The Screening Room Blog
Monday, September 29, 2008
Marco Pontecorvo's 'Pa-Ra-Da'

(LONDON, England) -- Your father is Gillo Pontecorvo -- author of one of the greatest postwar Italian films, "The Battle of Algiers," (for more on this film and other greats of Italian cinema click here) which won the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival in 1966 -- that's got to be a pretty tough reputation to live up to.

Marco Pontecorvo's response to this unnerving familial overachievement is a debut film based on the true story of a clown who moves to Bucharest, Romania and starts a circus with streetkids as performers.

"Pa-Ra-Da" was one of the films that wowed critics at Venice this year.

It is the true story of the French-Algerian clown Miloud Oukili who went to Romania in 1992, three years after the end of Ceausescu's dictatorship. There he met Bucharest's "boskettari" or street children, living underground and making a living out of petty theft, begging and prostitution.

Miloud felt the need to bring hope to the tragic lives of the boskettari and he created a circus company with the children. "Parada" is the name of the circus company that today still travels around Europe with it's own show carrying a message of hope and solidarity.

It's a touching story but what made Pontecorvo think it could be a successful film?

"First of all it was something that I say it couldn't happen in the real life," he says, "As soon as I knew a little more I found out there were elements I think for a drama and for a movie ... there was a dream of the protagonist to save them and to save himself."

Pontecorvo has worked for many years as a cinematographer but felt compelled to tell this story himself: "There are stories that I feel closer to and I wish to tell personally."

For more on "Pa-Ra-Da" watch or subscribe to The Screening Room podcast.

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Sunday, September 7, 2008
Darren Aronofsky's 'The Wrestler' wins Golden Lion
LONDON, England -- After mixed reviews for 2006's "The Fountain," which had its world premiere at Venice (several critics booed the film at the press screening but it received a 10-minute standing ovation at the public screening the next night), Darren Aronofsky has finally scored the Lido's top prize with his latest film "The Wrestler," starring Mickey Rourke (pictured), Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood.

This win and the film's storyline, which is more conventional than earlier films like "Pi" and "Requiem for a Dream," should propel Aronofsky into a more commercial global market -- and, of course, put the film into Oscars contention.

The Silver Lion for Best Direction went to Russia's Aleksei German Jr for "Paper Soldier," the story of a doctor working with the first Soviet cosmonauts; Best Actor went to Silvio Orlando for his portrayal of the father of a young girl who commits murder in Pupi Avati's "Il Papa di Giovanna"; and Best Actress went to Dominique Blanc as a woman who can't cope with her independence in "L'Autre."

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Friday, September 5, 2008
'Machan' wins Europa Cinemas prize at Venice
LONDON, England -- We at The Screening Room were pretty pleased to hear that Italian Uberto Pasolini's directorial debut "Machan" has won the Europa Cinemas Label as Best European film at Venice.

It's a really touching story of a group of slum dwellers in Colombo, Sri Lanka who are desperate for an escape route to the West which they perceive to be a land of riches. One day they stumble upon a flyer advertising a handball tournament in Bavaria, which seems like a present from the gods. Cue the creation of the entirely fictitious Sri Lanka National Handball Team.

Pasolini started his career as a runner on the Cambodia genocide movie "The Killing Fields" and was Oscar-nominated as a producer for Brit comedy "The Full Monty." He said that he was inspired to make the film by a news story about a group of 23 Sri Lankan men who, posing as the National Handball Team of Sri Lanka, disappeared during a handball tournament in Germany.

"The impulse to make 'Machan' stems from the discovery of an absurd true event that inspired me to confront the immigration policies of the West in a non-didactic, humorous way," he said.

Hopefully the film will benefit from the commitment from the Europa Cinemas program, which says it will do its best to extend the film's run via promotion in 48 European countries.

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008
More on press conferences: 'BirdWatchers'

VENICE, Italy -- Now, choking up at a press conference is nothing new (look at Hillary Clinton) but there was something pretty touching about "BirdWatchers" actress Eliane Juca Da Silva's (right) tears.

"It makes me cry to know that so many children are dying, that so many of us are dying ... We are all human beings, we are not just Indians, we have thoughts and ideas and culture and our language, we just want a possibility to continue to live," the emotional Amazon Indian actress told a packed room.

She was talking about the plight of the Guarani-Kaiowa Indians in the lush lands of Mato Grosso do Sul, in Brazil where director and co-writer Marco Bechis has set "BirdWatchers." Bechis has spent years working with the Amazonian people to prepare for the film and some of the actors in the film are Indians.
The film is set against the backdrop of the Indians' growing malcontent. They are forced to live in reservations while fazenderos own plantations growing crops on what was once their land. The Indians feel they have no future and young people are particularly badly affected, which has led to an epidemic of suicides.
From the start of the festival, there has been a buzz on the Lido that "BirdWatchers" could be a Golden Lion contender and, since screenings started a few days ago, it has been getting positive reviews.
Bechis has already had a prize though -- the chance to bring the Gurani Indian actors to Venice for the festival. "They've never been to Europe, been on the beach or eaten ice-cream before," he told CNN in an interview.

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay

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The joys of Italian press conferences
VENICE, Italy -- I've heard (possibly apocryphal) tales of Italian journalists standing up at press conferences and asking the director of a drama, "Did you mean this film to be a comedy?"

But normally, the gathered great and good of the movie press seem to signal their distaste for a director's work by non-attendance or slumping wordlessly in their chairs as the panel gamely interview themselves about their work.

I did witness some verbal jousting at a press conference for "Süt (Milk)" by Turkish director Semih Kaplanoğlu, which is showing in competition. One of the panel was proudly saying what a great moment being at Venice is for Turkish film as the last time a Turkish film played in competition was 1991.

At this point, a determined journalist started to disagree with him saying, no, no, no you are wrong. There has, in fact, been a Turkish film in competition since then.

"I'm sorry but I think you'll find I am right," the panel member battles on. This goes back and forth for some time until eventually the panel member gets really angry. "Look, I think I know that I am right." The journalist is about to retort when the microphone is taken out of his hand.

Earlier in the week at the press conference for Guillermo Arriaga's film "The Burning Plain," one journalist introduced himself to the film's star Charlize Theron saying: "I have a question for Charlize Theron. Which side of the bed do you like to sleep on?"

Unhesitatingly Charlize shoots back, "The other side of the bed from you!" then, I think, realizes that this means she would in fact share a bed with him and starts shouting "SECURITY! SECURITY!"

She recovers herself and says: "Look, I think you're cute but I have a boyfriend and he will kill you."

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay

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Sunday, August 31, 2008
Miyazaki hand draws 'Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea'
VENICE, Italy -- Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki explained today why he hand drew 170,000 frames for his latest animation "Gake no Ue no Ponyo" ("Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea") which is showing in competition at Venice.

The 67-year-old, famous for Oscar-winning "Spirited Away" and "Howl's Moving Castle," said he has gone back to basics with this film, rejecting computer animation in favour of the humble pencil: "Currently computer graphics are used a lot and this use can at times be excessive. Animation needs the pencil and man's drawing hand which is why I did the film this way."

The film tells the story of five year-old Sosuke who finds a goldfish (Ponyo) with her head stuck in a jam jar. They become friends but when Ponyo decides she wants to be human, the waters of the sea she used to live in begin to rise causing disaster for Sosuke's home town.

One critic I spoke to said that this was the film he is most excited about seeing this festival, despite it being made for children. Another journalist told me that it was the only film this festival that they had "really fallen in love with."

Miyazaki said that many of his staff had been having babies recently and seeing them from birth made him want to make a film for them. When asked why he wanted to make a film about the sea, he said: "The sea is something so very complicated but I just thought it would be great to draw it with crayons."

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Natalie Portman brings short film to Venice
VENICE, Italy -- Adding a bit of spice to a festival that has been pretty short on big names, Natalie Portman arrived in Venice today.

Along with the likes of Scarlett Johannson (who released an album of Tom Waits covers earlier this year) Natalie Portman is one of those Hollywood actresses blessed with serious intellect as well as beauty and talent.

The Harvard graduate, published academic and star of "Closer," "Garden State," and "Leon" has now added directing to her intimidating roster of skills.

Portman's directorial debut, "Eve" will open Venice film festival's short film section, Corto Cortissimo tomorrow afternoon.

The 17-minute comedy starring Lauren Bacall and Ben Gazzara will screen in an out of competition slot.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008
Yakuza in the Favela: 'Plastic City' by Yu Lik-wai
VENICE, Italy -- I had a cinema rock 'n' roll moment last night at a screening that ended after midnight.

We were waiting to watch "Dangkou (Plastic City)," Hong Kong director Yu Lik-wai's (right) Asian gangster movie set in Brazil in the PalaBiennale cinema, which has the shape and dimensions of an aeroplane hangar and the biggest screen I think I've ever sat in front of.

The cinema was packed. There were probably 500 people there and the place was crackling. The crowd wolf whistled and cheered as if we were at a music gig waiting for a band to come on: Not what you expect watching an art house film late on a Friday night. It was a perfect collective experience -- one that reminds you what going to the cinema is all about.

Yu's film, which is in competition, is set against the backdrop of Brazil's huge Asian community (Brazil has the biggest Japanese population outside Japan) in a place called Liberdade, São Paulo -- the community's epicentre.

With dialogue in Portuguese as well as Cantonese and featuring Japanese star Joe Odagiri as well as "City of God" actor Phellipe Haagensen, the film reflects the global melting pot culture that Liberdade represents -- something that Yu is fascinated by.

Although he has previously directed two features "Love will Tear us Apart" and "All Tomorrow's Parties" (both of which showed at Cannes Film Festival), Yu is renowned as a cinematographer. He has worked with Wong Kar Wai and was Director of Photography on Jia Zhanke's "Sanxia haoren" (Still Life) which won the Golden Lion here in 2006.

I was really excited to see this film and Yu's cinematography is exquisite, especially the aerial shots of São Paulo and his panoramas of miles and miles of favelas. I have also been reliably informed by some Brazilian colleagues that he very precisely captures the Liberdade dialect, which the director says he spent a long time in the city researching to get right.

But when the film ended, I was left feeling really muddled by the plot and ultimately quite disappointed. Whatever message Yu was trying to get across was lost on me. What a contrast from the high hopes I had going in.

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Friday, August 29, 2008
Sprucing up the red carpet for 'The Burning Plain'
VENICE, Italy -- I was walking past the red carpet yesterday and spotted a little bit of sprucing up being done in preparation for the hotly anticipated premiere of "The Burning Plain."

They were getting ready for the film's star Charlize Theron (one of the few big names present at what people are saying is a very low key festival) and director Guillermo Arriaga to walk down it a few hours later.

Post-premiere night glitz, the general Venice consensus on "The Burning Plain" is that while Arriaga may be a talented scriptwriter (penning "Amores Perros," "Babel" and "21 Grams" among others) his directorial debut resorts to some pretty soap opera-ish tactics and if his now trademark deconstructed plot wasn't so cleverly deployed, the film's melodrama would be more obvious.

That said, Charlize Theron and 17 year-old Jennifer Lawrence put in great performances that have tongues wagging about possible "Best Actress" or "Best Supporting Actress" Oscar nominations for them.


Wim Wenders' top 5 movies
VENICE, Italy -- This morning I met with past Golden Lion and Palme D'Or winner and president of the jury at this year's Venice Film Festival, Wim Wenders. I asked him what his favourite films are. Wenders said: "Ok, I'm not going to go with the obvious ones. I don't want to disappoint you." Here's what he chose:

1. Only Angels Have Wings
(Howard Hawkes, 1939)

2. Salt of the Earth
(Herbert J Biberman, 1959)

3. Le Petit Soldat
(Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)

4. La Notte
(Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961)

5. Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället)
(Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

And Wenders looked so aghast when he realised he had already used up his five choices that I let him have a sixth:

6. The Wolf Child (L'enfant sauvage)
(François Truffaut, 1970)

Do you agree with Wenders' choices? Let us know in the comments box below.

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Who owns this mystery yacht?
VENICE, Italy -- Yesterday, I experienced one of those strange moments when life imitates art.

There is the most huge, glamorous yacht moored next to the waterfront outside my hotel near St Mark’s Square in Venice. This thing must be about 50 meters long. It’s all mahogany panelling, white-clad deckhands and, of course, the ubiquitous sunglasses-wearing security men loitering outside.

Each morning as I wander down the waterfront to catch the vaporetto (water bus) across the lagoon to the Lido where the festival is running, I wonder who on earth owns this floating behemoth.

Yesterday, completely by accident, I solved the mystery.

I was in the festival’s cavernous Sala Grande cinema watching a documentary when the very boat –- moored in exactly the same position –- popped up on the screen!

I now know the boat belongs to tan-fastic Italian couturier Valentino Garavani who is in town for the premiere of “Valentino: The Last Emperor.” I am now also fully au fait with the interior of his floating palace.

The film is great, too. I went in expecting 90 minutes of fashion fluff, but ex-journalist Matt Tyrnauer ended up chronicling Valentino's last days at the head of the fashion house he created more than 40 years ago.

The ex-Vanity Fair special correspondent managed to gain complete access to Valentino and his associate of 47 years, Giancarlo Giammetti. “They were extraordinarily brave to let cameras live with them for two years. I think that was admirable,” says the director.

The crowd gave Valentino a standing ovation at the end of the screening:

Valentino says: "I wanted to show myself as I am because I couldn't care less about the camera." And there are some hilarious moments -- one of his five pugs having his teeth brushed by the butler; an unplanned moment where the maestro throws a hissy fit because he's not getting enough attention: "I want everyone on their knees in front of me!"

But the film is also moving. Tyrnauer can't have known it would end like this, but he ended up shooting 250 hours of footage during the time of a hostile takeover that led to the 75-year-old maestro being replaced as head of Valentino by 35-year-old ex-Gucci designer Alessandra Fachinetti.

Ultimately, the film is an extraordinary portrait of Valentino and Giametti's relationship. It's not made explicit whether the couple's bond extends beyond the boardroom, but when Valentino accepts the Legion d'Honneur it is Giametti to whom he offers an emotional special thanks.

As I walked to my hotel last night, Valentino was partying the night away at his opening night bash with the likes of Eva Herzigova. I looked up at the windows of the boat feeling like I knew the distant man a little more intimately.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008
The case of the stolen ladder
VENICE, Italy -- You wouldn't imagine a ladder would be that high on a cameraman's list of red carpet essentials. But in fact, that's exactly what they use to get themselves head and shoulders above the opposition to bag the perfect shot.

And this is where our tale of woe begins. Having hauled almost 20 pieces of luggage (TV crews do not travel light) from London to Venice without losing a thing, the team hits the Lido on the first night for the "Burn After Reading" red carpet event. It's 30 degrees, Todd our cameraman is broiling in the compulsory tuxedo but the shots are bagged and we go home happy.

Next morning Todd wakes up in a sweat: he's left his ladder propped up against a wall in the festival grounds and there's a star-studded premiere for "Valentino: The Last Emperor" later that evening. We've got to get the ladder.

The ladder isn't where Todd left it and it is up to producer Lidz-Ama to sort things out. At the main press office she asks:"Do you have a Lost and Found?" "Why? Are you lost?" replies the woman. "Where do you want to go?" she continues helpfully. "No, no my cameraman has lost his ladder" says Lidz-Ama who is then directed to the Baggage Drop-off Point.

"My cameraman has lost his ladder," Lidz-Ama explains when she arrives. This causes a bit of a ruckus. The manager is called over: "Luca, we've lost this woman's ladder." Lidz-Ama begins to try to explain -- again.

"No, no we havn't lost her ladder. Her cameraman has lost the ladder it was never checked in," pipes up another man.

"This is a matter for the police" says Luca and takes Lidz outside and starts hollering for a policeman in the street. They finally find a policewoman who can speak English: "Madam, I speak English I understand someone has stolen your camera."

By this point Lidz-Ama is thinking, "Who cares. It's just a ladder," but it's too late. The ladder has now been registered with the police and Biennale security and if they find whoever (possibly quite innocently) took it away they will be arrested on the spot for stealing essential CNN equipment.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Brad Pitt and George Clooney: dangerous to be around
VENICE, Italy -- My big toe is throbbing. In fact, both my big toes are throbbing. One is my own fault: I dropped my camera on it as I jostled in a scrum of people to see if it really was Brad Pitt in the blacked-out car with "Mostra" printed on the side.

But the other one I take no responsibility for. I'm blaming a thoughtless cameraman for that one. He backed onto my toe trying to get footage of the car that might have had George Clooney in it. I yelped. He ran off after the the car without a backward glance.

That's not all, either. I was also elbowed in the head by an overzealous amateur photographer. She was trying to get the best shot of him through the crowd; something tells me her photos aren't going to give the ranks of the world's press too much to worry about: "Oh my God! I saw the top of his head! I saw the top of Brad Pitt's head!"

What the photographers see:

What the crowd sees:

All this happened as I wandered among the crowds outside the premiere of the Coen Brothers' new movie, "Burn after Reading," the opening film of the 65th Venice Film Festival.

In fact, just moments earlier I had been thinking to myself how cool and laid back the Italian crowds are. Sure, there were police and the ubiquitous shades-and-black-suit-wearing security men, but the premiere guests (some of whom are quite famous in Italy, for example, "81/2" actress, Claudia Cardinale) walked casually through the crowds to get to the red carpet and everyone was behaving impeccably.

But then the real stars of the show turned up. I suppose the incredible hysteria is a testament to their celebrity. The screaming got louder and louder and gaggles of young girls were running and pushing to keep up with Brad and George as they worked the crowds, signing autographs and indulging in badinage with the crowd. "BRA-AD, BRA-AD" started the chanting. (Poor George.)

Co-stars Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand were there, as was renowned German director and head of the jury, Wim Wenders -- but the crowd were not there to see them.

A couple of mature ladies jumping up and down, shouting "Bello! Bello!" (which I'm guessing means handsome) at Brad and George who were definitely young enough to be their sons. Another woman was saying: "My hands are slippery, I'm so nervous, " as the boys in black worked their way steadily towards her.

I haven't yet seen the film (that's later today) but even if the critics don't like it, I can vouch for the fact that there are at least a couple of thousand women who are definitely going to watch it -- if only for another chance to gaze at Brad and George.

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The Screening Room brings you the inside track on all aspects of the movie business around the globe. Find out what presenter Myleene Klass has been up to, and send us your comments and suggestions for our Top 10 movie list of the month.
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