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The Warsaw Voice » World of Movies » December 21, 2011
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American Film Festival
December 21, 2011   
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The southwestern city of Wroc³aw Nov. 15-20 hosted its second American Film Festival, an event billed as the largest review of independent American cinema in Poland. The festival was organized by Poland’s Nowe Horyzonty Association.

“The idea behind the festival is to bring the diversity of American cinema closer to Polish viewers and help overcome various myths about America that have arisen in Poland,” the festival’s director, Roman Gutek, a leading Polish distributor of independent films, said at the event’s opening. “Although it would seem that there are plenty of American films in our cinemas , these are usually productions released by big studios. Documentaries and indies rarely make it here. Consequently, the festival aims to showcase those less well known but often just as interesting films, alongside acclaimed productions and filmmakers.”

During the six-day event, cinema lovers watched almost 80 films, 40 of which were shown in Poland for the first time. Six films had their European premieres at the festival.

The festival was divided into four sections. The first, Highlights, featured high-profile productions with stars of American cinema. The Wroc³aw audiences saw recent releases such as Gus Van Sant’s Restless, Kevin Smith’s Red State (in photo below), Miranda July’s The Future, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut Jack Goes Boating, and Tony Kaye’s latest film, Detachment.

The Spectrum section was designed to be a panorama of American cinema last year. Featured productions included Michael Di Jiacomo’s Somewhere Tonight, Alison Bagnall’s The Dish & the Spoon, with rising star Greta Gerwig playing a betrayed wife who leaves her two-timing husband and hits the road, and Love by William Eubank, a metaphysical epic about loneliness.

The American Docs section included Jeff Malmberg’s Marwencol, a prizewinner at a festival in Austin, Texas; The Other F Word by Andrei Blaugrunda about punk rockers who trade their madcap life as musicians for the peace and quiet of fatherhood; and Tabloid, the latest production by Errol Morris, a filmmaker known for his provocative documentaries about the power of the gutter press.

The On the Edge section showcased experimental films and auteur productions such as The Pettifogger by Lewis Klahr, a thriller depicting events from the life of a gambler and swindler in the early 1960s, using a collage of animated drawings, photographs and fabrics.

Premieres shown as part of the Spectrum and American Docs sections vied for the Audience Choice Award in the feature film and documentary film categories. During the festival closing ceremony, the winners of the viewers’ vote were announced. Somewhere Tonight by Michael Di Jiacomo, with John Turturro in the lead role, was named by viewers as the best American indie film of last year. The film tells the story of a couple of lost eccentrics meeting on an adult chatline.

The best documentary film shown at the festival, according to the audience, was Sing Your Song, directed by Susanne Rostock, a production about Harry Belafonte, the legendary American musician, actor, Emmy Award winner, and the man behind the memorable mid-1980s project We Are the World. The prize for the winning feature film was $10,000 and the winning documentary landed $5,000.

The festival also included retrospectives on Billy Wilder, the legendary director known for productions such as The Seven Year Itch, Some Like It Hot and Sunset Boulevard; Terrence Malick, the director of Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line; and Todd Solondz, who made Palindromes and Happiness. Solondz, who was a guest of the Wroc³aw festival, walked away with the Indie Star Award.

The American Film Festival was accompanied by Gotham in Progress, billed as Europe’s first film industry meeting wholly focusing on American independent movies. During the meeting, 11 selected full-length indies in their final stages of production were screened to an audience of Polish and European sales agents, distributors and those making decisions about what films are shown at major film festivals.
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