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The 26th edition of FESTROIA: TROIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL will be held from June 4 to 13 in the beautiful coastal resort town of Setubal, Portugal. The Festival, the country's oldest and most prestigious, is known as the "Cannes of Portugal" and showcases international talents from around the world, with competition sections, special events and a program  of new works from emerging North American independent filmmakers from the U.S.A.


The Other American Cinema


Friday, June 13-------American Independent cinema occupied a very specific niche in the American media landscape. I am talking here about true American Independent films.....not "independent spirit" projects that receive most of their monies from divisions of the major studios. This is more classic indie.....a filmmaker and a camera and a dream.

FESTROIA, which enters its final weekend, has been a hospitable home to American Independent films and filmmakers. For the past ten years, the Festival has showcased indies in a special section. Rather than doing this every five years or so, the Festival has committed to showing new works from the American indie ranks every year and in offering a prize specifically for a film in the section.

Full disclosure: I have worked with the Festival for the past ten years in bringing them this group of American indie films and also in coordinating the participation of accompanying directors, producers, writers and actors. This year, the Festival is screening eight feature films in the section and a mix of film artists from all over the United States is participating.

What is most illuminating, apart from the craft of the films on such tight budgets, is how the films represent the diversity of the United States.....a multi-cultural mix that one would not get with maintream Hollywood cinema. For example, this year the Festival is showcasing the work of a Moslem from Los Angeles (AMERICA EAST), a Sikh from Detroit (OCEAN OF PEARLS), a Jew from New York (ARRANGED) and contributions from artists from Austin, Seattle and Chicago.

One of the goals of the program is show Portugese audiences here and the team of international guests from all over the world, another side of America that they would not regularly see on American television or with American mainstream cinema.

OCEAN OF PEARLS brings the viewer into the tight-knit Sikh community, in the story of a doctor who must decide how to balance his traditional beliefs with his professional career. The director Sarab Neelam is a Detroit-based physician-turned-filmmaker who wears a turban and a beard, and obviously brought autobiographical elements to the film which give it its resonance and import.

AMERICAN EAST is the debut feature of Hesham Issawi, an Egyptian-born Muslim living and working in Los Angeles. The film focuses on a recent Egyptian immigrant to Los Angeles, who is trying to pursue the "American dream" for himself and his family, admist the hostility to the Muslim-American community after the attacks of 9-11. There is also hostility within the tight Arabic community, when the immigrant attempts to go into business with a Jewish entrepreneur (played by Tony Shalhoub). Intolerance in all its forms is examined and criticized in this uplifting film.

The relationship between Jews and Muslims also provides the subtext of ARRANGED, a film film by Diane Crespo and Stephen Schaefer. Based on a true story, it is the tale of an Orthodox Jewish woman who becomes friends with a Muslim woman who is also working at the same school where she teaches. Among their common bonds is that both are being pressured to marry men they have never met in an arranged marriage. Their bonding and sisterhood gives each the courage to resist tradition and embrace the ethos of American democracy and free will.

In THE CAKE EATERS, the directorial debut of actress-turned-director Mary Stuart Masterson, a tender portrait emerges about the bonds between two families living in a rural small town. While most Americans live in small towns across the continent, that setting is rare in Hollywood films. The multi-generational casting and the real understanding of the attraction of home and family in these rural communities makes the film a heart-tugger and a standout.

The subtleties of family life are also explored in AUGUST EVENING, the debut feature of Austin, Texas-based filmmaker Chris Eska. The story centers on a hard-working illegal immigrant who loses his job and lives with his loyal daughter-in-law (whose husband has died much too young). As the two drift between the households of the father´s two assimilated children, the strong bond between the father and his daughter-in-law becomes the center of gravity in both their lives. The film, almost entirely in Spanish, has an authentic look of time and place and a subtle beauty of landscape and feeling.

The remaining films in the program are also human dramas (and comedies) that use the power of the camera to penetrate into the most private thoughts and feelings of its characters. In STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING, veteran stage and screen actor Frank Langella gives a marvelous performance as a reclusive writer in New York City who does not fit in with the media-saturated environment that does not value literary tradition and values. Director Andrew Wagner offers an amusing and telling insight into the intellectual demi-monde of New York literary life.

In HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS, director Joe Swanberg works with a cast of friends and colleagues in an improvised John Cassavetes-like workshop on the love lives and live-work relationships of over-educated 20 somethings who are have trouble with expressing their emotions and the longings of their heart.  In DAY ZERO, the personal meets the political, as three friends from different classes must face a mandatory draft call that has been instituted as the War on Terror escalates. Director Bryan Gunnar Cole looks at the issues of friendship, loyalty, patriotism and the struggle between personal and communal commitment in a great script that gives actors Elijah Wood, Chris Klein and Jon Bernthal meaty and multi-layered roles.

The 8 films featured give the avid public and the curious professional a vivid look at the continued diversity and prolific "just do it" nature of American Independent cinema.

Sandy Mandelberger, Festroia Dailies Editor


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Sandy Mandelberger
(International Media Resources)

United States

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