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A flood of European films in Toronto

It may not be a record, but 120 European films in the Toronto Film Festival certainly represents the largest contingent of any one film community at this very international event. The films are included in every section of the Festival, from the highly commercial Gala Screenings to the obscure Midnight Madness offerings.

The Festival is presenting the latest works from such acknowledged film masters as Jean Luc Godard (with Notre Musique, a poetic meditation on modern life and anxiety), Pedro Almodovar (with Bad Education, a stylized melodrama about sexual abuse), Wim Wenders (with Land Of Plenty, an emotional response to post-911 America), Theo Angelopoulos (with The Weeping Meadow, an existential epic of war and peace), Volker Schlondorff (with The Ninth Day, a gripping chronicle of the moral courage of a Catholic priest who stands up to his Nazi tormentors), Benoit Jacquot (with A Tout De Suite, an emotional tale of love overcoming social taboos), and Chantal Akerman (with Demain On Demanage/Tomorrow We Move, a comic film about a writer of erotic fiction).

The Galas section, the most highly prized section of the Festival includes new works from such film artists as French director Olivier Assayas (the Cannes award winner Clean), UK director Richard Eyre (the historical theatrical pageant Stage Beauty), Danish director Bille August (the courtroom thriller Return To Sender), German director Oliver Hirschbiegel (the historical epic Downfall, which chronicles the last days of the Third Reich, featuring an outstanding turn by veteran actor Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler), UK director Mick Davis (the passionate biography of artist Amedeo Modigliani), Carlo Mazzacurati (whose An Italian Romance is set in Fascist Italy), and French director Jean-Paul Salome (the glamorous life of belle époque jewel thief Arsene Lupin).

Other celebrated European filmmakers being showcased in Toronto include UK director Danny Boyle (with the charming comic fantasy Millions); French director Francois Ozon (with his examination of modern marriage in 5x2—Cinq Fois Deux/Five Times Two); Spanish director Alejandro Almenabar’s Venice Film Festival winner The Sea Within; UK director Roger Mitchell’s Enduring Love, an adaptation of a celebrated novel by prize winning novelist Ian McEwan; Ladies In Lavender, the directorial debut of actor Charles Dance, with outstanding performances by Judi Dench and Maggie Smith; French box office sensation Les Choristes/The Choir, directed by Christophe Barratier; and UK director Sally Potter’s latest film Yes, a poetic meditation on love that challenges moral and political boundaries.

Potter was one of six filmmakers who participated at the annual European Directors Panel, held at the swanky Four Seasons Hotel on 13 September. The panel is presented by European Film Promotion (EFP). The organization assists filmmakers, sales agents and member film boards in promoting their films at international festivals and markets, including Toronto, Cannes, Berlin and the American Film Market.

Participating panelists all had films premiering at the Festival, including the UK’s Sally Potter (Yes), Danish director Susanne Bier (Brothers), controversial French novelist/filmmaker Catherine Breillat (Anatomy of Hell), Italian director Saverio Costanzo (Private), first-time German director Florian Gallenberger (Shadows Of Time) and Belgian director Erik Van Looy (The Alzheimer Case).

The panel focused on how recent world events have influenced the works of the participating filmmakers, and was moderated by Ian Birnie, Director of the Film Department of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and a long-time supporter of European cinema.

Several of the filmmakers said that their latest films were an artistic response to a world forever changed by the events of September 11. Sally Potter stated that her new film “is a direct response to 911….and what has become an inevitable demonization of the Middle East and America.”

Saverio Costanzo, whose film Private concerns the effects of the Israeli occupation on a Palestinian family, said that his film “tried to explore the human effect of war, and also was symbolic in the way that the Israeli and Palestinian actors reacted to one another on the set.”

Susanne Bier, whose film Brothers explores the costs of war on the family of a returning prisoner of war in Afghanistan, stated that she felt “it was important to have a discussion of morality and moral absolutes in a time of great uncertainty.” The strong emotions of loyalty and betrayal in the film were deemed necessary by Bier, who stated that her “desire to be truthful demanded a stronger expression.”

Erik Von Looy felt that the new global anxiety had even reinforced the atmosphere of his classic policier. “The dark is even darker, somehow, and the overall atmosphere of uncertainty contributed to even darker tones in the story”. Von Looy stated.

Potter summed up the hopes of the participating film artists in having their works make a difference. “We are dealing with the clash of fundamentalism which has created a global psychic crisis”, she said. “Film can bring a clarity to the world’s chaos and increased tension.”

The panel’s sponsor, European Film Promotion, is expanding its host of promotion services, according to Managing Director Renate Rose. She has recently introduced a new initiative, dubbed Film Sales Support, where European producers and sales agents will be given a sum of US $5000 per film to support its presentation at a major film festival. Funding has come from the Media Programme, the European body that has supported the audio visual industry for the past two decades.

“These funds can be used to create a sub-titled print, generate promotion materials or even to pay for travel”, Rose offered. “Many times, smaller films are invited to a film festival and there is not the budget to properly promote it….this service will help with this problem.”

EFP offers the service for sales agents and producers attending film festivals in Buenos Aires, Rio, Pusan, Tokyo and Moscow. She hopes to expand the service to the Toronto Film Festival next year, acknowledging the event as “the gateway to the North American market.”

Sandy Mandelberger, Industry Editor

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