Sundance 2016: World Cinema film profiles
An Indian teen comedy, a New Zealand doc about tickling and a musical featuring mermaids in 1980s Warsaw are among the films jostling for primacy in Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic and Documentary competitions.
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Dir Felix van Groeningen
The fifth film from the Flemish director of the internationally acclaimed The Broken Circle Breakdown is the story of two brothers, played by Stef Aerts and Tom Vermeir, who despite their differences decide to set up and run what becomes a very popular music bar. But the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle and the challenge of running a family business begin to chip away at their relationship. Produced by Belgium’s Menuet with Dutch outfit Topkapi and France’s Pyramide Productions. Van Groeningen wrote the script with previous collaborator Arne Sierens (2007’s With Friends Like These).
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Between Sea And Land (Col)
Dirs Manolo Cruz, Carlos del Castillo
Written and co-directed by and starring one of Colombia’s biggest actors, Manolo Cruz, Between Sea And Land is about the relationship between a man confined to his bed by a debilitating illness and the mother who cares for him. “I felt trapped in that I kept getting work that I didn’t want to do,” says Cruz of the inspiration of the film, who has been a star in Colombia since the age of six. Between Sea And Land is produced by Mago Films with Photogroup Films and Scarlett Cinema.
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Brahman Naman (UK-India)
For his English-language debut, independent Indian film-maker Q (aka Kaushik Mukherjee) has made a teen comedy set in 1980s Bangalore about a 17-year-old boy who combines winning quizzes at school with a fondness for porn and whiskey. When he and his friends reach the All-India quiz final, a train ride to Kolkata provides the backdrop to a raucous adventure. Steve Barron’s UK-based Riley Productions produces with Q’s prolific Kolkata production outfit Overdose Joint. The titular role is played by rising star Shashank Arora (Titli).
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A Good Wife (Ser-Bos-Cro)
Dir Mirjana Karanovic
The directorial debut of renowned Serbian actress Mirjana Karanovic explores how a woman is prompted to re-evaluate her comfortable life when, almost simultaneously, she is diagnosed with cancer and discovers her beloved husband committed atrocities during the Balkans conflict. Karanovic co-wrote the script with Stevan Filipovic and Darko Lungulov. She also stars in the film, which is a co-production between Serbia’s This And That Productions, Bosnia’s Deblokada and Croatia’s Nukleus Film.
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Halal Love (And Sex) (Leb-Ger-UAE)
Dir Assad Fouladkar
As much a love letter to beautiful, chaotic Beirut as it is a romantic comedy about three Islamic couples navigating the choppy waters of love and relationships, Fouladkar’s romantic comedy premiered to great reviews at December’s Dubai International Film Festival and it looks set to become an international festival staple in 2016. Darine Hamze, Rodrigue Sleiman, Mirna Moukarzel, Zeinab Hind Khadra and Hussein Mokaddem star in the film, which is set in a working-class Shia neighbourhood and weaves together four interconnected stories as the couples try to manage their love lives and desires without breaking any of their religion’s rules. The project began to take shape at Locarno’s Open Doors co-production lab in 2008, and went on to be produced by prestigious Razor in Berlin.
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The Lure (Pol)
Dir Agnieszka Smoczynska
Set amid the glitter balls and strippers of Warsaw’s 1980s nightclub scene, The Lure won the best debut film prize at the Gdynia Film Festival in Poland last September. The musical drama, which is Smoczynska’s feature directing debut, is about two mermaids who join a band and are caught up in a whirlwind of success until their real natures prevail. The Lure is produced by Poland’s WFDiF with Platige Image.
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Dir Rebecca Daly
Australian actress Rachel Griffiths plays a woman who befriends a young homeless man, played by Barry Keoghan, following the death of her son. Mammal is Irish director Daly’s second film following The Other Side Of Sleep, which debuted in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2011. Keoghan is a Screen International Star Of Tomorrow 2015. Mammal is produced by Macdara Kelleher of Dublin’s Fastnet Films, with co-producers Calach Films, Luxembourg’s Les Films Fauves and the Netherlands’ Rinkel Film. Daly developed the project through the inaugural international fellowship programme, the Berlinale Residency, and wrote the script with Glenn Montgomery, her collaborator on The Other Side Of Sleep.
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My Friend In The Park (Arg-Urug)
Dir Ana Katz
The fourth feature by Argentinian actor-writer-director Ana Katz explores the joys, isolation and challenges of parenthood through the friendship of two new mothers who meet in a park and develop a deep bond. Katz also stars in the film with Julieta Zylberberg, Daniel Hendler and Maricel Álvarez, and co-wrote the script with Inés Bortagaray. My Friend In The Park (Mi Amiga Del Parque) was nurtured at San Sebastian, first at the festival’s Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum in 2012, then screening in Films in Progress in 2014. Katz’s A Stray Girlfriend premiered in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2007.
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Much Ado About Nothing (Chile-Fr)
Dir Alejandro Fernández Almendras
Inspired by a real-life political scandal in Chile, Much Ado About Nothing is about a young man accused of a hit-and-run accident as part of a plot to cover up the identity of the real driver — the son of a prominent politician. Almendras’s first two features, Huacho and By The Fire, premiered at Critics’ Week in Cannes while his third film, To Kill A Man, won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2014. Much Ado About Nothing is produced by Augusto Matte of Jirafa with France’s Arizona Productions and stars Agustin Silva and Paulina Garcia, the award-winning star of 2013’s Gloria.
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Pleasure. Love. (China)
Dir Yao Huang
A young woman and a young man experience love for the first time — not together, but with older, more experienced lovers in an endless cycle. Written and directed by Yao Huang, Pleasure. Love. stars Nan Yu, Daizhen Ying, Xiaodong Guo and Yi Sun, and is produced by Beijing Hairun Pictures. It participated in the 2014 CentEast Market in Warsaw.
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Sand Storm (Isr)
Dir Elite Zexer
Elite Zexer’s debut feature has been generating buzz since winning a work-in-progress award at the Jerusalem International Film Festival last July and the First Look prize in the showcase of Israeli films at the Locarno Film Festival the following month. Sand Storm is a story of female empowerment set in a conservative Bedouin village as two women rail against the constraints of their community. Jalila (Ruba Blal) simmers with barely contained rage as her ex-husband takes another, much younger wife, while her daughter Layla (Lamis Ammar) reels from the discovery that her mother has found out about her forbidden love affair. The film is produced by Tel Aviv’s 2-Team Productions.
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Dir Nicolette Krebitz
The third feature from actor-film-maker Nicolette Krebitz is a thought-provoking portrait of a young woman who steps outside the normal binds of civilisation and expectation to capture a wolf and live with it in her apartment. Lilith Stangenberg stars in the film, which is produced by Heimatfilm. Krebitz is an award-winning actor whose second feature, The Heart Is A Dark Forest, starred Nina Hoss and won the special prize of the German Film Critics Association in 2008.
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WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
All These Sleepless Nights (Pol-UK)
Dir Michal Marczak
“The idea for this movie arose out of a thought I had one cold morning in Warsaw: ‘Shit! How much time do I have left to make a movie about what it’s like to be young?’,” says 32-year-old Michal Marczak. To capture the vibrancy of modern-day Warsaw and to portray the generation coming of age and defining the new Poland, the innovative documentary film-maker, whose previous credits include Fuck For Forest and At The Edge Of Russia, “embedded” himself with a group of restless art-school students. The film follows them as they struggle to find and hang on to the perfect moment in their city. All These Sleepless Nights is produced by Poland’s Endorfina Studio with the UK’s Pulse Films.
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A Flag Without A Country (Iraq)
Dir Bahman Ghobadi
Using real people to play themselves in fictional situations — as he did with No One Knows About Persian Cats in 2009 — Bahman Ghobadi depicts the lives of two high-profile Iraqi Kurdistanis, an injured pilot (Nariman Anvar) and a glamorous pop star (Helly Luv). In their very different ways — a flying school and a music video — both are trying to improve the lives of their country’s people and refugees who have survived the brutality of Saddam Hussein’s regime but now face a new threat in Isis. A Flag Without A Country premiered at the Busan International Film Festival.
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Hooligan Sparrow (China-US)
Dir Nanfu Wang
‘Hooligan Sparrow’ is Ye Haiyan, a renowned women’s-rights activist in China who defies threats and prison to protest the alleged rape of six elementary-school pupils by a school principal in an attempt to bring him to justice. The film is the directing debut of China-born, New York-based Nanfu Wang, and is produced by New York documentary outfit Little Horse Crossing The River. Hooligan Sparrow has been nurtured by co-production and film-maker labs including the IFP Filmmakers Lab, the Sundance Institute’s Creative Producing Summit and Lab and the DOK Incubator in Leipzig.
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The Land Of The Enlightened (Bel)
Dir Pieter-Jan De Pue
The first feature documentary from Belgian film-maker Pieter-Jan De Pue blends fiction and documentary to paint a picture of the terrible beauty of war-ravaged Afghanistan and the generation of children and teenagers who are growing up there. The film, which was shot over seven years, captures children playing on rusting tanks and teenagers who control the trade routes. The Land Of The Enlightened is a pan-European collaboration, produced by Bart Van Langendonck of Belgium’s Savage Films and co-produced by the Netherlands’ Submarine, Ireland’s Fastnet Films, Belgium’s Eyeworks and Germany’s Gebrueder Beetz Produktion.
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The Lovers And The Despot (UK)
Dirs Robert Cannan, Ross Adam
This much-anticipated film — both a love story and a thriller — offers a fascinating glimpse inside the world of North Korea’s megalomaniac Kim dynasty. It explores the 1978 kidnappings by Kim Jong-Il of famous South Korean actress Choi Eun-Hee and her estranged director ex-husband Shin Sang-ok. After being kept apart for five years, they were then forced back together to become Kim’s personal film-makers. Produced by Natasha Dack of the UK’s Tigerlily Productions, the film is the directing debut of Ross Adam and the second feature for Robert Cannan following Three Miles North Of Molkom.
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Plaza De La Soledad (Mex)
Dir Maya Goded
The anticipated feature debut from multi award-winning Mexican photographer Maya Goded explores female sexuality through the eyes of a group of five elderly prostitutes who work in Mexico City. Goded first met the women and took their pictures 20 years ago and they have already formed the basis of a photographic exhibition and a book. The film is produced by Monstro Films, La Sombra del Guayabo and Alebrije Cine Y Video.
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The Settlers (Fr-Can-Isr-Ger)
Dir Shimon Dotan
In what is described as the first film to ever do so, renowned Israeli film-maker Shimon Dotan explores the history of Israel’s controversial Jewish settlements on the occupied territories of the West Bank, looking at the reality of life for the people who live there. Dotan’s documentary Hot House, which reported on how Israel’s prisons had become breeding grounds for Palestine’s next generation of terrorists, won the Special Jury Prize in this section at Sundance in 2007. The film is produced by Dotan and Les Films Du Poisson’s Estelle Fialon, with Yes.docu (Israel), ARTE (France), NDR (Germany), HR, BR and Radio Canada.
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Sky Ladder: The Art Of Cai Guo-Qiang (US)
Dir Kevin Macdonald
Kevin Macdonald, who won an Oscar for the 1999 documentary One Day In September, profiles renowned Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. The UK film-maker talks to the artist, his friends and family, and art world colleagues and admirers about his life and work creating huge visual masterpieces from fireworks, culminating in ‘Sky Ladder’, the piece he has been perfecting for 20 years. One of the film’s co-producers is Wendi Deng, who produces with Fisher Stevens and Hugo Shong.
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Dir Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami
The line between documentary film-maker and subject is pulled very fine in Sonita, in which Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami becomes irrevocably intertwined in the life of 18-year-old Sonita, an illegal Afghan immigrant in Tehran. The young woman has dreams of becoming a rap star but her hard-nosed mother is interested only in selling her for $9,000 to fund her brother’s dowry. The film, which features an all-female cast, premiered at IDFA in November where it won the audience award. The director’s debut feature, Going Up The Stairs, was awarded the prize for best female-directed film at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival in 2012.
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Dirs Dylan Reeve, David Farrier
When he stumbles across a story about competitive endurance tickling, New Zealand journalist David Farrier is compelled to investigate the curious world. The film was financed by the New Zealand Film Commission and the US’s MPI Media Group. Submarine has US rights.
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We Are X (UK-US-Jap)
Dir Stephen Kijak
Having followed Scott Walker, the Rolling Stones and the Backstreet Boys, US documentary film-maker Stephen Kijak now turns his camera on the seminal Japanese glam-rock band X Japan. After 30 years together, the band are now preparing to break the US market. Produced by the UK’s Passion Pictures with Pretty Bird.
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When Two Worlds Collide (US-Peru)
Dirs Heidi Brandenburg, Mathew Orzel
An indigenous leader is forced into exile by big business concerns attempting to harness the Amazon for profit. Now facing a 20-year prison sentence, he reflects on the world’s future unless drastic action is taken to halt environmental damage.
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