Rural Russian film takes top prize at Poland’s New Horizons International Film Festival.

Russian director Alexander Fedorchenko’s Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari received the Grand Prix and a €20,000 ($27,000) cash prize at the 13th New Horizons International Film Festival (July 18-28) in Wroclaw.

The decision by the International jury, headed by Hungary’s Bela Tarr and including Polish film-maker Joanna Kos-Krauze and Berlinale Forum director Christoph Terhechte, was announced ahead of the Polish premiere of Malgorzata Szumowska’s In The Name Of on Saturday evening.

Fedorchenko’s film had its world premiere at last year’s Rome Film Festival.

In June, it won three awards - best script, best cinematography and the Prize of the Russian Guild of Film Scholars and Film Critics - at the Kinotavr “Open Russian” Film Festival in Sochi.

The $2m production by Fedorchenko’s 29 February Film Company explores the myths of the Russian Mari people and their pagan rituals in the remote Ural Mountains.

It is handled internationally by Anton Mazurov’s Moscow-based Ant!pode Sales & Distribution, which also has the director’s previous work on its books.

Fedorchenko is now preparing his third collaboration with novelist-screenwriter Denis Osokin with an adaptation of Angels and Revolution, which won Russia’s prestigious Debut Prize in 2001.

Shooting is scheduled to begin on the film in Russia’s Sverdlovsk Oblast at the end of August as well as further north in the Tundra in the winter.

Wroclaw’s Grand Prix is the second top award to go to one of Ant!pode’s films in little more than a week after Alexander Veledinsky’s tragicomedy, The Geographer Drank His Globe Away, took home the Grand Prix and best film prize at Odessa.

Other awards

Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger By The Lake, which won best film in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard in May, was awarded the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize.

Young Polish director Tomasz Wasilewski followed his triumph at the East of the West competition in Karlovy Vary by being voted the favourite title of the international competition for his second feature, Floating Skyscrapers.

True to New Horizons’ state-of-the-art mobile technology – due to main partner T Mobile  - viewers were able to vote and rate competition films via the internet, mobile apps or text message.

The jury of the “Films about Art” international competition – including film-makers Amos Poe and the Diagonale’s artistic director Barbara Pichler – presented their award with a cash prize of €10,000 ($13,000) to Sick Bird Die Easy by Nicholas Fackler, which had its European premiere at New Horizons.

As in previous years, the non-profit New Horizons Association, which organises the film festival and has now been managing the festival’s main venue, the nine-screen New Horizons Cinema, itself since last September, offers to handle Polish distribution for the winning films in the two competitions.

“Dark” Polish Days for second outing

Going by the line-up of films screened or presented as projects in the Pitching or Works in Progress sections in the second edition of the Polish Days (July 24-26), East European cinema’s key characteristics of the so-called ¨3 Ds¨ - drugs, death and depression - are very much alive in Polish cinema.

Introducing his dark, multi-layered story The Caged Swallow, which will be his graduation from Lodz’s National Film School, film-maker Bartosz Warwas made no secret of his pessimistic view of contemporary Polish society and the town of Lodz, ending with the invitation: “Welcome to my world.”

International buyers and festival programmers looked forward to some respite from the doom and gloom when producer Agnieszka Kurzydlo of Mental Disorder 4 introduced Grzegorz Jaroszuk’s debut Kebab And Horoscope as a comedy, before then correcting herself by labelling it “a sad comedy”.

While participants of the Polish Days praised the technical standard of many of the films presented during the two days of screenings, there were some doubts expressed as to whether these stories would really travel, however much their makers might insist in their pitches of the universality of the films’ subjects.

Works in Progress

This year’s Work in Progress showcase of nine productions included the new film by Wojciech Smarzowski, The Mighty Angel. Based on Jerzy Pilch’s eponymous fourth novel, it stars Robert Wieckiewicz (Walesa. Man Of Hope) as a writer and chronic alcoholic.

The €1.73m ($2.3m) production by Profil Film will be released in Polish cinemas by Kino Swiat in early 2014.

Smarzowski, whose latest film Traffic Department will be shown at San Sebastian in September, said his adaptation of Pilch’s novel will deliver “an extra-strong cocktail”.

“It is only the hangover that everyone will have to deal with on their own,“ he added.

Producer Malgorzata Jurczak revealed that Kino Swiat will also be distributing Waldemar Krzystek’s political thriller The Photographer, which had previously been presented in the Polish Projects showcase during last month’s Moscow Business Square.

Wajda Studio was in Wroclaw with the feature debut of Maciej Sobieszczanski as well as Lukasz Ronduda’s feature debut The Performer, based on the life and work of the performance artist Oskar Dawicki.

Dawicki plays himself opposite Polish acting luminaries such as Andrzej Chyra and Berlinale Shooting Stars Agata Buzek and Jakub Gierszal.

The production was backed by national public broadcaster TVP, the Polish Film Institute and the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and had previously been presented in the Works in Progress section at Karlovy Vary earlier this month.

In addition, Agnieszka Dziedzic, co-founder of the fledgling Warsaw-based outfit Koi Studio, presented her company’s first feature production, the coming of age drama Little Crushes. It marks the directorial feature debut for Lodz Film School graduates Aleksandra Gowin and Ireneusz Grzyb.

Principal photography on the low budget production is scheduled to begin this week.

On the sidelines of Polish Days, Katowice-based production outfit Diabolical Liberties organised a special screening for sales agents and festival programmers of UK-born theatre director Lee Mackintosh Jones’ feature debut, The Mother (Matka).

It stars Magdalena Czerwinska, Julia Kijowska, Grzegorz Przybyl and Olaf Marchwicki, and was shot on location in southern Poland last year.

LGBT distributor receives German Films support

During the New Horizons Festival, Jakub Mróz and Leszek Maslowski of Poland’s only LGBT distributor Tongariro Releasing learnt that they had been awarded distribution support by German Films.

It will support their release of Stephan Lacant’s love triangle drama, Free Fall (Freier Fall), which they will release in Polish cinemas on September 6.

The Poznan-based outfit, which has previously released such titles as Alan Brown’s Private Romeo, Marco Berger’s Plan B and Andrew Haigh’s Greek Pete, will present Brown’s new film Five Dances at the third edition of the Transatlantyk Film & Music Festival Poznan.

The festival, founded by Oscar-winning musician Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, opens on August 2. Guests expected include Yoko Ono, Petr Zelenka, Marco Beltrami, Angela Bassett, Amit Gupta, Robert Townson and Sara Andon.