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Avignon Film Festival Turns 25

Wednesday, June 25-------Jerry Rudes is a man on a mission. For the past quarter century, he has lived with one foot in New York and the other in the lovely Provence city of Avignon, France. Reflecting his own dual domiciles, he founded the Avignon Film Festival in 1984 as a “transatlantic crossroads of independent cinema”. When asked to comment on his original inspiration for founding the event, Rudes told of a memorable encounter with filmmaker Agnès Varda. “When I first went to Cannes and started complaining about it, she scolded me: “Stop complaining”, she said, “and start your own.” The entrepreneur followed this simple but sage advice, building the Avignon event into one of the most respected intimate showcases for American and European cinema. In the past decade, Rudes replicated his winning formula with a companion event in New York City that also brought together European and American cineastes.

 

For the 25th anniversary, which opens this evening and continues through the weekend, “jolting Jerry” has assembled a truly eclectic mix of films from both emerging and acknowledged film directors. For the American feature film competition, films include: Goodbye Baby (Daniel Schechter), the story of a bright and beautiful young woman pursuing her dream of becoming a stand-up comic in New York City’s legendary comedy club scene; On The Doll (Thomas Mignon), a film that interweaves three disparate stories to tell a painful tale about how child abuse colors the victims’ later lives; Sita Sings the Blues (Nina Paley), a charming film based on the Indian epic Ramayana, which includes a trio of hilarious shadow puppets and a soundtrack of vocal stylings by the singer Annette Hanshaw; Suspension (Ethan Shaftel and Alec Joler), a powerful story of the redemption of a man who loses his wife and son in a terrible car accident; and The Cake Eaters (Mary Stuart Masterson), a sensitive story of intertwining lives and loves in a sleepy Hudson Valley farming community, which features a multi-generational cast of veterans (Bruce Dern, Elizabeth Ashley) and up-and-coming young talents.

 

European features in the program include: Affaire de Famille (France, Claus Drexel), a compelling portrait of a Grenoble family whose orderly lives are scrambled by one extraordinary event that tears their world apart; Black (France, Pierre Laffargue), an international thriller that follows the bankrobbing career of a Senegalese man who tries for one last score before retiring; The Understudy (UK, Hannah Davis and David Conolly), a winning morality tale about an unemployed New York actress ekes out a living by providing daycare for a blind woman; and Whatever Lola Wants (France/Canada, Nabil Ayouch), a New York story about a young woman who dreams of pursuing her dream as a professional dancer who matches up with an Egyptian immigrant who is trying to find himself away from his own society’s cultural prejudices.

 

The Festival is recognizing the boom in documentary film production worldwide in its competitive doc section, which includes the films: An Unlikely Weapon (USA, Susan Morgan Cooper), a loving tribute to renowned photographer Eddie Adams; Democracy in France (USA, Mischa Duncan, Matt Kohn, Charles Kramer, Henriette Mantel), a compilation film by four documentary directors who pull together to create a multi-faceted portrait of an America at a social and political crossroads; From the 50 Yard Line (USA, Doug Lantz), an uplifting story about the sport of American football as an inspiring stage for hundreds of teenagers working together; Knowledge Is The Beginning (Germany, Paul Smaczny), the exceptional story of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, founded by Daniel Barenboim, where young Arabs and Jews perform and live side by side; Lumia (USA, Paul Vlachos and Meredith Finkelstein), a lively profile of the “godfather of multimedia”, inventor, mystic and artist Thomas Wilfred; and Wild Blue Yonder (USA, Celia Maysles and Charlene Rule), the personal journey of a young woman (Celia Maysles, the daughter of David and niece of Albert Maysles, the pioneers of cinema verité filmmaking) as she sets out on a quest to re-discover her father and his work.

 

The Festival is also presenting some special screenings to celebrate its 25th anniversary, an intriguing mix of highlights from its history and European premieres of new titles. The program includes encore screenings of Ballet Russes (USA, Dayna Goldfine & Dan Geller), a highly entertaining history of the famed ballet troupe;  Disappearances (USA, Jay Craven), a magnificently filmed modern western filmed in the Canadian wilderness; and The Hand Of The Headless Man (Belgium/France/Holland, Guillaume and Stéphane Malandrin), a fascinating psychothriller about a young woman who awakes from a coma to find mysterious changes in her family. Three diverse American films having their premieres at the event include Poultrygeist (USA, Lloyd Kaufman), a gore shocker from the founder of Troma Pictures; The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival (USA/UK, Murray Lerner), a remembrance of the sensational live performances by Bob Dylan at the venerable Newport Folk Festivals, where he shocked audiences and critics with his new “electric sound”; and Tied To A Chair (USA, Michael Bergmann), the European premiere of Avignon favorite Bergmann, a feminist road movie that follows the adventure of an actress from England to New York to Cannes. The Festival is also presenting two programs of short films, from the USA, France and Europe.  

 

Over the years, the Avignon Film Festival has hosted in France and in New York a wide array of impressive talents, including such American filmmakers as Quentin Tarantino, Alexandre Rockwell, Paul Schrader, Bob Rafelson, Paul Mazursky, Roger Corman, Samuel Fuller, Jerry Schatzberg and Jim Jarmusch. French auteurs who have appeared at past festivals, and remain major supporters of the event, include: Francis Veber, Louis Malle, Michel Deville, Claude Lelouch, Alain Corneau, Raoul Ruiz, Cedric Klapisch, Tony Gatliff, Jean-Charles Tacchella and many others.

 

Rumor has it (and Rudes himself all but confirmed it over a glass of wine I had with him just before last month’s Cannes Film Festival) that this 25th anniversary will indeed be the Festival’s last. “It takes so much out of you to do this kind of an event with such limited staff, resources and budget”, Rudes sighed. “No one wants me to put an end to the two festivals, because I am told that they are unique events that offer a safe haven for filmmakers that is difficult to find at the bigger festivals….but I am running out of steam”. Rudes juggles the dual festivals with a full-time job as American manager for sub-titling giant Laser Video Titre/LVT.

 

One can only hope that he will get encouragement at this week’s event in Provence to keep fighting the good fight. To find out more about the Festival, log on to their website: www.avignonfilmfest.com. With regards to this being the Festival’s final outing…..Jerry, say it isn’t so!!!

 

Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Circuit Editor  

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Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

Coverage of the world of film festivals on the international film festival circuit.


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