historical events is a keynote of Spanish cinema and this year's The Last Circus by acclaimed cult director Alex de la Iglesia, is a disturbing and rather surrealistic historic/horror film that points to such seminal artworks as Picasso's Guernica for its inspiration. The range is quite extraordinary: 13th-century ghost stories (Aita), bouncy animated musicals (Chico & Rita), intense hostage thrillers (Kidnapped), an avant-garde Mexican classic (1962’s On the Empty Balcony), and multiple commemorations of the Spanish Civil War’s 70th anniversary (Caracremada, El Mar, Paper Birds, Stars To Wish Upon).

Among the highlights of this year's program are The Consul of Sodom, a riveting portrait of homosexual bohemian poet Jaime Gil de Biedma, with a terrific performance by Jordi Molla; Even The Rain, with Mexican hearthrob Gael Garcia Bernal starring as a film director desperate to make a big budget epic about Christopher Colombus; Julia's Eyes, an edgy psychological thriller from the team that created the international sensation The Orphanage; Lope, a 16th century biopic of Spain's most famous renaissance playwright Lope de Vegas; and Anything You Want, an emotional drama of family loss with outstanding performances by Juan Diego Botto as the father and Lucia Fernandez as his intuitive 4-year-old daughter.

This year Spanish Cinema Now also includes a tribute to Agustí Villaronga, one of Spanish cinema’s darkest filmmakers, as well as a rare opportunity to see a masterpiece of the “exiled” Spanish cinema, On the Empty Balcony, courtesy of the Filmoteca Española. For information on the entire series, visit:

06 December, 2010

North American Indies In Tallinn

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

For the third year, POFF: the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, the largest and most influential festival event in the Baltics region, is opening its arms to embrace American and Canadian independent films. Eleven recent gems from such prestigious film festivals such as Sundance, South By Southwest, Montreal and Toronto were showcased in the North American Independents Competition.

While the group of films is certainly eclectic and showcase a wide variety of talents and filmic styles, the tone is a bit more anxious than in recent years. While comedies are still Hollywood’s most profitable commodity, the anxiety surrounding The Great Recession has given birth to a more serious tone in most independent films coming from North America. The tension is not just economic…..the uncertainty of jobs and personal security has unleashed a perfect storm of emotions that has distanced people from their governments, from their valued institutions and from one another. As in any sort of crisis, both the best and the worst of human behavior comes to the surface.

Perhaps because the American Dream long prized (in North America and elsewhere) has become more elusive or because scandals on Wall Street, in the church and at the highest levels of government have created a cynicism and helplessness that strangles our hopes for the future, the films in this year’s North American Independents Competition have a more serious tone, even when they are working to make us laugh.The downsizing of American life and the uncertainty of family loyalty or personal fulfillment provides the uneasy sub-text in such films as 3 BACKYARDS (Eric Mendelsohn), HELENA FROM THE WEDDING (Joseph Infantalino), THAT EVENING SUN (Scott Teems), THE LAST ESCAPE (Lea Pool) and TWELVE THIRTY (Jeff Lipsky).

As the rules of what is acceptable and unacceptable keep shifting, an underlying tension touches at the core of self-identity in the films GROWN UP MOVIE STAR (Adriana Maggs), THE FREEBIE (Katie Aselton), THE IMPERIALISTS ARE STILL ALIVE! (Zeina Durra) and WHITE IRISH DRINKERS (John Gray). Our growing awareness that problems in one part of the world can easily infect our own is emotionally explored in the Middle East family drama INCENDIES (the Canadian contender for the Oscar by director Denis Villeneuve). Even a comedy about a young woman’s inappropriate sexual education, THE YEAR OF THE CARNIVORE (Sook-Yin Lee), contains the seeds of feelings of low self esteem and the power of the media to shape our most intimate desires.

Several guests from the United States were among the 300 plus professionals who were in attendance in Tallinn. Joseph Infantolino is the director and writer of HELENA FROM THE WEDDING, which explores the fragile psyches of thirty-something professionals who are trying to survive during the Great Recession. Infantolino employed a terrific ensemble cast of New York theater talents to bring to the fore the male libidos and female insecurities that assemble in an upstate New York cabin for New Year's Eve. The film represent Infantolino's feature debut, following a decade-long stint as a film producer on such celebrated indies as OUR SONG (2001), FACE (2002), A HOLE IN ONE (2004) and RUN, FATBOY RUN (2008), the directorial debut of actor-turned-helmer David Schimmer. HELENA FROM THE WEDDING is currently in its theatrical run in the United States via indie film distributor Film Movement .

Also attending this year was Jeff Lipsky, who presented the International Premiere of his fourth film project, the family drama TWELVE THIRTY. Clearly influenced by European observational cinema, this terrific ensemble film takes on the nuances of family life and the unique conplexities of the relationship between mothers and daughters. Veteran character actress Karen Young, who was also in attendance, stars as the strong-willed mother whose relationship with her daughters (Portia Reins and Mamie Gummer) explodes when a handsome confident young man (played by Broadway sensation and GLEE regular Jonathan Groff) walks into their comfortable but dysfunctional world. Lipsky, who cut his teeth in the business as a film distributor, overseeing the American releases of such European titans as Malle, Fassbinder, Godard and Leigh, is etching out a parallell career as an insightful film director with a strong sense of atmosphere, a passion for actors and the glories of the spoken world.

Karen Young brought her considerable charm to the proceedings this year in the Estonian capital city. She is a veteran actress of almost 30 films, ranging from big-budget extravaganzas (JAWS: THE REVENGE) to edgy thrillers (NINE AND A HALF WEEKS, HEAT, CRIMINAL LAW) to intense dramas (BIRDY, HEADING SOUTH, FACTOTUM) and edgy comedies (TORCH SONG TRILOGY, ALMOST YOU). She has been a consistent contributor to indie American cinema, with such career highlights as THE BOY WHO CRIED BITCH, THE WIFE, PANTS ON FIRE, JOE THE KING and HANDSOME HARRY. She can currently be seen on screen in TWO GATES OF SLEEP, one of the only American indie films shown at last year's Cannes Film Festival, and CONVICTION, the Hilary Swank-starrer directed by Tony Goldwyn. Her role in TWELVE THIRTY is generating buzz for awards consideration in 2011 when it receives its theatrical release following its world premiere this past September at the Montreal World Film Festival.

Other American titles shown out of competition in the parallel sections of POFF included 127 HOURS (the Oscar contender directed by Danny Boyle), BLACK SWAN (the similarly Oscar-bound ballet film by Darren Aronofsky), CYRUS (Mark Duplass), KABOOM (Greg Araki), THE KILLER INSIDE ME (Michael Winterbottom), A LETTER TO ELIA (Martin Scorsese's tribute to director Elia Kazan), SOMEWHERE (the international hit from director Sofia Coppola), TRASH HUMPERS (the latest provocation from Harmony Korine) and WINTER'S BONE (the "indie it" film of the year by debut director Debra Granik). Canadian titles included HEARTBEATS (by enfant terrible Quebec director Xavier Dolan), the award-winning documentary LAST TRAIN HOME, FIG TREES by acclaimed queer filmmaker John Greyson and the Belgian/Canadian co-production MR. NOBODY by Jaco Van Dormael.

The anxieties expressed in almost all of the above films are reflections of this moment in time in American and world history. While the current economic crisis will surely come to an end and the social tension that has marked the first decade of the 21st century may turn out to be a brief period of adjustment, there is no question that a new world order is asserting itself. Technology is leading us ever faster into vast terrains that are unknowable and for which we may not yet be prepared for. History will record this as a pivotal moment when one century gave birth to its successor and the hard-and-fast rules began to change at an alarming rate. When people in years to come want to understand this particular moment in time….its promise, its disillusionment and its conflicts, they need look no further than the films presented here.

03 December, 2010

European Films Set For Sundance Film Festival

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

European films will have a strong showing in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, which runs from 20-30 January in the ski resort town of Park City, Utah. The fact that the films are all world or international premieres is further testament to the Festival’s importance as an international launching pad for films, not only for the North American market. In this sense, Sundance is now competing head-to-head with the Berlin and other European showcases for first access to new European titles. The full roster of films in this year’s Festival was announced yesterday and can be viewed on the Festival website:

For the World Cinema Dramatic Competition, five European films will compete for the top jury prizes. They include:

“Days of Respite” (Quelque Jours de Repit, Algeria/France, Amor Hakkar). This timely film tells the story of a pair of gay men who have escaped from Iran who seek safe harbor in a small French village, where a lonely middle-aged woman offers aid.

“The Guard” (Ireland, John Michael McDonagh). With a high profile cast that includes Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, and Fionnula Flanagon, this subversive comedy focuses on a small-town cop with a confrontational personality, a fondness for prostitutes and absolutely no interest in the international drug-smuggling ring that has brought a straight-laced FBI agent to his door.

“Happy, Happy” (Sykt Lykkelig, Norway, Anne Sewitsky). Norwegian actress Agnes Kittelsen stars as a perfect housewife, who just happens to be sex-starved, and struggles to keep her emotions in check when an attractive family moves in next door.

“Lost Kisses” (I baci mai dati, Italy, Roberta Torre). In this intense coming-of-age tale, a 13-year-old girl in the deprived outskirts of a sprawling Sicilian city becomes a local celebrity when word spreads that she can perform miracles.

“Tyrannosaur” (United Kingdom, Paddy Considine). Actor-turned-director Considine makes his directorial debut with this powerful drama about a man plagued by self-destructive violence and rage who has a chance of redemption when he meets a Christian charity shop worker with a devastating secret of her own.

01 December, 2010


As someone who appreciates attending documentary-only film festivals, I must admit that after a few days, it can become a bit of a slog. This is not due to the films, particularly at a high-end event like IDFA, the acclaimed International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, which ended its 11 day run on Sunday. If anything, it is the opposite. The films presented are so visceral, so challenging, so disturbing, so awakening, that it truly is a shock to the system to see them in the marathon fashion favored by festival goers like myself.

Among the films that both outraged and motivated me this past week were BLOOD IN THE MOBILE, Danish director Frank Piasecki Poulsen's "Roger And Me" quest to get at the bottom of "blood minerals" from the Congo that are imported by one of the world's most successful technology companies Nokia; THE GREEN WAVE, director Ali Samadhi Abadi's powerful mix of essay, animation and actual clips of the uprising in Iran following the election of 2009; the horrendously demanding and difficult lives of the rickshaw drivers of Calcutta beautifully captured by South Korean director Seong Gyou-Lee in MY BAREFOOT FRIEND; the agonies of facing the truth in the aftermath of a bloody war in Swedish director Staffan Julen's MY HEART OF DARKNESS; and the numbing monotony and excruciating boredom that sometimes erupts in violence in the wars in Afghanistan and Iran, as experienced by the combat troops in ARMADILLO by Danish director Janus Metz.

The above is only scratching the surface of the topics presented in the past week and a half. For the viewer, there can only be an initial reaction of shock, followed by a numbness and feeling of weakness in the presence of such monumental issues and problems. However, in each of the above films, the filmmakers have made a point of saying that the conditions and situations portrayed in the film ARE subject to change, if there is the will and the motivation to do so. That is the challenge of these films and the challenge that we each take home with us from IDFA.

By Sandy Mandelberger

22 October, 2010

Found Footage Film To World Premiere In Poland

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

SPARK OF BEING, a found footage film by celebrated avant-garde filmmaker Bill Morrison, is making its World Premiere this week at the AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL(AFF), the first film event in Eastern Europe solely devoted to the works of contemporary and classic American cinema. Like his earlier film DECASIA (2002), Morrison uses disparate found footage extracts and a dynamic score to create a unique film experience that communicate many different layers of resonance and meaning.

While the earlier film was a kind of symphony of decomposition, SPARK OF BEING offers a nostalgic treatise on the nature of creation. The starting point is the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, to note the 100 year anniversary of the first silent film adaptation of the famed Mary Shelly novel. Here, Morrison presents his take on the classic tale, using striking visual imagery to delineate the monster’s unique position between decay and living flesh. Morrison follows in the good doctor’s footsteps by digging up rotting film fragments and making them whole again, bringing new life to the deteriorated celluloid. In this process, the images take on a life of their own…..changing colors, creating bulges and crumples, pulsating with their own organic life, set to an electro-jazz rhythm score by Dave Douglas. The film has been presented with live musical accompaniment at museums, mediatheques, concert halls and music clubs, but this is the first time that it is being presented solely as a film in a film festival environment.

Morrison began his career as a designer of visualization for some of New York’s most adventurous avant-garde theaters. His series of short films since 1990, including such celebrated works of the avant-garde as THE NIGHT HIGHWAY, THE FILM OF HER, TRINITY and THE MESMERIST have won awards at film festivals in Berlin, Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro. His feature debut, the celebrated DECASIA in 2002, has been hailed as one of the most important experimental films of the last decade. SPARK OF BEING has its world premiere debut as part of The Cutting Edge section of visually adventurous films that include such other titles as DOUBLE TIDE (Sharon Lockhart), NY EXPORT: OPUS JAZZ (Henry Joost and Jody Lee Lipes), OPEN (Jae Yuzna) and THE OWLS (Cheryl Dunye). For a complete list of films and events at the inaugural American Film Festival, visit:

American Indie Auteurs In Poland

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

While the Polish public certainly is aware of the latest Hollywood films, and with current American television series also freely available here, it is a little surprising that some of the American indie world's most celebrated auteurs are virtually unknown. That is one of the goals of the inaugural American Film Festival, the first film event in Eastern Europe solely devoted to contemporary and classic American cinema. And if the size of the audiences at the screenings is any indication, the American indies will be as well known here as their Hollywood counterparts.

In the Festival section, Decade of Independents, Festival programmers are showcasing some of the most important and influential American indie films of the past ten years. Many of these films did not get an original theatrical release in Poland and some never even made it to the dvd market. However, with internet platforms now readily available to the public, there is an opportunity for the films to be rediscovered and for the filmmakers, long known in the West, to widen their reach into Eastern Europe.

The names are indeed impressive: Darren Aronofsky (represented here by the visually inventive REQUIEUM FOR A DREAM and the Mickey Rourke career comeback THE WRESTLER), The Coen Brothers (the stylish but sedate THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE), David Lynch (the master's surrealistic take on the allure of Hollywood, MULHOLLAND DRIVE), Spike Jonze (the wildly anarchic ADAPTATION), Gus Van Sant (the controversial and uncompromising GERRY and PARANOID PARK), Michael Moore (the compelling and disturbing portrait of the underbelly of rage and violence in American life, BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE) and Sofia Coppola (her breakthrough film LOST IN TRANSLATION).

Other auteurs being showcased include: Jonathan Couette (the autobiographical essay film TARNATION), Woody Allen (the deceptively lightweight meditation on human relations, ANYTHING ELSE), Todd Solondz (the surrealistic masterpiece PALINDROMES), Michel Gondry (the masterfully elusive and resonant meditation on memory, THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND), Jim Jarmusch (the child-like innocence of BROKEN FLOWERS and the existential thriller THE LIMITS OF CONTROL), Wes Anderson (the playful yet disonant animation film THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX) and Miranda July (the impressive debut ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW).

For those discovering these films for the first time or others interested in revisiting them, this is an astonishing program in and of itself. The fact that is only one of three retrospectives (with a complete look at the work of John Cassavetes and a potpourri of classic Hollywood gems) makes it all the more impressive. The American Film Festival boasts one of the most eclectic and enriching (and meaty) programs on the festival circuit.

21 October, 2010

Hommage To Nathalie Baye in New York

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

What is it about French actresses, that they grow even more beautiful and, arguably, more talented with age. Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve are but two examples of this gorgeous gallic phenomenon, where their later roles take on even greater gravitas as the subtle lines of their face change, their voices lowers a register and their once all-too-fragile beauty slightly hardens and becomes as enduring as a Greek sculpture. But blood courses through their veins and passion, if not only of the body, remains part of their allure.

Such is certainly the case with the actress Nathalie Baye, who has been honored with a mini-retrospective this past week given by the Film Society of Lincoln Center (who just presented the stellar 48th edition of the New York Film Festival…..don’t these people sleep?). The series highlights some of her finest films over a 30 year career that shows no signs of abating. She continues the trajectory of a unique career in cinema, having worked with a wide range of directors, from Truffaut to Spielberg, Godard to Chabrol. On screen, she has a force and grace that is surprising from someone so petite and porcelain-faced. One senses that beneath the demure façade that fires are raging and uncontrollable passions are always on the verge of breaking through. Film directors have loved that quality of restrained control since her early work in the 1970s, of which THE MOUTH AGAPE by Maurice Pialat and Francois Truffaut's dark exploration of loss and remembrance THE GREEN ROOM.

She had her true breakout role opposite Gerard Depardieu as the wife of a returning peasant in THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE (1982) by Daniel Vigne. The richly imagined retelling of this fractured fairy tale set in the 16th century sets up the possibility that the returning husband may be an imposter….and posits the question of how we know one another after all. The unknowingness of human relations is also at the core of NOTRE HISTOIRE (1984), a compelling deux-a-deux with Alain Delon as two strangers on a train who become involved in a secret. The film, as directed by Bertrand Blier, walks the fine line between reality and fantasy, clarity and lunacy….all reflected in the rather stoic visage of Ms. Baye. She was equally ambivalent, and never more beautiful, than as the tormented wife trying to collect a debt from her former love in Jean Luc Godard’s return to genre form, DETECTIVE (1985).

She won one of her several Cesar Awards as Best Actress in the shockingly explicit AN AFFAIR OF LOVE (Une Liaison Pornographique, 1999), with Baye showing considerable skin in her sensual, no commitment encounters with Sergi Lopez. Frederic Fonteyne’s film forms a kind of companion piece to Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS, as the two strangers attempt to establish a purely sexual relationship but, in the end, cannot escape the yearnings of their own humanity.

Baye had her biggest hit that same year with VENUS BEAUTY INSTITUTE, in which she starred as a world-weary beautician who reluctantly gives love another try. In a cast that introduced ingénue Audrey Tatou, as well as veterans Bulle Ogier and Mathilde Seigner, director Tonie Marshall’s winning comedy won several Cesar Awards and became a world box office sensation.

The series, which ends on October 21, also highlights her more recent work with a diverse group of directors, including: Steven Spielberg (CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, 2002), Claude Chabrol (THE FLOWER OF EVIL, 2003), Xavier Beauvois (LE PETIT LIEUTENANT, 2005), Thomas Gilou (MICHOU D’AUBER, 2007) and Josianne Balasko (CLIENTE, 2008). Baye was in New York all week, giving an on-stage reminiscence of her life and career and at many of the week’s screenings. The actress was also recently feted for her career achievement at the Montreal World Film Festival last month for the astonishing quality of her work. As she ages into perfect grand motherhood, expect to see her still glorious visage gracing French and European cinema for decades to come.

19 October, 2010

Olivier Assayas: Post-Punk Auteur

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

In CARLOS, the riveting and expansive 5 1/2-hour biopic of the charismatic 1970s terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, writer/director Olivier Assayas relies on a dizzying cinematic style that is also punctuated by the punk music that characterized the rebellion of the age in which he lived. Music and visuals are among the many pallettes that Assayas has used with great fidelity and skill throughout his diverse and diverting 25-year career. As an added panache to the theatrical release of CARLOS in the United States by IFC Films (surely one of the highlights of the Fall film season), the BAMcinematek in Brooklyn is presenting an exhaustive retrospective of the director's oeuvre. The series, which began last weekend and will also screen the CARLOS marathon biopic, is presenting 19 films in all, including his early short films, a number of rarely-seen documentaries and his full feature film oeuvre. Ranging from anarchic rebellion to pastoral family pieces to intense thrillers, the director's range and interests are truly wide-reaching.

Like his "nouvelle vague" predecessors a generation before, Assayas came to directing first immersing himself in the world of film criticism. Like Godard, Truffaut and Malle, he maintains both the detached eye of the outside critic, while remaining loyal to his vision, but forever finding a correlation to the visual voices of his heros. In Assayas' case, there was indeed a cinematic gene.....his father Jacques Remy was a screenwriter who penned original works and adaptations for the big and small screen, in collaboration with such French giants as Rene Clair, Marcel Camus, Roger Vadim and Rene Clement. It is even rumored that the young Assayas was the ghost writer of several scripts when his faher's health began to fail.

As a film critic at the prestigious Cahiers du Cinema, Assayas wrote extensively about the underrated auteurs of both French and world cinema, while also championing Asian filmmaking, in particularly the works of his primary artistic influence, the Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien. By 1986, he was ready to helm his first original script, the music-set DISORDER, about a group of young punk musicians who break the rules in order to do the one thing that they find transcendent....making music. The film won a Critics Prize at the Venice Film Festival and Assayas was instantly hailed as a new kind of French filmmaker.

As stated, music has played a big role in his films, as both subject and subtext. In PARIS AT DAWN (1991), a moody triangle develops between a drug addict and her older lover and his son. The film, shot in delectable black and white that gives Paris the atmospheric glamour usually associated with film noir New York, boasts an original score by the Velvet Underground's John Cale. In the underrated LATE AUGUST, EARLY SEPTEMBER (1998), Assayas uses the melodious music of Malian musician Ali Farka Toure to provide the rhythm of the back-and-forth connections between a disparate group of thirty-somethings. In the controversial demonlover (2002), the terrific score by Sonic Youth contributed to the film's wildly hallucinatory atmosphere and underlying erotic tension. The unstable world of musicians also informs CLEAN, with Assayas' one-time wife Maggie Cheung winning accolades for her performance as a recovering addict who was a casaulty of a high-powered and unforgiving music world.

However, striking visuals are also a hallmark of Assayas' best work. In IRMA VEP (1996), his international breakout hit, the imagery is almost hallucinatory as Assayas brings us behind the scenes of the filmmaking process as a director (played by the iconic Jean-Pierre Leaud) attempts a remake of the subversive silent classic LES VAMPIRES by Louis Feuillade. The frug-fueled mania of Paris night life is brought to colorful life in the earlier COLD WATER (1994), climaxing in an extensive party scene with hot passion, illicit drugs, music and dancing before a raging bonfire. Drugs also fuel the erotic tension in BOARDING GATE (2007), a steamy look at hedonism starring Michael Madsen and Asia Argento.

While these "all charged up" visuals necessitate a hot temperament and a roving camera, Assayas has also demonstrated his powerful control of understated emotion in such films as LES DESTINEES (2000), a multi-era period piece starring a stellar cast that included Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Beart and Charles Berling. A similar sure hand gave a special resonance to the unstated in SUMMER HOURS (2008), an almost Japanese-look at the effect of a parent's death on the surviving children....while also making a trenchant statement about what can be characterized as the cynical and unsentimental "new France", a country adrift in the waves of globalization.

While that subject is considered one for our own age, it clearly has been the case for several decades, as is demonstrated with great alacrity in CARLOS. The film moves between Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans with dizzying speed, often including three different languages in the same scene. As an international terrorist who found alliances with (at different times) the Russians, the Syrians, the German Stasi, the Libyans and terrorist cells in France, Germany and Spain, Carlos was, in his way, a true citizen of the world. However misguided his messianic politics and violent nature, he understood that the world was more interconnected than most people in his age realized. In the end, when he is abandoned by all his former allies, he represents the ultimate isolation and lack of connection that is inherent in many of Assayas' films. As is illustrated, we come into this world alone and leave it just as lonely......but oh, the musical, magical, visual ride.

For more information on this and future film series, visit:

27 September, 2010

Romanian Revolution Continues At NYFF

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The revolution in Romanian cinema that began several years ago with the astonishingly original films THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (2005), 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST (2006) and 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS (2007), continues to flex its muscle, with a strong showing at the New York Film Festival, which opened this past weekend.

Three extraordinary films from Romania will be featured at the Festival, New York's most prestigious film event. AURORA, the latest effort from director Cristi Puiu (THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU)is a devastating character study of an engineer whose life has spun out of control. Casting himself in the demanding lead role, Puiu plunges the viewer into the shadowy world of the streets of Bucharest, as his character encounters former colleagues, a mistress, his mother, and his former in-laws, all the while harboring a secret plan designed to restore order to the whole. Using the filmic language of long takes and close ups, the director brings us into a universe of secrets and lies, an allegory for a country still trying to define itself after decades of political repression. The film, at three hours long, moves along with glacial precision, but resonates as realism in minute detail.

TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS by director Radu Muntean seems to have a lighter tone, but is equally devastating. A man must choose between his wife of ten years and his mistress in this powerfully acted meditation on the temptations and costs of adultery. Are these characters stand-ins for the Romanian population as a whole, who have been fed unfulfilled promises and then have been cheated on by manipulative politicians and greedy corporate kings? This intimate film plays its trio of actors like a finely tuned chamber orchestra, exposing the wounds of its characters in excruciatingly intimate detail. The director, whose previous films THE PAPER WILL BE BLUE and SUMMER HOLIDAY, is emerging as one of Eastern Europe's most distinctive voices.

As a special event, the Festival is also featuring the premiere of an astonishing documentary essay film that speaks to the heart of the current zeitgeist of its country. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUSESCU by Andrei Ujica is an astonishing work of the sociopolitical imagination as it imagines in striking visual terms the rise and fall of the controversial Romanian dictator, whose shadow continues to haunt a contemporary Romanian finding new definitions and its place in the world. Romanian cinema, to coin a phrase, is still on a roll......

Facebook Film Opens New York Film Festival

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Future generations will be in a better position to determine whether the introduction of social networking technology in the first decade of the 20th century was a blessing or a curse. Certainly for the entrepreneurs who created new ways for us to communicate with one another, it has been both. Such is the case for the multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, who founded the internet phenomenon Facebook, but who has lost as much as he has gained in terms of the trust and love of his friends and family.

This cautionary tale of our times is being brought to the screen by iconoclastic director David Fincher in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, which opens the 48th edition of the New York Film Festival on Friday evening. Drawing on a razor-sharp script by television and theater legend Aaron Sorkin, the film has been a major point of controversy in the blogosphere for several months for its play-by-play story of the meteoric rise and acrimonious fall of the twenty-somethings who created the internet sensation.

The film features a terrific ensemble cast led by Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Tamberlake, with stellar support from Brenda Song, Max Minghella, Rooney Mara and Arnie Hammer. Sorkin's script is inspired by the celebrated 2009 nonfiction book THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES by Ben Mezrich, a tome that pulls no punches when it comes to outlying the greed, betrayals and wrong-headed philosophies of its twenty-something "geniuses". Tellingly, none of the Facebook staff, including founder Mark Zuckerberg, were involved with the project, although one of the co-founders, Eduardo Saverin, was a consultant on the non-fiction book.

Casting began in early August 2009, with Eisenberg the first to be signed in September 2009. For the 27-year-old actor, whose stock has been rising in such recent films as THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, ZOMBIELAND and ADVENTURELAND, this is his first true leading role in a major Hollywood production. Garfield, who can currently be seen on screen in the UK drama NEVER LET ME GO, will make waves next year as the new Spiderman. For Timberlake, who has been gaining acting chops for a few years now, this film could seal the deal for his getting bigger acting roles in the future. Major filming on the project began in October 2009 in Cambridge, Massachussets, with most scenes filmed on the campuses of two of the state's most famous prep schools, Phillips Academy and Milton Academy (made to fill in for Harvard, which refused to lend its campus to the filming).

For fans of the work of the Oscar-nominated director David Fincher (FIGHT CLUB, ZODIAC, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON), the film is creating major excitement. Fincher has a reputation as a control freak with obsessive attention to the detail, but also as a commanding stylist who has brought an individual flavor uniquely his own to his filmography. Always controversial and rather unapproachable, he is the kind of intense artist whose work speaks for itself.

In true internet fashion, the film's highly protected script was leaked online in July 2009. In November 2009, producer Kevin Spacey defended the film from critics who complained that it showed an unflattering portrait of all involved as part of the filmmakers' leftist political agendas. The film's main protoganist has stated that he is not happy with the bits and pieces he has seen of the film, but that he has not seen the full film to judge its accuracy. Others who were part of the initial Facebook developments, including co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, has also called the film a rewriting of the past and a pretty aggressive attack on Zuckerberg.

Audiences in North America will be able to weigh in shortly when the film is released by Columbia Pictures on October 1. However, the New York Film Festival has world premiere bragging rights this weekend and this is the start of what is another marathon film appreciation that continues through October 10. We will cover it all.......For more information on the New York Film Festival and other programs by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, visit:

23 September, 2010

Independent Film Week Spotlights Indie Projects

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Independent Film Week, a multi-layered program of screenings, conferences, co-production networking events and filmmaker pitch sessions has kicked off the New York film season with a vengeance. Under the auspices of the Independent Feature Project (IFP), the venerable filmmakers organization, this year's event involves both professionals and film buffs in a dizzying schedule of activities around the city of New York from September 19 to 23.

The Independent Film Week kicked off with the New York premiere of HOWL, a Sundance Film Festival favorite directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, starring James Franco as beat poet Allen Ginsberg. The film is, in fact, an alumnus of the IFP's No Borders International Production Market where it was first presented as a project in 2008. Another alumnus, TWELVE DAYS TO SUNDAY, a documentary about rural America by director Anna Farrell, had its world premiere screening this week after its inclusion in the 2009 IFP Documentary Independent Filmmaker Lab. In addition, Telefilm Canada is presenting its annual showcase of new Canadian titles.

This year, the Project Forum (formerly known as the IFP Market), continues the organization's mission to create networking and financing opportunities for independent filmmakers with a host of North American and international professionals and funding agencies. The initiative, which abandoned the actual screening of dramatic features several years ago, is more focused on assisting filmmakers through the development, financing and completion of their feature films. All projects showcased in the Project Forum are features and documentaries ranging from films in development, the early stages of production, to those nearing completion (i.e. in postproduction or at the rough cut stage). In all, 150 projects were selected to participate this year, evenly split between documentary and narrative features in development (script through post-production).

The range of credentials of the participating filmmakers is astonishing......everyone from fledgling newcomers to more established indie artists. Narrative program highlights from the 2010 Project Forum includes new work represented by producers Howard Gertler & John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Jack Goes Boating), Lynette Howell (Half Nelson), Mark Heyman (The Wrestler), Michael Roiff (Waitress), Christine Walker (Howl), Jay Van Hoy & Lars Kundsen (Old Joy) and executive producers Ross Katz (Lost in Translation), Andrew Niccol (Gattaca), Mira Nair (The Namesake), and Ron Simons (Night Catches Us).

Several established directors with strong filmographies are being presented this year, in a bid to develop and finance their latest projects. They include new works from acclaimed directors Maggie Greenwald (Songcatcher), Tony Kaye (American History X) and Dover Kosashvili (Late Marriage), as well as follow up features by Craig Zobel (Great World of Sound), Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind) and Ry Russo Young (You Won’t Miss Me). Noted documentary directors with new projects include Andrea Nix Fine & Sean Fine (War Dance), Paul Rachman (American Hardcore), Judith Helfand (Blue Vinyl), Robinson Devor (Zoo), Sarah and Emily Kunstler (William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe) and veteran William Greaves (Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One).

Project Forum is also presenting 25 narrative scripts in early development by up-and-coming writers and writer/directors, which will be of particular interest to the producers, funding agencies, distributors and agents in attendance. IFP’s Independent Filmmaker Labs supports 20 diverse filmmakers throughout the completion, marketing and distribution of their first feature film. The program has become the leading U.S. forum for executive producers, agents and managers, sales agents and festival programmers to discover and support fresh talent on the independent scene prior to the introduction to the marketplace or at film festivals.

Over the years, No Borders International Co-Production Market has become the premiere U.S. forum for buyers, sales agents and financiers to meet with established independent producers who have strong track records for producing films in the international marketplace. All 45 projects presented at No Borders this year have at least 20% financing in place; many also have additional cast and/or principal attachments. Of the projects selected for presentation this year, 45% will be represented by producers from the U.S. including six projects from the Sundance Institute.

The other projects participating in the No Borders Market are represented by producers sponsored by the intiative's international partners and support organizations, including Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen (Germany), Film Victoria (Australia), Hong Kong- Asia Film Financing Forum (China), Israel Film Fund, the National Film and Video Foundation (South Africa), New Zealand Film Commission, Screen NSW (Australia), Telefilm Canada, and the UK Film Council, as well as support organizations ACE (France), CineMart (The Netherlands), NFDC Cinemas of India/Film Bazaar, Power to the Pixel UK, PPP- Pusan Promotional Plan, and TGP – Tokyo Project Gathering.

Documentary has played an important role in IFP’s history from the very beginning of the organization. This year's Spotlight on Documentaries program is presenting 70 documentaries ranging from those at an early financing stage (early development or in production) to those nearing completion (in postproduction or at the rough cut stage). This is of particular interest to distributors, sales agents and film festival programmers.

As important as the projects themselves, the Independent Filmmaker Conference has assembled a dizzying who's who of industry experts in the fields of financing, production, promotion, distribution, film festival strategy and new media opportunities that offer attending filmmakers a "boot camp" that rivals any 3-year film school. The sharing of information and case studies of indie films that have broken through in the past year are invaluable for filmmakers working in an increasingly difficult environment for their works.

Despite a tough economic climate for independent filmmakers and the not-for-profit organizations that support them, this year's Independent Film Week demonstrates that the indie flame is still very much alive. For more information, visit:

20 September, 2010

Cadillac People's Choice Awards at TIFF

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is unique among A-list film festivals because it still is a non-competitive event. Unlike its other stellar events, including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, San Sebastian and Sundance, TIFF does not bother with the formality of competition juries and all the drama that surrounds their sometimes dubious choices. Instead, the audience determnes the winners, specially of the Cadillac People's Choice Awards, which were announced on Sunday, the final day of TIFF's 11-day film marathon.

For a festival that is so attuned to the vagaries of the film business, a prize conferred by contented audience members is more of a coup, since they speak to potential box office returns and end-of-year critical prizes. This year's Cadillac People's Choice winner will certainly make this prediction a reality.

The Cadillac People's Choice Award was won by THE KING'S SPEECH, a UK/Australia co-production directed by Tom Hooper. The film's two leads, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, are the early favorites for Golden Globe and Oscar recognition. The film tells the story of King George VI, who reluctantly assumes the throne in 1937 following the abdication of his brother, despite a stuttering problem that makes him a pariah in a world invaded by radio. When he engages the helpof an unorthodox Australian speech therapist, the lines of class and privilege are crossed....a harbinger of the diluted role of the monarch in 20th century democratic England. The Award includes a $15,000 cash prize. Runner up was FIRST GRADER, another UK film directed by Justin Chadwick, marking this as a strong cinema year for England.

The Cadillac People's Choice Midnight Madness Award which goes to a film in the Festival's (rather gory) genre program, was won by STAKE LAND, a vampire saga by American indie director Jim Mickle. The ghoulish tale is set in the aftermath of a vampire epidemic, when a teen is taken in by a grizzled vampire hunter on a road trip through a post-apocalyptic America.

The Cadillac People’s Choice Documentary Award stayed local with the Canadian film FORCE OF NATURE: THE DAVID SUZUKI MOVIE by director Sturla Gunnarsson. The film is a loving portrait of David Suzuki, a passionate environmentalist who still has the fire to spread his message at the age of 75.

Following eleven days and more than three hundred films, the Cadillac People’s Choice Awards definitely gives a tremendous boost to the films acknowledged and makes them, if not Oscar contenders, then at least staples of the film festival circuit over the upcoming months. For more information on the Festival, visit:

17 September, 2010

Julian Schnabel: A Renaissance Man For Our Times

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Julian Schnabel strides two different worlds like a modern-day colossus. As a painter, sculptor and photographer, he has been in the A list of fine arts culture for more than 30 years. For the past decade, he has added "filmmaker extraordinaire" to his resume, becoming one of the most talked-about and lauded film artists of his generation. Painters making films is not completely new (Leger, Kandinsky, Dali and other early modernists did make film expressions, but they were either short abstract works or limited surrealistic efforts). However, Schnabel is an astute director of actors, a highly visual stylist and a film artist with a unique vision, making him the first (to my knowledge) painter who has been uniquely accepted into the film firmament as well. This makes him a renaissance man of our times.

Toronto is playing host to both sides of this unique visual artist, by hosting the North American premiere of his fifth film MIRAL at the Toronto International Film Festival AND a mini-retrospective of his painting, photography and sculptural work currently in exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). The exhibition (which runs through January 2011) has been timed with the Festival, easily Toronto's most important cultural event, to create a unique cross-cultural celebration of a unique stylist's visual language and influences.

JULIAN SCHNABEL: ART AND FILM brings together his two passions: painting and filmmaking. For an artist who has had exhibitions around the world, this is the first that uniquely examines the interplay between his two loves, and traces how they exist in dialogue with one another. With over 50 works (including polaroids of film stars, monumental painting on canvas and velvet, and an expressionistic sculpture), curator David Moos has created a visual landscape on the fifth floor of the AGO that is as intoxicating as the work itself. To learn more, visit:

Considering that Schnabel only began his film work a decade ago, the influence of cinema has been part of his lexicon from the very beginnings of his fledgling painting career. The first work that garnered him international reputation was a 1978 work titled ACCATONE, after the celebrated film by Italian stylist Pier Paolo Pasolini. His love of international cinema informed many of his subsequent works, including an abstract work on sailcloth devoted to the actress Jane Birkin and Surfing Paintings series that Schnabel dedicated to the legendary Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci. "Movies were my escape", he states in the short documentary produced by the AGO for the exhibition. "I drew my first impressions of what it meant to be an artist from the classics of world cinema and they still remain a major influence in all of my work." Other key cinematic figures who served as subjects or touchstones in the exhibition include Marlon Brando, Albert Finney, Dennis Hopper, Mickey Rourke, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken and Rula Jebreal, with who he wrote the screenplay of his newest film MIRAL.

MIRAL, which had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, was inspired by the life of Palestine-born, Western-based television journalist Rula Jebreal. The film examines the lives of four Palestinian women of different generations as they search for hope and justice in a country torn apart by conflict. The film offers a showcase to actresses Hiam Abbass and Freida Pinto (of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE fame) in the central roles and reinforces his view that women are the ones who both continue the culture and suffer the most when it is threatened. Aside from the strength of the film's political core, Schnabel invests it with a highly expressionistic visual style that uses all the tones and tools that cinema can offer.....a strong parallel to the use of colors and brushes in his art work. Interestingly, he needed to turn to European resources to fund the film, including Pathe, Canal Plus and Cinecinema, although the film is slated to be released later this year in North America by The Weinstein Company.

Although MIRAL has been received with mixed reviews, the film is rich in compassion for its subjects and its use of striking visual imagery. These are qualities he has exhibited and honed since beginning his film career in 1996 with BASQUIAT, a dramatic portrait of the "doomed" street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and the 1980s New York art scene that Schnabel knew so intimately. Politics, both personal and pragmatic, pervade his second film BEFORE NIGHT FALLS (2001), which was a career catalyst for Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who is now among the biggest movie stars on the planet. In 2007, Schnabel had his most immersive experience in cinema, directing both the expressionistic THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERLY and the music documentary LOU REED: BERLIN. All four of the films will screen throughout the AGO's exhibition run.

Clearly, this is a man of passion, visual gifts and huge talent. To have made such strong impressions in two different arenas is unprecedented. It remains clear that both Schnabel the painter and Schnabel the filmmaker have much more to say, and for those fortunate enough to live or visit Toronto this week, both of his gifts are on ample display.

Dubai Film Market: A Cultural Crossroads

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), the largest and most ambitious film event in the Middle East, used the setting of the Toronto International Film Festival to make a major announcement. For its 7th edition, DIFF will sponsor the largest and most comprehensive film market in the Arab world, a multi-faceted initiative that will create unprecedented access to film and talent from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

The new Dubai Film Market will work ‘from script to screen,’ covering every aspect of cinema from conceptualization to distribution. Its various components will include the Dubai Film Connection, the Festival’s successful co-production market; the Dubai Film Forum, its popular hub for talent development, funding, workshops and networking; Enjaaz, the Festival’s dedicated post-production support programme; and the proven Dubai Filmmart, specializing in content trade, acquisition and distribution.

"We have built a reputation as a major film event over the past seven years", DIFF Managing Director Shivani Pandya shared with me at a meeting earlier this week in Toronto. "Now we are ready to build on that foundation and become a major gateway between the major film centers of North America and Europe and the Middle East, Asia and Africa. The initiative is in keeping with the Festival's motto of "Bridging Cultures. Meeting Minds." and in reinforcing Dubai’s reputation as an international hub for cinema capital and services.

"We have a special role to play in the promotion of Arab, Asian and African cinema", Pandya continued. "Not only will we showcase completed films from those regions, but we will also be instrumental in developing and financing new projects, as well as exploring distribution and new media possibilities."
The Dubai Film Market is yet another indicator of the the Festival’s exponential growth in just over 6 years time. Since its inception in 2004, DIFF has become a major must-attend film event that has been instrumental in the promotion of Arab, Asian and African cinema and the development of at least 20 films from its various financing initiatives. "Arab cinema is just beginning to get worldwide attention and we definitely see this as part of our cultural mission", Pandya stated.

“The new Dubai Film Market will reflect a marked upgrade to the way we work, to ensure we offer the most effective and efficient environment for business year-round,” Pandya added. "At this December's edition, international delegates will be able to view the current crop of cinema, meet emerging and recognized talent, acquire films, meet the key decision-makers in the Arab, Asian, African and international film worlds, and develop business partnerships."

In 2009, the sixth Dubai International Film Festival presented 168 films from 55 countries, including 29 world premieres, 13 international premieres, 77 Middle East premieres and 33 GCC premieres. DIFF also disburses more than US$575,000 in prizes through its Muhr competition, and participating filmmakers also receive in excess of US$400,000 in project grants, completion funds and post-production support.

The seventh edition of Dubai International Film Festival 2010 will be held from December 12 to 19. DIFF 2010 is held in association with Dubai Studio City and supported by the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, Dubai Duty Free, Dubai Pearl, Emirates Airlines and Madinat Jumeirah. "This is a challenging time for world cinema and we see it as our goal to help develop international ties and relationships", Pandya concluded. "We also look forward to welcoming international guests to sample our unique culture". For more information on the Festival and its many industry initiatives, visit:

16 September, 2010


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

When a filmmaker draws on his own experience to the extent that Icelandic director Fridrik Thor Fridriksson has done in his wonderful memory film MAMMA GOGO, the intimacy of the revelations is almost disarmingly intimate. The prolific director, probably the best known from his native country and one of the most consistent in Scandinavia cinema, takes his audience on a personal journey as the film’s protagonist, a filmmaker himself, becomes immersed in the downward spiral of his mother due to Alzheimer’s disease.

The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this past week, is not the only one to deal with human frailty, but it distinguished by its director’s canny mix of tragedy and satire, as his mother’s descent is paralleled by the economic meltdown that has put Iceland in the news over the past few years. “When this illness began showing up in my mother’s behavior, I noticed that all the politicians and the bankers who caused the economic mess, were suffering from a very similar illness”, Fridriksson commented at a one-on-one interview in the outdoor café of the Intercontinental Hotel. “They all lost touch with common sense and did not fully understand what they were doing.”

Fridriksson shared that he was guilty of some of the excesses portrayed in the film by the thinly autobiographical film director character. “Like everyone else, I started wildly investing in the stock market and making crazy risks”, he offered. “But I have become used to taking risks working as a filmmaker and I guess I just got caught up the madness that was happening at the time, where we thought things would just continue to go up, up and up.” As we know, Iceland’s fragile economy was amongst the worst hit in Europe. The country’s bankers wildly speculated with cash from foreign investors, piling up debt that far exceeded the island’s GDP. The film industry, always rather intimate by other European country standards, was one of the hardest hit by the crash.

The government in Reykjavik has slashed the state film subsidies, upon which all local filmmakers are dependent, by nearly a third, effectively reducing the country’s already modest output of six or seven films annually to no more than two or three. “It was never easy to finance a film in Iceland”, Fridriksson explained. “We always have needed strong co-production partners, particularly with Germany and Scandinavia, and as the economic crisis has hit them almost as hard, it has made producing films almost impossible.”

Fridriksson, who is an acknowledged film veteran who has recently been lauded with Career Achievement Awards at film festivals in the Czech Republic and other locales, remains an exception because of the track record of some of his earlier films such as CHILDREN OF NATURE (1992), which was nominated for an Oscar, and COLD FEVER (1995), an international arthouse hit. The director has also won the Amanda Award (the Norwegian Oscar) twice for MOVIE DAYS (1994) and DEVIL'S ISLAND (1996), as well as Best Director prizes at such festivals as Edinburgh, Festroia, Karlovy Vary and Santa Barbara. “It is particularly hard now for young filmmakers who don’t have this kind of recognition”, Fridriksson offered. “I realize I am very lucky that I can continue to find investors around the world for my projects.”

is co-produced with Germany and is being sold internationally by Munich-based powerhouse Bavaria Films. However, the director’s economic and psychological situation is reflected in the film’s story, as an Icelandic director facing economic ruin pins all his hopes that his film, a local box office flop, will get an Oscar nomination and recoup its monies overseas. His travails are only compounded as his once-proud mother begins to deteriorate mentally and needs to be forcibly institutionalized. “It was a hard time for me and my family”, Fridriksson shared about the past few years until his mother’s recent death. “In a way, I felt that the whole society was becoming undone by its own mental crisis, and that the confidence and belief in the future that we have always had has been replaced with a feeling of powerlessness, anger and lack of engagement in the political process.”

The malaise is only now beginning to lift after almost three years of negative worldwide press and the pull-out of investment in the country by foreign banks and industries. “I believe that the Icelandic Film Fund will be back to its previous level in the next year or two, and that will be good news for me and other Icelandic filmmakers”, Fridriksson predicted. “Our film industry has been one of our most effective exports and people in power are beginning to see that an investment in film has high returns in terms of the country’s image and prestige.”

fellow Icelandic filmmakers are needing to get creative in the ways that they finance their films. Two new low-budget efforts, CITY SLATE by Olaf de Felur Johannnesson and RISING MOON from Lydur Anason, secured backing from private investors, including online fundraising efforts that are very new to Iceland. Premiering at the Locarno Film Festival last month, KING’S ROAD, a dysfunctional family drama (is there anything else?) directed by editor-turned-director Valdis Oskarsdottir saw its producer, director, editor and most of the crew take a major cut in per diems. The film, which is being sold in Toronto by German sales company Beta Film, mines the current financial crisist for laughs as well, including its setting in a run-down trailer park. The economic recession may have taken its toll financially, but creatively it seems a topic that is ripe for directorial invention. For more information on new Icelandic films, visit:

15 September, 2010

A French Accent At TIFF

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

French filmmakers, film stars and business professionals are everywhere here at the Toronto International Film Festival, giving this year's a definite French accent. This is a long-running love story, with this city's film buffs in l'amour fou with French cinema, during TIFF and throughout the year.

The Gala Presentations at the Festival, arguably the most prestigious section, boasts four French titles: LAST NIGHT, a US/French co-production by debut helmer Massy Tadjedin, with a stellar cast that includes Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes and Guillaume Canet; LITTLE WHITE LIES by Guillaume Canet, the story of a group of friends who go on vacation that stars Oscar winner Marion Cotillard and Francois Cluzet; POTICHE, the latest comedic masterpiece by bad boy Francois Ozon, with an all-star cast toplined by film legends Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu; and SARAH'S KEY, the film adaption of the celebrated World War II-set novel, as directed by Gilles Paquet Brenner and starring Oscar nominee Kristin Scott Thomas.

In the Special Presentations section, several French films are making their world premieres: L'AMOUR FOU, a documentary about fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, by debut director Pierre Thorenton; SPECIAL TREATMENT, a racy drama about a Paris prostitute looking to change her life, toplining legendary beauty Isabelle Huppert and directed by Jeanne Lebrune; and THE BIG PICTURE, director Eric Lartigau's drama about a banker who tries to fulfill his dream of becoming a photographer, expertly played by Romain Duris. Other French films in the section include LOVE CRIME, an executive battle drama starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier, directed by Alain Corneau; and A SECREAMING MAN, the Cannes Film Festival jury prizewinner set in war-torn Chad, by director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun.

Other buzzed French titles include OF GODS AND MEN, director Xavier Beauvois' examination of religious extremism set within a group of French monks in violent Algeria; THE DITCH, a harrowing depiction of life in a labor camp in 1960s China by directeed Wang Bing; THE GAME OF DEATH, an examination of obedience based on the theories of behaviorist Stanley Milgram, as interpreted by directors Christophe Nick and Thomas Bornot; THE SLEEPING BEAUTY, provocative director Catherine Breillat's highly visual take on the famed fairy tale; and the world premiere of ROSES A CREDIT, a romantic drama set in 1950s France by Israeli director Amos Gitai.

For more information on these films and others that are co-produced with French companies, visit Unifrance:

14 September, 2010

The Brits Are Back

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

It has been a difficult few months for the British film industry. Not only has the economic recession made the film business even more challenging, but the controversy surrounding the shuttering of the UK Film Council has been acriminious, amidst charges of economic abuse and political favoritism. Even the venerable London Film Festival, which unspools next month, losts its main corporate sponsors and had to scramble to find replacements.

However, based on the bounty of British films here at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Brits seem to be back in top form. The Festival is literally bursting with solid UK titles, some of which will probably figure in end-of-the-year awards and Oscar/Golden Globe nominations.

Leading the pack is THE KING'S SPEECH by director Tom Hooper. The film received a rare standing ovation following its press and industry screening here (something that never happens) and has officially created royal buzz. The film features a stellar cast including Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter in the true story of King George VI, the monarch who assumed the throne on the eve of World War II when his brother Edward abdicated to be with Mrs. Simpson (one of the juiciest scandals of the 1930s). George suffered from a life long problem with stuttering, which he turns to the Henry Higgins-like Geoffrey Rush character to correct. Tongues are already wagging that this film will put actor Colin Firth over the top and win him the Oscar denied him for last year's A SINGLE MAN. The Weinstein Company, which has picked up North American rights, will be mounting a major awards campaign for the actors, the director and the film itself.

BRIGHTON ROCK, based on a celebrated Graham Greene novel, brings together Oscar-winner Helen Mirren, Sam Riley and rising actress Andrea Risebough in a film directed by Rowan Joffe. The film marks the first project to be greenlit from the development slate of UK distributor Optimum Releasing, which is the UK arm of the French mega-company Studio-Canal.

Director Nigel Cole had a considerable hit a few years ago with CALENDAR GIRLS. He returns to Toronto with the world premiere of MADE IN DAGENHAM, a lets-get-unionized film based on the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham car factory where female workers walked out to protest against sexual discrimination and unfair pay scales. The film produced by Stephen Wooley and Elizabeth Karlsen's Number 9 Films, features a stellar cast that includes Sally Hawkins, Rosamund Pike and Bob Hoskins.

NEVER LET ME GO, which opens the London Film Festival next month, is an adaptation of the celebrated sci-fi novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (REMAINS OF THE DAY) as adapted by innovative novelist/screenwriter Alex Garland (28 DAYS LATER). The film features three of the UK's hottest young acting talents: Carey Mulligan (AN EDUCATION), Keira Knightley and the new Spiderman, Andrew Garfield. The films tells the harrowing tale of a group of friends who are part of a sequestered community that has been raised specifically to offer their body parts as donations in a futuristic "what if" society that has abolished illness (but at a great personal cost). Although some reviews were a bit chilly, the film is a moody and meditative art piece.

Other highly buzzed UK titles here include WEST IS WEST, the sequel to the celebrated Indian all-star cast EAST IS EAST, both penned by Ayub Khan-Din; the human trafficking drama I AM SLAVE by director Gabriel Range; and THE DEBT, a thriller directed by vet John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE), again starring Helen Mirren and featuring AVATAR's Sam Worthington, Jespeer Christensen and Jessica Chastain.

13 September, 2010

Spotlight On European Directors

Manoel De Oliveira

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Toronto International Film Festival has always had a love affair with European cinema and this year, in its 35th anniversary year, is no different. Nearly half of the films presented here this week are European or have European co-production partners. The European Film Promotion organization is assisting nearly 50 European sales companies with their presence here in order to assist the films in finding North American distribution here.

More in depth reviews and stories about the films are forthcoming but a list of the directors presenting their newest titles in the 3 main Festival sections is impressive in and of itself, so here goes:

Guilaume Canet (France, LITTLE WHITE LIES)
Andy De Emmony, (UK, WEST IS WEST)
Francois Ozon (France, POTICHE)
John Madden (UK, THE DEBT)
Gilles Paquet-Brenner (France, SARAH'S KEY)

Raoul Ruiz (France, MYSTERIES OF LISBON)
Amos Gitai (France, ROSES A CREDIT)
Manoel de Oliveira (Portugal, THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA)
Catherine Breillat (France, THE SLEEPING BEAUTY)
Jerzy Skolimowski (Poland, ESSENTIAL KILLING)
Jergen Leth (Denmark, EROTIC MAN)
Jean-Luc Godard (Switzerland, FILM SOCIALISME)

Danny Boyle (UK/US, 127 HOURS)
Milcho Manchevski (Macedonia, MOTHERS)
Michael Winterbottom (UK, THE TRIP)
Pierre Thorettton (France, L'AMOUR FOU)
John Turturro (US/Italy, PASSIONE)
Mark Romanek (UK, NEVER LET ME GO)
Richard Ayoade (UK, SUBMARINE)
Stephen Frears (UK, TAMARA DREWE)
Danis Tanovic (Bosnia, CIRKUS COLUMBIA)
Sylvain Chomet (France, THE ILLUSIONIST)
Alain Corneau (France, LOVE CRIME)
Pasquale Scimeca (Italy, THE HOUSE BY THE MEDLAR TREE)
Jeanne Labtune (France, SPECIAL TREATMENT)
Benoit Jacquot (France, DEEP IN THE WOODS)
Eric Lartigau (France, THE BIG PICTURE)
Guillem Morales (Spain, JULIA'S EYES)
Alex de la Iglesia (Spain, THE LAST CIRCUS)
Susanne Bier (Denmark, IN A BETTER WORLD)
Chris Kraus (Germany, THE POLL DIARIES)


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The courage to live one's truth....that is the potent theme of BEGINNERS, an emotional drama that had its world premiere on Saturday evening at the Toronto International Film Festival. American director Mike Mills, who made an assured debut in 2005 with the festival hit THUMBSUCKER handily mixes comedy and tragedy and guides his cast of top flight actors to convincing and moving performances.

Drawing on his own background as a graphic designer and artist who has exhibited extensively in the US and Europe, Mills juggles two storylines that, in the best filmic tradition, eventually intertwine, and in the process, becomes the catalyst for vital life lessons. Ewan McGregor toplines as Oliver, a rootless, rather odd, cartoonist who lives mostly in his head and connects with the world through his ironic illustrations. Two recent major events in his life have turned his rather solitary world on its head and force the opening of his heart.

Juggling two chronologies, the first follows the slow-burning deterioration of Oliver's father, who is dying of lung cancer. Sobering as that is, it also is accompanied with the news that his father, at the tender age of 75, has decided to come out as gay. His newly found gay freedom (as showcased in his new wardrobe, new boyfriend and a new outlook on life) provides some of the comic helium in the film. The fact that the father is played by Christopher Plummer, one of Canada's great acting treasures, gives the character a depth and solidity that would be lost with a lesser presence.

Oliver is rather comfortable with this news and the film offers telling flashbacks to his early family life, when his museum curator father was mainly absent and he spent time with his emotionally complex and seemingly damaged mother. He begins to understand that his father has been gay all along but like many of his generation, attempted to set up house with a woman and have a family, although the emotional investment was never fully there.

Understanding the falsity at the heart of his parents' marriage has made Oliver a loser at love, a likeable and attractive guy who has had relationships with women in the past, but who never could believe that they would last. This wound, borne from his innate understanding of the tension and emotional distance in his won parents' union, is put to the test when he meets a dazzling and beautiful French actress, who is in Los Angeles for just a brief time on a film shoot, living rather rootlessly herself in a fancy hotel room. As played by Melanie Laurent (the blond Jewish movie theater owner in Quentin Tarantino's INGLORIOUS BASTERDS), she is all quirky in an endearing European sense and sexually ripe.....a perfect compliment to Oliver's intense and brooding personality.

McGregor and Laurent have terrific on-screen chemistry and their budding romance is contrasted nicely with the inherent dignity of Plummer's performance. In a scenario that could have seemed contrived with lesser talents involved, the father's late-in-life determination to live life honestly is the valuable legacy that he is finally able to leave to the son that he has somewhat neglected in the past. By motivating him to surpass his self-prescribed limitations, he has taught his son (and us, by extension) that life demands our courage and strength and that honesty breeds its own rewards.

With its smart script that never goes for the easy laugh or the ready tear, BEGINNERS is ultimately a valentine to the art of acting and the artistic ambitions of its talented writer/director.

12 September, 2010

The Loss of Innocence At TIFF

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Yesterday was September 11th, and again I find myself in the city of Toronto, as I did in 2001......when the planes crashed, the towers fell, the buildings burned and America lost its innocence. It was a very strange place to be back then, in the midst of covering a film festival, while one's city was in chaos. For those of us from New York, there was a shared concern about the loss of loved ones, the security of our friends and family and the frustrations of not being able to place phone calls or find a flight back home. I ended up staying in Toronto an extra 5 days, because there were no airplanes flying anywhere near New York. As the images unfolded and were repeated endlessly on television, I knew that I had experienced a seminal moment, which now is summed up in the internationally recognized 9-11.

Many things have happened since, too many in the name of "avenging" 9-11, and here we still sit, sifting through the messages of what it all means. For filmmakers, this meditation on the loss of innocence has been a potent subject. And at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, it is the theme of a good many films in the program.

Many of the films are focused on children and young people, the potent symbols of innocence, and the ways that they lose this child-like wonder....a symbol of a national and international awakening to pain and loss. In TRUST, a 14-year-old girl believes she is in love with the boy she endlessly communicates with via internet chat rooms. When they finally meet and she discovers that he is, in fact, a middle-aged man, she does not have the skills or the maturity to know how to repel his sexual advances. She is raped in a motel room but still clings to the fantasy that this is true love, age difference be damned. It is only when the FBI, called in to find the sexual predator, reveals that he has done the same thing to other pre-teen girls, that she visibily ages 10 years and understands how she has been manipulated and forever changed.

Actor-turned-director David Schwimmer (yes, he of FRIENDS fame) brings a strong sense of foreboding to the tale, which is enhanced by a smart script and the high calibre of acting. Newcomer Liana Liberato is a real find as the teenager, who is unsure of herself and ready to believe the lies of a stranger to make her feel better about herself. The parents in pain are wonderfully played by Clive Owen (in an internalized performance that strays from his usual swaggering style) and Catherine Keener (in the weaker role but still effective). The film is not afraid to be emotionally raw and while it offers a sense of reconciliation in the end, it is clear that innocence is indeed lost forever.

In Darren Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN, a psychological drama set in the competitive world of professional ballet, actress Natalie Portman plays a timid but dedicated dancer who is given the chance to play the role of a lifetime. In a new version of the Tchaikovsky classic Swan Lake, the demanding ballet director (Vincent Cassel) decides to have one dancer portray the twos sides of the Swan Queen: the innocent and naive White Swan and the sensual and seductive Black Swan. As pressures mount and family tensions become unbearable, the young woman's grip on reality fades and she moves from her precocious innocence to a hardened heart. The performance, sure to be remembered at Oscar time, is a terrifying transformation that demonstrates how the harshness of the world can corrupt the soul.

NEVER LET ME GO by UK director Mark Romanek is an adaptation of the celebrated novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (REMAINS OF THE DAY), an existential sci-fi film with great emotional depth. Three of the UK's finest young actors (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield) play young people who have been genetically modified since birth to eventually become organ donors in a futuristic society that has eradicated disease. Sheltered from the outside world at a special school hidden in the countryside, the teenagers eventually discover the ominous future that awaits them and the cruel fate that will not allow them to reach maturity or find love or fulfillment. While they accept their fate as predestined, the film evokes their growing emotional awareness as they resist and try to find a path to redemption. The film, which can be heavy at time, will be a challenge to market, but is a thought-provoking "what if" look at a technological utopia all to ready to sacrifice human emotion for what it terms "progress".

In a much more comedic vein, IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY, by the directorial team of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (HALF NELSON, SUGAR), also traces the growth of its lead character, a troubled teen who has voluntarily admitted himself to a mental ward. Consumed with thoughts of suicide and feeling beleagured by the demands of his parents and teachers, Craig (played with great flair by up-and-coming actor Keir Gilchrist) rides his bicycle to the local mental hospital in his native New York, getting assigned to an adult ward where he is suddenly in the midst of people who are dangerously unstable. He is swept into the realities of these troubled folk, especially a crafty long-time resident, played by the comic actor Zach Galifianakis (THE HANGOVER). Adapted from a best-selling autobiography by Ned Vizzini, the film successfully enters the head of its young protagonist, showing how he slowly edges away from his troubles to a stronger sense of his needs and desires. Once he is able to free himself from the expectations of others, he can truly become his own person. This journey is a more hopeful one, but clearly living in the shadows of others' expectations provides a certain (enforced) kind of innocence that be discarded to move forward.

In way more dramatic and wrenching terms, that is also the journey of Aron Rolston, a cocky "extreme sports" enthusiast who must face a daunting decision when he becomes entrapped in a remote canyon in the mountains of Utah. Based on a true story, the young man (in a tour-de-force performance by James Franco that is certain to be remembered at awards season) must eventually cut off his own hand in order to free himself from his enforced imprisonment. This is, to be sure, a wrenching sequence that necessitated medics being called in to treat a few viewers when the film was screened last week at the Telluride Film Festival (I admit to closing my eyes myself).

Director Danny Boyle (last year's Oscar winner for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) employs all his considerable visual gifts to bring audiences into the heart of this compelling story of courage and survival. Almost a one-man show, 95% of the film is strictly James Franco, becoming desperate, weak and hallucinatory. The film enters his feverish head, offering snapshots of his family life, his encounter with two female climbers just prior to the incident, and his growing awareness that his independent demeanor (he has not told anyone where he is) may have sealed his fate. The growing awareness of how he has kept family, friends and co-workers at a distance in a macho brio of self-assuredness makes this as much an emotional journey as a compelling tale of survival. Full of visual invention that exhibits a kinetic sense of cinema and complimented by a superb score by fellow Oscar winner A.R. Rahman (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE), this is destined to be one of the most talked about films of the year.

As we all journey from the innocence of our youth to confront the often harsh realities of maturity, these films resonate with a sense that the greatest truths are often the ones most hardest won. And that is a great lesson indeed........