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