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European Films Win Big at Palm Springs

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The Palm Springs International Film Festival, which just ended its run last Sunday, has the distinction of being the first festival event of the New Year. The Festival, now in its 19th year, prides itself on its international scope and its diverse programming strands. The Festival screens nearly all of the international films up for Academy Award consideration in the Best Foreign Language race, along with choice indie gems and some heavy hitter studio projects. In many ways, it is the kinder, gentler Sundance.....much less of an industry or media frenzy but a place where film professionals and buffs can take stock of the best of the past year's productions, as well as films that will matter in 2008.

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The Festival began its almost two week run on January 3rd, screening over 200 films from 66 countries, including 65 premieres and 55 of the 63 foreign entries for this year’s Academy Awards. In its 19th edition, the Festival broke audience attendance records, hosting many international film creatives and presenting a star-studded Gala that included appearances by Daniel Day-Lewis, Sean Penn and Halle Berry. The Festival's veteran director, Darryl MacDonald, is already making plans for next year's 20th anniversary edition, which should be a major event.

European films were among the big winners at Sunday’s Awards Luncheon. A special jury of international film critics reviewed the official Best Foreign Language submissions to the Academy Awards screened at this year’s Festival to award the FIPRESCI Award for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. This year the jury selected Armin [+lire aussi :
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, the submission from Croatia, directed by Ognjen Svilicic. The film is an intimate, poignant drama about a small-town father and son trying to maintain their dignity in the big city and in the face of unexpected opportunities. The jury selected the film for its sensitive portrayal of a father-son relationship and the subtle intimations of unseen horrors, brilliantly evoked in a serio-comic manner.

The FIPRESCI Award Best Actress was shared by Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu for their powerful erformances in the Romanian drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [+lire aussi :
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interview : Cristian Mungiu
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, directed by Cristian Mungiu. The film, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and is scheduled to open next week in American theaters via specialty distributor IFC Films, is certain to be one of the most talked about films of the new year.

The New Voices/New Visions category features films from ten new international directors whose first or second films have been selected by the Festival’s programming team to represent the best work of previously unheralded talents. The Jury selected the German film Jagdhunde (Hounds) [+lire aussi :
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(Germany), directed and co-written by Ann-Kristin Reyels. According to the jury statement, "the film cleverly and comically presents a small-town microcosm of global issues - the acceptance of disabilities without condescension, the respect for other species, and the importance of love and communication within families (however unconventional their composition).

Belgian director Nic Balthazar received the Heineken Red Star Award for Ben X [+lire aussi :
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interview : Nic Balthazar
interview : Peter Bouckaert
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, which shared the Grand Prix des Ameriques prize at this year's Montreal World Film Festival. The Award was created to provide increased exposure and visibility for the movies screened at these film festivals, while recognizing and rewarding innovative and original works of film. The winner receives a full-page profile in Variety magazine, featured on a segment on the Independent Film Channel, and is invited to participate in an industry networking event in Los Angeles this December - all in an effort to provide much-needed recognition and exposure for talented filmmakers to assist in getting their works to screen.

The 20th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival is scheduled from January 8-19, 2009.

By Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

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