21 June, 2012

Euro Docs Dominate At Silverdocs

VIRGINAL TALES (Switzerland/Germany/France)

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The flowering of European documentaries is in clear evidence at this year’s AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival. With what have been strong local funding support and the financial involvement of state-run television, documentarians have been able to take advantage of a wealth of resources to produce works that are not only intriguing but artistically inventive. Of course, the completed films on view here this week were committed to before the current pressure on the European Community. Austerity measures across the continent are slashing cultural budgets and film funding is among its biggest casualties. How European filmmakers will cope is still an open question but for the moment, at least, we have a bumper crop of films to relish and enjoy.

Silverdocs offers a competition for strictly non-American films, and many of the strongest Euro docs are to  be seen in the Sterling World Features section. A number of the films examine the tension and resilience of family bonds, as well as relationships that endure beyond simple blood ties. Acclaimed Polish director and cameraman Wojciech Staron captures the experiences of his family during a one year stay in Argentina in the nuanced film ARGENTINIAN LESSON. Family connections are also explored in PRIVATE UNIVERSE, a richly detailed Czech film by Helena Trestikova that explores the intimate evolution of a family over four decades of change. While they are not related by blood, octogenarian best friends Bella and Regina share a lifetime of intimacy, a passion for cooking and a shared memory of surviving the Holocaust in the spirited OMA AND BELLA by German director Alexa Karolinski. Also creating a family out of friendship are the mentally challenged punk rockers who revel in their roles as social outcasts in the Finnish film THE PUNK SYNDROME by the directorial team of Jukka Karkkainen and JP Passi. Attempting to pierce the closed society of evangelical Christians in the United States, the Swiss/German/French co-production VIRGIN TALES by director Mirjam Von Arx looks at the phenomenon of Purity Balls, a ritual in which young girls pledge their pre-marital virginity. 

Bringing light to injustice or changing social patterns are among the themes of the other Euro docs in the section. In SPECIAL FLIGHT, Swiss director Fernand Melgar explores the legal limbo of illegal immigrants in his country who are entrapped in a system of detention, even after living there for more than a decade. Belgian director Jerome Le Maire focuses on the societal upheaval in a small mountain village in Morocco where new technology and the building of a major dam project harbor unwelcome changes in TEA OR ELECTRICITY.  In the unusually broad-based eco-documentary VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS, acclaimed Russian director Victor Kossakovsky reveals the kinetic and visual splendor of some of the most remote corners of the planet, all of which are undergoing rapid changes due to overpopulation and climate change. 

European documentaries that have won awards at other events are also strongly represented in the non-competitive Silver Spectrum section. Directors Omar Shargawi and Karim el Hakim bring viewers into the heart of the Arab Spring in their visceral account of the first chaotic days of the Egyptian revolution in the Danish-financed film ½ REVOLUTION. Denmark is also represented by the IDFA winner THE AMBASSADOR, a hilarious yet pointed look at the underbelly of Third World diplomacy, directed by Danish provocateur Mads Brugger. In CANNED DREAMS, Finnish director Katja Gauriloff examines the inner workings of the global food industry and the exploitation of human laborers whose rights are held ransom by the need for cheaper food and bigger profits. In the award-winning THE IMPOSTER, UK director Bart Layton unfolds the strange-but-true story of a young man who returns to his family after several years and the growing suspicion that he is not who he claims to be. Mystery also surrounds the identity of Rodriguez, a “lost” 1970s rock icon who mysteriously disappeared from public view, and whose story is unraveled in the Swedish/UK co-production SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN  by Malik Bendjelloul. Sisters Louise and Martine Fokken are exactly who they claim to be……elderly prostitutes who wield their trade in Amsterdam’s red light district with no shame and a contempt for society’s judgmental condemnation of their professions in the Dutch film MEET THE FOKKENS by Rob Schroder and Gabrielle Provaas

An obsession with cooking and a chef’s determination to  hold on to its Michelin rating fuels the French film STEP UP TO THE PLATE by Paul Lacoste. The stakes are equally high in the Norwegian film WHEN BUBBLES BURST by Hans Petter Moland, as a small picturesque Norwegian village feels the weight of the global economic crisis that does not spare even a small remote town in a mostly prosperous nation. As if this list is not enough, European documentaries also are strongly represented in the Festival’s many short film strands. One can only hope that this blossoming of the documentary form will not be unduly harmed by the current financial drama enveloping the continent……itself a great resource for future documentaries (and dramas, I might add). To learn more about these films and others at Silverdocs, visit:

20 June, 2012

Finnish Punk Movie Debuts At Silverdocs

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Punk music is a cri de coeur about being an outcast in a society that does not quite get it. THE PUNK SYNDROME, a new film from Finland by J-P Passi and Jukka Kärkkäinen that is competing at the AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival in the Sterling World Competition, takes that mantra to an extreme as it chronicles the members of Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day, a punk band made up of mentally challenged young people. The film, making its U.S. Premiere, was awarded the Swiss Post Award for Most Innovative Feature Film at the Visions du Réel in Nyon, as well as sold-out screenings at Hot Docs and the Sheffield Doc/Fest. The four band members rage against the way they are treated by society (much like any other punk band) but these mental disabilities make their rage all the more intriguing. Variety praised the film as a telling tale of human nature, “demonstrating the thin line between so-called normal people and those on the fringe”, stating that it could well become a cult hit. Previous work by directors Jukka Kärkkäinen and J-P Passi include the award-winning THE LIVING ROOM OF THE NATION (2009), which had its North American premiere at SXSW in 2010 and was shown in New York’s Museum of Modern Art last year as part of DocPoint NYC. For more information, visit:

13 June, 2012

The Art Of Performance

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

One of the key practitioners of the art of performance art, Yugoslav-born Marina Ambramovic receives a stirring tribute to her unique cultural contribution in the feature film MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and proceeded to win the Panorama Audience Award the following month at the Berlin Film Festival. It now comes to New York’s premiere art house cinema, the Film Forum in downtown Manhattan for an exclusive two week run beginning on June 13. The film’s subject has been redefining what art is for nearly forty years. Her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art last year featured an extraordinary performance of her individual artistic process known as performance art. Experienced by over 750,000 people during the MoMA run, the artist sat in meditative silent pose at a small table for nearly 8 hours a day, not eating, drinking or moving. The intensity of her gaze, the intimacy of the act (paradoxically in a huge, brightly lit room, filled with onlookers) moved some to tears and other acts of extreme emotion. Matthew Akers’s film records the artist as she prepares herself physically and spiritually for the ordeal with tremendous discipline, humor and guile. With comments by MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach, art critic Arthur Danto, gallerist Sean Kelly, and hundreds of members of the public (including James Franco) who were obviously moved by this landmark event. For more information, visit:

08 June, 2012

Open Roads To Italian Cinema

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

With the first summer breezes hitting New York, thoughts turn to Italy, and the annual Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Since its debut in 2001, the mini-festival has become an important showcase for contemporary Italian cinema for North America. Most of the established names in contemporary Italian cinema have debuted here, including Ermanno Olmi (featured again this year), Mario Monicelli, Pupi Avati, Matteo Garrone, Ferzan Ozpetek (also featured in this year’s program), Paolo Sorrentino and Susanna Nichiarelli. This year’s crop of films are equally intriguing, with a mix of regional realism dramas and several satires on contemporary Italian life. Two of the most anticipated films of this year’s series include a documentary tribute to Oscar winning cinematographer Dante Ferretti (who won the Oscar this past year for his exquisite work on the Martin Scorsese film HUGO) and a re-telling of the classic THE LEGEND OF KASPAR HAUSER, with cult favorite Vincent Gallo in a duel role and featuring a pulsing soundtrack by electronic composer Vitalic. Italian films are enjoying yet another of their perpetual renaissances. Matteo Garrone’s new film REALITY won the Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Film Festival and one of the European art house hits of the season has been WE HAVE A POPE by actor/director Nanni Moretti. Expect several of the titles premiering at Lincoln Center to make their way through the U.S. film festival circuit and for a few to find distribution…..but if you are in New York this weekend, you can see them first. For more information on the full program, visit:

Kino Lorber Picks Up Huppert Film

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

French actress Isabelle Huppert will be much in the news in the coming months when her supporting role as the troubled daughter of two aging parents in the Cannes Palme d’Or winner AMOUR, a film that will certainly be one of the most talked about films of the year. Yet Ms. Huppert will not be seen on American screens only this once. The prolific and hard-working actress will also appear in IN ANOTHER COUNTRY, the latest film by South Korean master Hong Sang-soo (WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN) which has been picked up for North American rights by New York based distributor Kino Lorber.  The film was screened in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, with Ms. Huppert (twice a winner at Cannes for Best Actress) playing three different characters in three different story segments – all of them spanning from the imagination of a young film student, played by Jung Yumi. Kino Lorber is planning to launch the film in the US festival circuit during late summer and fall – before a national theatrical rollout later this year.

04 June, 2012

Demy Debut Opens Next Week

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

AMERICANO, the feature directorial debut of writer/director/actor Mathieu Demy opens in New York on Friday, June 15 prior to a national rollout. The fictional film draws on some autobiographical references, since Demy is the son of famed filmmakers Agnès Varda and Jacques Demy. In fact, the younger Demy started his film career as a child actor in his mother Agnès Varda's films, clips of which are included in the film as a kind of memory touchstone. He has made a name for himself over the past several years with starring roles in such acclaimed films as Céline Sciamma's Tomboy,  Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau's Jeanne and the Perfect Guy, and André Téchiné's The Girl on the Train.

In AMERICANO, the death of his mother draws a young Frenchman (Demy) back to his childhood home in Los Angeles as he prepares to wrap up his mother’s estate. Things become complicated when he discovers that she was very fond of a woman named Lola (a sultry part played by Mexican actress Salma Hayek), who appears in her will. Martin combs Los Angeles for his mother’s mysterious friend and companion, finding no trace of her.  Traumatized at the sight of his mother’s body in the morgue, he drives to Tijuana in search of Lola, thinking she should inherit his mother’s apartment. But in Mexico, truth is a relative thing, and while he finds Lola stripping in a sleazy bar (kudos to Hayek for playing a rather unsympathetic character who is asked to display lots of body double here), there is an open question of whether she is the woman she claims to be or whether it is all one large scam.

Aside from its intrigue and sultry atmosphere, AMERICANO is ultimately a deeply moving drama about inheritance and legacy that mixes a fictional narrative about coming to terms with grief with an autobiographical angle of the lost dreams of the actor/director's true-life filmmaking family. The film features a stellar cast that, perhaps not incidentally, includes the children of famous film personalities -- Geraldine Chaplin, Chiara Mastroianni and Demy himself -- in addition to Salma Hayek, in the film's most controversial and revealing role.  

01 June, 2012

More Cannes Deals

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Indomina Group has acquired U.S. distribution rights to French director Leos Carax's HOLY MOTORS, one of the strangest and most divisive films to screen in the main competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The wildly experimental film drew scattered boos but also wild enthusiasm when it screened midway through the festival. The chronicle of a man who spends a day riding around town in a limousine, seemingly changing identities as he goes, the film stars Michel Piccoli, Denis Lavant, Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue. “Leos Carax is a masterful filmmaker," said Indomina Chairman and CEO Jasbinder Singh Mann in a release announcing the acquisition. "His unique, singular vision is something that cannot be overlooked in today’s marketplace. The film really stays with you after you’ve left the cinema – a testament to not only a brilliant story but amazing direction and performances." Indomina was launched in 2008 and is based in Los Angeles and in the Dominican Republic. It is involved in the production and distribution of motion pictures, television, music and interactive games, and relies heavily on a transmedia approach.

Magnolia Pictures had picked up the U.S. distribution rights for THE HUNT, the latest film from Danish dogme director Thomas Vinterberg. The film, which screened in the competition section at the Cannes Film Festival, won a Best Actor prize for its lead, Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. In the film, he stars as an ordinary man who fights against a lie of child abuse that threatens to destroy his life. Written by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm, the film also won the Ecumenical Jury Award. The film is slated for a late year release, with a considerable campaign to be put in place to push for a Best Actor nod from the Oscars for Mikkelsen’s dynamic performance. Eamonn Bowles, President of Magnolia Pictures, commented in a release that “Thomas Vinterberg demonstrates his directorial mastery in his finest work since THE CELEBRATION and Mads Mikkelsen's performance more than validates his Best Actor Award at Cannes."

Oscilloscope Laboratories has acquired U.S. rights to Italian director Matteo Garrone's REALITY, a film in the Cannes main competition about a Neapolitan fishmonger whose life is turned upside-down when he thinks he's going to appear on a reality-television show. The film went on to win the Grand Prix award at the Festival and generated a good amount of controversy once it was learned that its lead Aniello Arena is a convicted felon who is serving a life sentence for murder. Apparently, the untrained actor was allowed to film during the day provided he returned to his prison cell each evening. While there was buzz that he would be allowed to walk the red carpet or attend the award ceremonies, that never materialized. In a release announcing the acquisition, Oscilloscope's David Laub called the film "a complex, provocative, and deeply compelling look at our media-obsessed culture, executed by one of the most interesting and talented filmmakers working today. Garrone pays homage to classical filmmakers such as Fellini and Scorsese while crafting a fresh and very relevant contemporary story." The director’s previous film GOMORRAH (2008), a blistering drama of the continuing influence of the Mafia in the social fabric of Italy’s southern provinces, was a major international arthouse hit. Oscilloscope plans to showcase the new film at additional festivals throughout the fall, and to follow with a theatrical, DVD and digital release in 2013.

Sundance Selects has had a busy buying season at the Cannes Film Festival. The company, a specialty arm of IFC Films, has acquired some of the Festival’s most notable titles. Its latest pickup is SOMEONE IN LOVE by Iranian director and former Palme d’Or winner Abbas Kiarostami. The film, which made its world premiere in competition last week at the Cannes Film Festival, is an homage to classic Japanese films of the 1950s  and 1960s that emphasized humanistic stories and minute detail in a hypnotic observational style…..clearly an influence for the director in his own oeuvre. Starring Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno and Ryo Kase, the new film explores the sudden relationship of a young woman and old man in Tokyo. Sundance Selects has also acquired the domestic rights to Ken Loach’s rare comic farce THE ANGELS’ SHARE. The film chronicles Robbie, a Scottish youth trying to avoid prison, who sneaks into a maternity hospital to visit his girlfriend and newborn son. This marks the fourth time Loach and Sundance Selects have worked together. One of those projects, THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY, won the Palme d’Or and was the most successful of Loach’s films at the U.S. domestic box office. Earlier in the Festival, IFC Films/Sundance Selects acquired another Cannes title, the adaptation of the Jack Kerouac beat novel ON THE ROAD, directed by Walter Salles, and was represented at the Festival with previous acquisitions BEYOND THE HILLS by Romanian New Wave auteur Cristian Mungiu, American indie title GIMME THE LOOT by Adam Leon, the Stanley Kubrick documentary ROOM 237 by Rodney Ascher and the buddy comedy SIGHTSEERS by Ben Wheatley.