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Eye on Europe: Sundance's Strong European Film Presence

Wednesday, January 10----Narrative films from the European continent are among the most anticipated in the World Cinema Competition: Drama competition at the Sundance Film Festival, which opens next week. Of the sixteen films to be presented in the program section, eight are European productions or co-productions with other nations. The strong presence of European films, and the introduction of new film talents, will have industry executives keeping a watchful eye on Europe during the 10 day long festival event.

France is the most heavily represented European country, with four films included in the Competition. BLAME IT ON FIDEL (La Faute a Fidel), by writer/director Julie Gavras, is a whip-smart comedy of manners, set in Paris in the early 1970s. Anna, played to perfection by newcomer Nina Kervel, is a feisty young girl who must adjust to the radical chic activities of her parents (played with buoyant seriousness by Julie Depardieu and Stefano Accorsi). The film's emotional power arises from Anna's transformation from a close-minded bourgeois princess to an open-hearted seeker in truth, in keeping with the values of the "generation of 1968". The film had its world premiere at the Deauville Film Festival and also screened at the inaugural Rome Film Festival. It has been a box office hit in its native France and is represented internationally by Gaumont. Visit the film's website: Blame It On Fidel.

THE LEGACY (L'Heritage) is the collaborative work of father-and-son team Gela Babluaini and Temur Babluani. In this story of clashing moral codes, a Georgian interpreter takes a job translating for three French friends who come to visit a ruined castle one of them has inherited. The tensions between East and West, of modernity and tradition, of go-go capitalism and faded Communist sentiments are highlighted in this amusing parable from the director of the international arthouse hit 13 TZAMETI, which won the European Discovery Award at the 2005 European Film Awards and the World Cinema Prize at last year's Sundance Film Festival. The film is represented internationally by MK2 Distribution, website: THE LEGACY.

Two French co-productions with Africa are also included in the program. BURIED DREAMS, co-produced with Burkina Faso and Canada, is the story of a Nigeria peasant who takes a job mining for gold for the unsentimental boss of a mining camp in Burkina Faso. The continued conflict between former imperialist masters and the dreams of native peoples is played out with extraordinary acting and expansive camerawork in this startling debut by writer/director Laurent Salgues.

In the French/Nigerian co-production EZRA, directed by Newton I. Aduaka, a Sierra Leonean boy and his commmunity attempt to heal themselves through an intense passage through a world of secrets, lies, greed and power politics. Ezra is a seven-year-old boy who is suddenly kdnapped by rebels who train him to commit atrocities in a grueling civil war struggle. Seven years later, Ezra is arrested and must piece togehter a jigsaw puzzle of facts concerning a devastating attack on a local village. An important and timely story of a continuing tragedy of contemporary Africa. Newton Aduaka's debut feature RAGE (2000) was released to huge critical acclaim, becoming the first independent film by a black filmmaker to gain a national release in Britain. It was also very successful in international film festivals, winning many prizes including Best Director at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles and Best First Film at the Ougadougou African Film Festival, the largest showcase in the world of African cinema.

The United Kingdom is represented by two films in the Competition section. GHOSTS, by veteran documentarian Nick Broomfield, mixes documentary and narrative technique in its uncompromising story of illegal immmigrants' gruelling journey to work in the "promised land" of England. The film brings raw emotion to a true story that remind complacent audiences that many of these desperate immigrants' fates end in tragedy. GHOSTS, which had its world premiere at the San Sebastian Film Festival and screened in its native England at the London Film Festival, is represented internationally by Beyond Films.

Novelist Xiaolu Guo makes an impressive directorial debut in the enigmatic HOW IS YOUR FISH TODAY?, a UK/China co-production. This astonishing film operates on two levels: the first concerns a frustrated writer (played by the film's co-scenarist Rao Hui) and the other focuses on his dramatic subject...the tale of a young man named Lin Hao, who travels across China in a visual deptiction of the writer's still-ufolding screenplay. The use of metaphor and lyricism makes this a truly unique and moving narrative film, mixing impressive visuals with the sweep of an epic novel. The film was produced by the British Documentary Foundation.

From Ireland comes an overwhelmingly simple yet compelling new film, ONCE, by director John Carney. The story of a Dublin busker, who ekes out a living playing guitar on the streets, who meets a young Czech immigrant, the film is a scrappy take on the traditional boy-meets-girl love story. Creating a new kind of modern-day musical, the couple write, rehearse and record songs that tell their love story. The politics of immigration and cultural clashes add spice to the heart of this tender and warm film debut. The film is represented by production company Samson Films, website: Samson Films

Pavel Lounguine, who has made many of his most recent films as an emigre in France, returns to his native Russia for THE ISLAND, a heartfelt contemplation of the soul of contemporary Russian society. The film is set on an isolated archipelago of islands near the Arctic Circle. A soldier who commits a treasonous act during World War II is rescued by local monks and lives in the remote monastery, desperate for God's forgiveness. Forty years on, will he find the peace that he desperately seeks? With a stand-out performance by Russian rock star Pyotr Mamonov, the film asks the "big questions" about compassion and forgiveness in a society that values power and privilege. The film had its world premiere at the Moscow Film Festival, followed by acclaimed screenings at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. The film is represented internationally by TV Channel Russia. THE ISLAND is the official Russian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Finally, the German/Belgium co-production KHADAK, is the first fiction film from established documentary filmmakers Jessica Woodworth and Peter Brosens. They use the naturalistic documentary eye to tell a meditative story of the challenges of modernity that come to a traditional community living in the frozen hills of Mongolia. Their pristine world is disrupted when a military convoy arrives and forces them to move into a heartless high rise community in a thankless mining town. The film starkly contrasts the richness of nomadic Mongolian life against the imposed soullessness of modern urban living, by telling a haunting story of the contemporary struggle between tradition and modernity. The film won the prestigious Luigi De Laurentiis Award at the Venice Film Festival and screened to capacity crowds at the Toronto Film Festival.

The diverse genres and filmmaking techniques of the European films competing in the World Cinema Competition demonstrate the continued vitality, resourcefulness and imagination of European cinema....by being very specific and completely universal at the same time.

For more information on the world of European film, visit the official website of the European Film Promotion, the pan-European organization that represents 28 European countries and their film promotion boards: European Film Promotion.


Claudia Landsberger, European Film Promotion President, and Michele Maheux, Managing Director, Toronto International Film Festival, at the annual EFP Reception in Toronto, September 2006.


Sandy Mandelberger
Sundance Online Dailies Editor

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