27 May, 2010

Zlin Film Festival Artistic Director Petr Koliha Looks Back And Ahead

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

On the eve of the Zlin Film Festival, which kicks off its 50th anniversary celebrations on Sunday, May 30, I spoke with the very busy Petr Koliha, the Festival's Artistic Director. As the first major film event following Cannes, the Zlin Film Festival takes up the mantle of film appreciation, with a particular focus to film and media projects produced for the children and youth market. As all eyes turn east to the UNESCO heritage city of Zlin in eastern Czech Republic, Petr Koliha shares his thoughts on the Festival's impressive history and its aspirations for the future.

Sandy Mandelberger (SM): How long have you been involved with Film Festival Zlin?
Petr Koliha (PK): I've been the artistic director of Film Festival Zlín for seven years. Before that I worked as the program director for two major Czech TV stations. But my primary profession is film directing, which I studied at the famous FAMU film school in Prague. That's where directors like Miloš Forman, Jiří Menzel, and Lordan Zafranovič also studied. Managing the film festival is actually a lot like film directing, but on a large scale.

SM: The Festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. How do you explain its long history and its continued relevance in the world of film festivals?
PK: Film Festival Zlín was founded in 1961 and is thus the oldest festival in the world in the category of film festivals for children and young people, and over time it’s become the largest. Each year we show between 400-500 films from around the world with attendance from the public of over 100,000 people. The Festival is closely linked to the history of Zlin's film studios, which were established by the industrialist Jan Antonin Bata in 1936. However now it has evolved and today, aside from films for children and youth, it is also devoted to European film debuts, animated films, documentary films and others. In recent years it has also been offering night screenings (Night Horizons) for the city’s many university students. I think we are unique in the calendar of world festivals.

SM: What are some of the special programs you have for this year’s celebrations?
PK: Aside from the festival's grand 50th anniversary, this year we're also celebrating a number of other anniversaries. It's been 100 years since the birth of the famous Czech animation director Karel Zeman, who shot almost all his films at Zlín's film studio. Many experts have described Karel Zeman as the successor of Georges Mélies. Another person who would have turned 100 this year is the director who was there to see the birth Zlín's film studios, Elmar Klos won an Oscar, along with his colleague Jan Kadar, for the 1966 film THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET, which is a very important film in the history of Czech cinema. This year, we are offering a number of film retrospective programs produced in the former Czechoslovakia, as well as contemporary films from the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

SM: The Festival is dedicated to showcasing the best in children’s and youth programming. What major changes have you seen over the years in the kinds of films being made for this segment of the audience?
PK: Films for children and youth are rapidly evolving. They follow the main trends of world cinema. The stories are getting faster, funnier, smarter. Aside from fantasy films that remain very popular, a new kind of children’s cinema tries to get close to the realities of the conflicts and challenges of today’s youth, including serious issues such as bullying in schools, drug addiction, questions about sexual orientation, violence, family tensions. I think these films are also of interest for adult audiences as well.

SM: Please share a particular memory that you have that stands as a high point of your years with the Festival.
PK: Two come to mind from the hundreds I could name. The first is at the annual opening of the festival in our main cinema, which holds more than a thousand moviegoers. When they start to turn the lights down in the in the hall, a thousand children begin screaming out loud and I get a wonderful feeling from this exciting new, young energy ... The second experience is the opportunity to meet personally with numerous world filmmakers. They are always very interesting personalities. I still recall time spent with the English actor Michael York, the French actress Marléne Jobert, and the famous Russian director Alexander Mitta. This year I look forward to meeting the Oscar-winning Hungarian director István Szabó, the famed Czech director Jiří Menzel and the famous British actor Christopher Lee. I always keep these experiences deeply etched in my memory.

SM: What are some of the plans you are thinking of as the Festival moves into its next half century?
PK: As the festival moves into its next 50 years we would like to make some significant changes. We not only have a new design prepared, but we would like to bring in some new innovative programming ideas. For example, we are considering a new section called YOUNG HOLLYWOOD, focused on emerging American talents. e will certainly continue to cultivate our competitive sections with things like the European Debuts (first films), which has a new media partner, the International Film Guide (IFG). The goal is to upgrade this section to a top international competition of debut films by young directors. Other goals include expanding the Festival into a yearlong event and further expanding our international activities. This year, we hosted presentations in New York, Seoul, and at the Berlin Film Festival. We would like to "export" our festival to other world centers. It will take a lot of work and determination but we have our eyes on the prize.

26 May, 2010

American Rock N Roll Drama To Open Zlin Film Festival

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Although this blog is meant to track European films as they move through the difficult landscape of North America, we sometimes flip the equation to make European and international readers aware of American films that are making an impact on the European film festival circuit. So, in that spirit, I am pleased to share with you information on an American film that will be taking the front spotlight at one of Europe's oldest and most respected film events next week.

THE PERFECT AGE OF ROCK N ROLL, an award-winning American Independent drama directed by Scott Rosenbaum and featuring a stellar cast that includes Peter Fonda, Kevin Zegers, Jason Ritter, Lukas Haas, Kelly Lynch, Ruby Dee, Lauren Holly and Taryn Manning, will be the Opening Night Gala presentation of the Zlin Film Festival. The film, which is making its Eastern European Premiere at the Festival, kicks off the 50th anniversary celebrations on Monday evening, May 31, as one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious film events gets underway. The film screens at the legendary Grand Cinema, one of the oldest existing movie palaces in Europe, with seating capacity of over 2500.

“We wanted to start off this year’s celebrations with an event that will be exciting for both our local audiences and visiting guests”, Petr Koliha, the Festival’s Artistic Director announced. “THE PERFECT AGE OF ROCK N ROLL is a film that celebrates the wisdom that comes with the passing of time and features great ensemble acting by a cast of Young Hollywood talents and established veterans. It also has some dynamic musical numbers of that great American invention, rock n roll.”

THE PERFECT AGE OF ROCK N ROLL is the story of the rise and fall of a promising rock musician, played by Young Hollywood star Kevin Zegers (winner of the Chopard Award as Best Male Newcomer at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival). Joining forces with songwriter Jason Ritter (the go-to indie heartthrob of such films as GOOD DICK and PETER AND VANDY), the two young musicians go on tour across America’s legendary Route 66 to discover the roots of rock n roll, chaperoned by none other than Peter Fonda, the star and co-writer of the classic EASY RIDER, playing an aging musician who embodies the purity of the music of the 1960s. After the fame of their first album, the excesses of drugs, money and sexual tension break up the partnership. Told in flashback, as investigative reporter Lukas Haas tracks down the reclusive Zegers in his shabby home town, the film is as much about friendship as it is about the music itself.

“Being exposed to rock music at an early age got me hooked on music”, writer/director Scott Rosenbaum explained. “Making this film has been an accumulation of a lifelong love of rock music, playing in bands myself and seeing THE LAST WALTZ (the musical documentary by Martin Scorsese) at least 100 times. I think rock n roll, jazz and blues music are some of the most powerful cultural achievements ever produced in America, so it is really exciting to have a film with such strong cultural roots open the Zlin Film Festival. We are so honored.”

The Zlin Film Festival, which runs from May 30 to June 6 in the UNESCO Heritage city of Zlin in eastern Czech Republic, has a number of exciting special events planned for this year’s festivities. To learn more, visit the Festival’s website: or the Online Dailies blog hosted by film web portal sites FEST21 and FILMFESTIVALS.COM:

To learn more about the film and to view the film’s dynamic music video trailer, visit: For international distribution interest, contact MEDIA EIGHT ENTERTAINMENT:

20 May, 2010

From Scandinavia To Hollywood

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

It has been quite a year for Danish director Niels Arden Oplev. His adaptation of the novel THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGOON TATTOO beame the most successful European film in 2009. "We sold over eight million tickets in Europe,", the excited director recently exclaimed, "and now I couldn't be content with staying in Scandinavia and just making a good film that reaches only 100,000 people."

As many European directors before him, the dream is now leading him to the shores of the United States were he wants to complete his dream of doing an English-language film. Oplev moved with his wife and their four children from Copenhagen to suburban New Jersey (where his wife had grown up and still has family). Oplev's dream does not include a remake of his hit, which rights were picked up by the mega producer Scott Rudin and Sony Pictures, with Oscar nominated David Fincher set to direct.

This is not Oplev's first brush with Hollywood. In 2005, he was developing an original project called THE LAST BORN with James Cameron's production company. But the futuristic film about doomed biology was too similar to CHILDREN OF MEN, which scuttled the Danish director's project.

But back to THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. The novel by Stieg Larsson (who died in 2005) has become one of the biggest sensations in a rapidly declining publishing industry. The trilogy of books has become a global phenomenon, selling more than 40 million copies in the past four years and topping best-seller lists around the world.

The Swedish-language film adaptation has grossed almost $100 Million dollars worlwide, including a handsome $15 Million in the United States, where it is still in release by specialty arthouse distributor Music Box Films. The film centers on Mikael Blomkvist, a publicly disgraced investigative journalist (played in the original by Michael Nyqvist) whose is hired to investigate the disappearnace of a Swedish mogul. He recruits a bissexual , tatttooed motorcyclist ad computer genius, a role that has catapulted its young actress Noomi Rapace to mega-stardom.

As the Swedish-language version continues its strong theatrical run in North America, buzz is beginning to generate about the American remake version, which is planned to be the first in a big-budget triology. Most of the attention is centering on which actress will be cast in the star-making role as the film's unconventional lead. Established stars like Keira Knightley, Natalie Portman and Kristen Stewart are being strongly considered, as well as such newcomers as Mia Waikowska (ALICE IN WONDERLAND), Ellen Page (JUNO) and Carey Mulligan (AN EDUCATION).

Sony Studios is keeping mum on the casting and rumors are swirling that the studio heads would prefer to cast an unknown in the role, to keep the costs down and to use the vehicle as a way of launching a new film franchise star. The film is set to be directed by David Fincher (FIGHT CLUB, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON) with a script from Oscar winner Steven Zaillian (SCHINDLER'S LIST).

The plum role of the male lead, which would anchor the film's commerical potential if an unknown is cast in the female lead, is none other than Brad Pitt, who starred in the David Fincher films named above. Pitt's presence would certainly make the film series an instant event but speculation is still highest on who will eventually get the film's star-making role of the female rebel hacker.

For director Niels Arden Oplev, there seems to be no bad blood about not being able to direct the big budget Hollywood adaptation of his arthouse hit. "It almost never works that way in Hollywood", Oplev waxed philosophically. "But I've got my own projects up in my sleeve and the big success of the film can only help me fulfill my own American dreams."

18 May, 2010

European Films Dominate Tribeca Film Festival Awards


by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
European films dominated the awards of the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, announced at a gala ceremony on May 1st. The award winners not only receive a nice cash prize but the visibility also gives them added possibilities for full distribution releases in North America.

WHEN WE LEAVE, the German film by writer/director Feo Aladag, won top prize honors in the World Narrative Competition. The film, which made its North American premiere at the Festival, is the strong story of a young woman who leaves her Turkish husband's ill treatment and returns with her 5 year old son to her native Berlin. But she finds that her family is not the bastion of love and security that she had hoped. Austrian actress Feo Aladag makes a compelling directorial debut with this film, won the Label Europa Cinemas Award at the Berlin Film Festival, where it made its world premiere debut. The film has also been nominated for eight German Film Awards.

Aladag received a cash prize of US $25,000 and the art piece "Study: Northern City Renaissance" commissioned by Sting and created by Stephen Hannock. A Special Jury Mention went to the Italian film LOOSE CANNONS, directed by Ferzan Ozpetek and written by Ferzan Ozpetek and Ivan Cotroneo.

The Best New Narrative Filmmaker prize was won by French director Kim Chapiron for the French/Canadian co-production DOG POUND. The film, which made its world premiere at the Festival, is the intense story of three young men who are taken to a youth prison filled with terror and violence. Chapiron, who has directed more than a dozen short films and made his feature debut in 2005 with the gritty SHEITAN starring Vincent Cassel, is definitely a filmmaker to watch. He received a cash prize of USD $25,000 sponsored by American Express, the Festival's leading sponsor.

European actors were also singled out for their performances at this year's event. Eric Elmosnino won the Best Actor prize for his reincarnation of 1960s French cultural icon Serge Gainsbourg in the musical drama biopic GAINSBOURG, JE T'AIME....MOI NON PLUS, written and directed by Joann Sfar. The actor received two BusinessElite ticket vouchers for anywhere that sponsor Delta Airlines travels.

Best Actress honors went to German actress Sibel Kekilli for her powerful performance as the abused wife in the German film WHEN WE LEAVE, written and directed by Feo Aladag. She also received two BusinessElite ticket vouchers for anywhere that sponsor Delta Airlines travels.

A European documentary filmmaker was also singled out for a terrific achievement. UK director Clio Barnard won the Best New Documentary Filmmaker prize of USD $25,000 sponsored by American Express for THE ARBOR, which made its world premiere at the Festival. The film is set in a housing project in Northern England, where the playwright Andrea Dunbar grew up and drew upon for most of her work. The film, a debut feature for director Clio Barnard, focuses on the playwright's troubled relationship with her daughter and presents an unconventional life told in an unconventional style.

For more information on these and other Tribeca films, visit:

European Cinema Highlights At Tribeca

SOUL KITCHEN (Fatih Akin, Germany)

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

This year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which concluded on May 2, featured a strong representation of both veteran and emerging European talents. As a whole, the Festival offered a tantalizing check of the pulse of current trends and styles in European filmmaking. How these films will fare in the US market is far from certain, but for the Festival's 12 days, European cinema ruled in downtown New York.

The narratives on display from European talents took in all genres and filmic styles. Making its world premiere debut at the Festival, the UK drama BRILLIANTLOVE takes place over a sweltering summer, as a novice photographer documents his sweaty affair with his taxidermist girlfriend. Director Ashley Horner finds a realistic yet poetic tempo to describe their affair and the pressures that ensue when the photog becomes celebrated in the local art scene.

In BURIED LAND, a co-production between the US and Bosnia Herzegovina, co-directors Geoffrey Alan Rhodes and Steven Eastwood unfold an existential flair mixing fiction and mockumentary in the storry of a small town that is discovered to have an underground valley of ancient pyramids that predate Egypt. The clash of cultures between the aggressive US crew and the world weary Bosnians is one of the film’s many delights.

THE CHAMELEON, directed by French debut director Jean-Paul Solome (an auteur name if I ever heard one), is an unsettling psychological thriller about a missing teenager who resurfaces after being presumed kidnapped and a local FBI agent’s campaign to prove he is an imposter. Ellen Barkin, not seen on screens of late, gives a scathing performance as the mother who wants to believe and yet has her doubts. She is matched by the willowy Famke Janssen, giving the FBI agent a fire and compulsion.

A kidnapping is also the core of the UK drama THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED by writer/director J Blakeson. When two men kidnap the daughter of a millionaire and keep her at a fortified location, things do not go exactly as planned. The girl refuses to play the victim and in facts turns the tables on her tormentors. This stylish thriller made its world premiere debut at the Festival.

The mood is decidedly more frothy in the French biopic GAINSBOURG, JE T’AIME….MOI NON PLUS by writer/director Joann Starr. Actor Eric Elmosnino uncannily resuscitates the insouciant energy of singer/composer Serge Gainsbourg, a 1960s pop icon and notorious lady’s man (with Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin among his lovers). The influential stylist’s personal story, beginning with his life in Nazi occupied Paris and his wild lifestyle at the center of swinging Sixties pop culture, is an entertaining romp while also examining the essence of the lost art of personal style.

In a more contemporary French mode, hot screen actors Romain Duris, Julie Ferrier and Vanessa Paradis bring the necessary heat to HEARTBREAKER, a new film by Pascal Chaumeil. Duris and Ferrier play a brother and sister who break up couples for a living. However, in one difficult assignment, both heartbreakers get their own hearts broken in what is a series of unexpected and illuminating events. This is yet another charming romantic comedy from the people who seem to have invented love in the first place.

What if you were an Arab, comfortable in your Islamic skin, and in one day not only do you discover that you were adopted but that you were born Jewish? Well, that is the calamity that befalls Mahmud (winningly played by comedian Omid Djalilli) in the very smart and very funny THE INFIDEL, directed by UK director Josh Appiganesi. As Mahumud (nee Solly) discovers his Jewish roots with the aid of a grouchy Jewish taxi driver (played by the WEST WING’s Richard Schiff, the film has much to say about identity politics and how loyalties stack up in a world that more often divides than unites.

British-Nigerian director Thomas Ikimi builds considerable suspense in the psychological thriller LEGACY. The story centers on a soldier who participated in a botched terrorist related mission in Eastern Europe. The psychological underpinnings of the character, strongly played by Idris Elba of the television series THE WIRE, details a man’s attempt at personal salvation amidst the hypocrisy and crushing bureaucracy of the war machine.

A much lighter tone occurs in Turkish-Italian director Fezan Ozpetek’s family comedy LOOSE CANNONS, a hit at the recent Berlin Film Festival. A patriarchal Italian family that has been in the pasta business for generations is upended by news that both the prodigal sons are gay. A witty roundelay of sex, comedy and clashing values marks this entertaining film from one of Europe’s most intriguing directors.

The future is not nearly so bright in the Orwellian drama METROPIA, a Swedish/Danish/Norwegian co-production by Swedish director Tarik Saleh. In the not so distant future, Europe is connected via a series of underground railways and is united by a Big Brother like governmental body. When the cogs in the wheel begin to revolt, the strong arm of the government comes down hard. Actors as diverse as Juliette Lewis, Udo Kier and Stellan Skarsgaard give voice to this computer generated reflection on the “worst that could happen” theme.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the hyper-imaginative director behind such films as DELICATESSEN and AMELIE, brought his latest work MICMACS to Tribeca. In a whimsical tale of underdogs, the film focuses on Bazil, a gentle man with a bullet lodged in his brain and his misfit pals who devise a plot to lay low a giant weapons manufacturer. The stunning visuals and the restrained comedic style make this one of the more interesting entries in this year’s Festival lineup.

From Ireland, which has been experiencing a mini-renaissance of late, several impressive films are on display. In MY BROTHERS, directed by Paul Fraser, two brothers hijack a bread van for a road trip across country that becomes an emotional odyssey. In a stellar directorial debut, Paul Fraser, a protégé of Shane Meadows, shares with his mentor a love of the working class and a studied look at the disparities that still exist between the classes. Academy Award winning writer/director Neil Jordan (THE CRYING GAME) weaves a cinematic fairy tale in the lovely ONDINE, starring Colin Farrell as a lonely fisherman who one day pull in a mermaid-like beauty. Is this real, a fable or just a lonely man’s fantasy? The director never points in any one direction which makes this lovely romantic tale an odd balancing act between lilting fantasy and harsh reality.

Ireland is on a roll with the inclusion of SNAP, a gripping psychological drama about three generations of a family who create harm and imbalance for one another. Director Carmel Winters brings a terrific ensemble cast, headed by Aisling O’Sullivan’s calloused matriarch, into sharp focus in this emotional rollercoaster of a drama. In ZONAD, directed by John and Kieran Carney, (whose ONCE was an Oscar winning arthouse hit), the setting is a small Irish town in the 1950s. When a brutish thug, dressed as an alien, arrives, it throws the small town’s equilibrium into disarray.

The Belgians have always had a soft spot for coming-of-age stories, so the latest in this series is another gem. MY QUEEN KARO, directed by Dorothee van den Berghee, is anchored by a 10 year old girl who moves with her parents to a carefree squatter’s commune in 1970s Amsterdam. Human emotions, sexual tension and childhood awareness clash as the ideals of the commune are challenged by forces of control, selfishness and the messiness of human emotions.

The fine line between fantasy and reality, complete with a punk rock score, is at the core of SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL, which also makes its world premiere debut at Tribeca. The films paints a stylized portrait of British punk pioneer Ian Dury (with a standout performance by Andy Serkis), a physically deformed yet imaginative genius, as he juggles the demands of career, relationships and fatherhood. Mat Whitecross, who has collaborated on the films of Michael Winterbottom, makes his directorial debut here, with fine performances and a lilting nostalgia for 1970s London.

Ensemble acting is also the hallmark of SOUL KITCHEN, the latest film from Turkish/German director Fatih Akin. The setting is a Berlin restaurant, where the hapless owner has to juggle the demands and emotional needs of his employees and customers. Akin once again makes a statement about the new cross-cultural Europe, where traditions from different backgrounds crash and collide but finally find some kind of synthesis.

A second film from Germany also explores the tensions between local Turks and Germans. In WHEN WE LEAVE, a young Turkish-German woman flees Istanbul with her young son after suffering abuse from her husband. When they move back in with their family in Berlin, old wounds and emotional scars are revealed.

For more information on these films and even some you can watch online, visit: