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Festival News from Here and There: Rome, Tokyo, Moscow...

ROME: The Corriere de la Sera reports that reclusive, camera-shy American director Terence Malik showed up as scheduled for an audience with the festival press corps during the current second edition of the Rome International Film Festival with his specified precondition in place – No Photographs. During the session he steered clear of any commentary on his personal life, talking only about his film work while simultaneously demonstrating a surprisingly extensive knowledge of Italian film history. The only picture of him accompanying the Corriere report was an old shot in which he is seen sporting a wide-brimmed western hat – the director stems from Texas. There was also a still from his most recent film, “The New World”, 2005. The 63 year old director has only made four films since his spectacular debut “Badlands” (which made stars of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek) in 1973, all of which have been critically acclaimed if not necessarily box-office hits. Luring him out of hiding was therefore somewhat of a coup for the Rome fest.

The same page was decorated with a small picture of Kevin Costner who happened to be in town on other business – a musical appearance downtown with his own band. Said Costner he “didn’t even know there was a film festival going on in Rome” – until somebody spotted him and clued him in. I guess you could call that “serendipity”. And at the top of the same page was a large photo of Sean Penn, at the festival to promote his latest directorial effort, “Into The Wild”, a much heralded competition entry. No lack of Hollywood heavyweights in Rome this year.

TOKYO: From the pages of Poland’s leading daily (at least it’s the most expensive one), “Rzeczpospolita” (the Republic): Damian Ul, the fourth grade kid, age 11, who plays the main role in the new Polish film “Sztuczki” (Tricks) has, surprisingly, been awarded the Best Actor prize at the XXth Tokyo International Film Festival. The film itself, directed by Andrzej Jakimowski, only his second feature, has been cleaning up prizes right and left in the latter part of the 2007 festival year. (1) “Sztuczki” was voted best Polish film of the year at the annual review of Polish feature films in Gdynia, (2) won the European Cinema Prize in Venice, and (3). The Special Jury Prize at Mannheim-Heidlberg. Jakimowski (43) who at this point has only two features in the can, (the other was “Squinty Eyes, 2002, also a Gdynia winner) is currently regarded as the most important new face on the Polish directorial scene, although he has been around for quite a while working on TV commercials and other projects.

MOSCOW: Andrzej Wajda’s shocking Gdynia revelation “KATYN” about the brutal, cold-blooded massacre of 15,000 Polish prisoners of war by the NKVD in Russia during World War II – and the cynical Communist cover-up which followed – has finally been seen in a special screening held at the Polish embassy in Moscow. In actual fact, the producers are withholding the film from exposure outside of Poland until the Berlin Film Festival in February, however, said a spokesman, the Polish embassy is considered to be Polish soil. Among the spectators at the special invitational screening were Russian human rights activists, scholars, and others from cultural and diplomatic circles in the Russian capital. The viewers were deeply moved.
“This film is worthy of the events it describes. Poles – forgive us! It wasn’t only the Communists who were guilty of this crime” – said Sergei Kovalikov, a well known Russian dissident and campaigner for human rights, after the screening. And, “Yep, that’s the way it looked” (the massacre), added a former military Prosecutor, , General Aleksander Trietiecki.
One cannot help wondering what the overall reaction of the Russian public will be once the film is released there for general distribution – if it ever is. In fact, one wonders what kind of reception it will get in the West as well.

Director Wajda, now 81, has stated quite emphatically that he made “Katyn” with only the Polish audience in mind, and doubts that it can have much meaning for people of other countries. Although the Katyn affair was widely covered in the West during the Cold War it was kind of lost in the shuffle of even larger atrocities and propagandistic cross-accusations. Nevertheless, it was a case-book manifestation of the grisly face of Communism – not just the mass murders in violation of every “rule of warfare”, but the massive lie which both Russian and Polish Communists kept putting out for nearly half a century. Perhaps Berlin will prove Wajda wrong, and possibly even place him in the midst of a new political cyclone. “Katyn”, the film – is powerful stuff, and could have repercussions far wider than the octogenarian Polish director was expecting when he decided to make “the final film of the Polish School”.

Alex Deleon, Lublin, Poland
October 29, 2007

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