Monday, October 29, 2007

Rome festival: learning from documentaries

Big, glamorous and busy: I just got back from the Rome festival, where I didn't manage to see half the films I wanted. But two documentaries gave me some food for thought. The first was "The Gates", by Antonio Ferrera. This fly-on-the-wall documentary follows artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude's two attempts to line Central Park with saffron-coloured patches. The film-makers followed them to the various production and administration meetings. So the film was not written or even planned in terms of a final structure. "600 hours of rushes, 2 years of editing into 98 minutes," as Ferrera explained in the bar. So the challenge was to make a coherent story out of a vast amount of material afterwards. "You never stop writing your film," he said. "When you pitch it, you're writing. Editing is re-writing. When you dub it or do subtitles, you're still writing. Basically, you only really stop writing when you start the next one."

The other revelation was "Natural Born Star", a brilliant documentary about the former Norwegian heartthrob Fred Robsahm (photo), who basically fell into superstardom in Italian B movies in the seventies by accident. I won't go into the details of his amazing yet tragic life, but it's one of the most moving stories I've seen in ages. What was interesting was the way the director Even G. Benestad and scriptwriter August B. Hanssen used the mountain of vintage material to tell the story, which itself has the feel of a B movie throughout the parts that deal with the seventies (including a great period soundtrack by Kaada - pronounced "coda"). Inevitably, when the reality kicks in, the effect is all the more moving. For a work of non-fiction, it is also remarkably true to the three-act structure. I strongly recommend this one. The film has its own site called Natural Born, but you'll find more info on the Rome Film fest page here.

Check the soundtrack on
Kaada - Natural Born Star (Music from the Motion Picture)

Incidentally, the Rome festival doesn't have a script award. So the only reference to a screenplay came from director Jason Reitman, who insisted on bringing the scriptwriter Diablo Cody on stage with him to pick up an award for "Juno" as "it is her story". Spoken like a gentleman!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Rome festival kicks off

The 2nd edition of the Rome Festival kicked off yesterday, with 167 films on show, including 14 in competition. "Rome will be the biggest cinema in the world," claims Mayor Walter Veltroni. The festival aims at being one of the top international events, and has lined up a dozen avant-premieres to tempt the press along. The festival also has a market, called Business Street (centred around the once-electric Via Veneto). To find out about the festival, click the logo (right).

I'll be down there towards the end of the fest, with two projects with directors attached. If anyone is interested in hooking up, leave a message. It will be interesting, as I'm a big fan of Italian cinema old and new but only get to see a tiny part of what is happening. The other reason I'm looking forward to going is that I lived for a few months in Rome back in the eighties. It'll be good to be back there.

RaiSat are doing live broadcasts and reports from the event. Check out the programme here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters) picks up main award at Ghent festival

The Ghent Film festival has just wrapped up, with the main award going to the German movie "Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters)". Directed and adapted from a book by Stefan Ruzowitzky, the film details one of the biggest counterfeit schemes in history. Germany used Jewish counterfeits during the war to churn out Allied currency in an attempt to sabotage their economies. Inevitably, the suckers doing the counterfeiting had some choices to make: living relatively well while working for the Germans or dying. If you think about it, that's not much of a choice really. In fact, it's not a choice at all. It's only later that it might be perceived as an issue.

The film is based on the memoirs of Adolf Burger, "Des Teufels Werkstatt/The Devil’s Workshop". In a comment on, another author, Lawrence Malkin, makes some interesting comments about the choices being made by these people at the time.

"Die Fälscher" was released in the UK on October 12. It received four stars from Empire.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

French TV writers come together

Anyone near the south of France that is interested in TV series (and the writing thereof!) should check out "Scénaristes en série", an annual get-together that was started by 10 French series writers and is becoming more international. The idea is for writers, producers, actors and distributors to get together in a series of debates and masterclasses. They promise to show the best-in-class series from Spain, the UK, Germany and Canada.

It will be held at the Palais des Congrès in Aix-les-Bains (Rhône-Alpes, if my memory serves me well), October 18-21. Contact: Tel : 01 48 03 18 25 (in France) or visit Scenaristes en Série. There are several regional airports in the area, plus a special TGV train leaving from Paris! How's that for style?

Friday, October 12, 2007

No movie downloads from here yet

I had thought of offering movie downloads from the site, which is an exciting development on the web. The theory is that we can break the distribution bottleneck and allow anyone anywhere to download material. But the dispute in the US between representatives of the producers and writers turned up a little detail that bothers me: the writers are getting paid peanut shells for DVDs and downloads!

Unlike the rest of the world, where writers retain authors' rights and therefore benefit to a modest degree in the use of a work (notably through the sale of DVDs and now downloads), this is not quite the case for the US. And the writers are rightly questioning this. So until they come to some sort of agreement, I don't feel comfortable promoting downloads of movies. Shame, as it is the way to go.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Le fils de l'épicier" picks up script award at Namur

Eric Guirardo and Florence Vignon picked up the Best Script award at the 22nd Festival of Francophone Cinema in the Belgian town of Namur for "Le fils de l’épicier/The Grocer's Son". When his father becomes ill, a disillusioned young man has to step into his shoes and manage the village shop.

Director Guirardo had planned the film since 2000, and finished the writing with Florence Vignon after he spent time filming travelling tradesmen in France.

Check the film's site in French.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Macedonian-Polish action spec wins the first Central European Pitch Forum

I mentioned this event a few months back. Here is an extract from the (enthusiastic) press release concerning the winners. Nice to see a genre film picking up the main prize.


Veteran Macedonian-born Swiss writer-director Mitko Panov took first prize and 5 thousand euro along with it at the closing event of the 2007 Fade In Central European Pitch Forum, the continent’s first story market, for his Balkan-set drama-actioner Witness.

The 2 thousand euro-worth special jury prize went to Paolo Poti from Italy for his drama screenplay "The God of the Hills", while the award for the best Eastern European screenplay was given to Hungarian writer team Péter Gál and Csaba Tóth for their chiller "Weekend". Young Hungarian director István Madarász got the Best Pitch award for the presentation of his unique action thriller "Loop". The lavish awards ceremony and networking dinner, attended by a hundred-plus film professionals from all across Europe, closed a very intense three days in Pécs in the south of Hungary. Beautiful weather was kind to the organizers, as the picture-perfect city—a European Cultural Capital-to-be in 2010—showed its most stunning faces to attendees of its international film festival Moveast and its flagship event pitch forum. 13 screenwriters from all over Europe showed up with 11 projects. Their screenplays were all written on spec—meaning the authors developed them on their own volition—so the writers arrived in the hope of selling their screen stories to the attending producers.

To find out more (and maybe present something next year), visit Fade In.

On the photo: president of the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe Christina Kallas listening to award-winning Polish director Kryzstof Zanusi. Photo by Laszlo Simara.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Belgium to send "Ben X" as Oscar contender

"Ben X", the award-winning debut film from film journalist Nic Balthazar, has been unanimously chosen to represent Belgium as a Foreign-Language contender for the Oscars. The Dutch-speaking film, which has been hailed at home and received the Grand Prix at the Montreal World Film Festival, is a gripping tale of a slightly autistic boy that is bullied at school. It combines a remarkable internal monologue with extracts from video games. The performances are universally excellent.

The film is based on a book written by Balthazar that was subsequently adapted as a play. It is built on a true story (but obviously considerably changed). Expect to hear more about it. Visit the official site (in English and Dutch).

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Coppola syndrome: could it happen to you?

You've probably heard by now the Francis Ford Coppola has had his portable computer and back-up stolen. He has made a heartfelt plea for at least the back-up to be returned, as it contains not only his latest script which is about to go into pre-production, but 15 years of archives.

Yikes! It made me think about my current set-up. How much could I afford to lose? The vast majority of semi-cooked ideas exist in print form. That's OK. I still have copybooks full of notes and press clippings. So what about my back-ups? Well, like many people I don't do enough of them. And the problem that Francis Ford has suffered is that he didn't count on someone actually stealing the backed-up hard disks!

Any way around this? A quick survey of writer friends drew everything from shrugs of shoulders to stern warnings about making copies and storing them in friends' houses in case your place burns down or Mossad breaks in and steals everything. Online storage doesn't really seem to have entered the writers' habits yet.

Either way, it's something worth thinking about. Do you have any back-up tips?