I have just returned from Wroclaw, Poland where U.S. in Progress, the American Film Festival’s works-in-progress event just wrapped. Held October 22-25, 2014, during the 5th American Film Festival (October 21-26), this was the best selection of filmmakers and films I have seen here to date, and I have been attending this event and its sister event in Paris every year since its inception (except for last October which I missed).
Earnest, attentive and professionally engaged, seeking answers about the best ways to complete the films in order to appeal strategically to festivals and international sales agents, the filmmakers discussed how best to further the success of their present and future films as well as their careers as international filmmakers. These six teams of filmmakers undoubtedly benefited enormously from the Polish and
European film professionals who shared their knowledge as everyone watched the six chosen films, networking, sharing meals and drinking and who knows what till all hours in three fully packed days and nights.
Debuting filmmakers from the United States. in the only event of its
kind in Europe (except for its sister event held in July at the Champs Elysees Film Festival in Paris) were invited (all expenses paid) to this great European city where the only multiplex for arthouse cinema of its kind is flourishing.
Roman Gutek, founder of this festival and the larger summertime Mobile New Horizons Film Festival, owner of Gutek Distribution, an entrepreneur who loves creating new events and projects, took over the giant theater in the middle of this middle-European, formerly Prussian city a few years ago and has introduced more than cinema to a well-educated (top univerisity here is one of the oldest in Europe) young populace. Other successful events include opera, ballet and monthly film events for 35,000 school children. He is now preparing the cinema component for the upcoming celebration of Wroclaw as the European Capital of Culture 2016.
One of his sons is working with the American Film Festival with its artistic director Ula Śniegowska. The other son is a chef and quite active in the gastronomic success of the city. Polish food is what our grandmothers used to make; one of the finest if not the finest cuisine in Central and Eastern Europe. This year pumpkin held center stage, with delicious dumplings and soups. Coincidentally, that other great culinary and cinema city, San Sebastian, also the inventor of the cinema “works-in-progress” industry model, has instituted a gastronomic exchange through the Polish-Basque Cultural Association Arrano Zuria. The project is promoted by the Donostia San Sebastian 2016 Foundation in charge of the European Capital of Culture 2016 in which chefs from both countries exchange and share recipes of both countries for public feasts.
But I digress…the 2014 U.S. in Progress, Wrocław participants:
Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck and Robert Machoian of “God Bless the Child” were articulate and full of anecdotes about how their book-ended story featured Robert’s own five children in their own home. The first book-end shows the car being driven away by the mother early in the morning thus leaving the 13 year old daughter in charge of four brothers aged 18 months to seven or eight years. The closing book-end is for you, the viewer, to see as it caps off an almost perfect film. Between book-ends, this family, held together by the sweet and loving older sister, spends an almost real-life day together. Genre-defying, docu-like, so loving and so sad, this is not an easy-to-sell film for sales agents because it fits no preset marketing formula. However, I would venture to guess that IF an audience were lucky enough to see it, word would spread about how lovingly effective and how unique it is. Rodrigo and Robert have more films in mind as well which are of the type that you want them to succeed in making. The jury unanimously awarded prizes for the completion to this worthy film. It is not “like” it, but still it put me in mind of Whit Stillman’s “Boyhood” because the players are real people basically playing themselves.
“Take Me to the River” the debut feature of Matt Sobel was extraordinarily accomplished for a first-timer. A story about middle-America, a brother and sister find themselves at odds at their large family reunion at the family farm, when their two children are involved in an incident. The “big-city” (not) teenaged boy, the only child of the sister and her city-bred husband, finds his integrity tested in the events that follow. When the professional audience watching this film pointed out similarities to Thomas Vinterberg, Matt was aware and pointed out that his editor, Jacob Secher Schulsinger, was Danish and edited “Nymphomaniac” 1 and 2 as well as this year’s Swedish Academy contender, “Force Majeure“. On a personal note, we have known Matt for the six years it has taken to complete this film and have watched him as he attended Binger Institute as a post-grad whose college education did not include filmmaking, as he grew personally and professionally. We feel very proud of him and this film which we hope will make it to the top festivals and will be picked up by a top international sales agent to sell to top distributors. Its authenticity is a result of conscious decisions made in the creation of the drama by Matt. A strong and unique film.
“The Homefront” co-directed by Tyler Walker & Fidel Ruiz Healy is another totally unique, stand-alone feature, though it might be put into a genre category of post-apocalyptic, family drama. Only the apocalypse has not yet happened. War is still at a distance while this self-survivalist family of parents and their son and daughter wait it out in their large family house somewhere in Texas. The team of Tyler and Fidel started this when they were 19 years old. Today they are 23 and have more stories in them. It could actually be remade on a grander scale and would attract an audience, given some marketing dollars to get it into play. This is an unexpected story, acclaimed by the jury and awarded post-production prizes including sound and soundtrack composition. Additional links:
“Nakom” co-directed by Travis Pittman & Kelly Daniela Norris
is another of the several co-directed films here attesting to a new generation of filmmakers who work in teams. This team-building is not just in U.S.; I have also seen it in Latin America and the Caribbean that young filmmakers meet in film school or at festivals and go on to create working teams which I think will continue to make films together. In this case Travis and Kelly met in film school and this is their second film together. The first, “Ombras de Azul” is just beginning to make the rounds. They shot it in Cuba. This one they shot in Ghana, in a village in the African plains where Travis spent two years in Peace Corps. It is enacted in the native language with a professionalism that belies the filmmakers’ youth. It put me in mind of Tommy Oliver‘s “Kinyarwanda” which played in Sundance 2011 and whose second film “1982” was also in U.S. in Progress a year or two ago. Tommy has since made three more films.
“Flycatcher” changed its name to “Pangea” as a result of “Foxcatcher”. Director Malcolm Murray wrote this with his wife, Liz Tran. HIs previous film, “Bad Posture“, completed in 2011, has been written about in New York Times, Village Voice, Filmmaker Magazine, Indiewire, Filmmaker Magazine, Local IQ, Hammer To Nail: Top Ten Films of 2011. It showed at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and he was named in Ten To Watch: Best of IFFR.
“Stinking Heaven“, directed by Nathan Silver, reminded me to Lars von Trier’s “The Idiots”. It stars up-and-coming Keith Poulson who just played in “Listen Up Philip” and is to be seen in several other pictures.
The 2013 U.S. in Progress partners (who also
provided the prizes – post-production service packages) include Platige
Factory, Alvernia and Soundflower Studio.
This year, Chimney has joined the ranks, while prizes are also being
Producer’s Network at Cannes and Ale Kino+
(TV rights acquisition offer).
In 2013, top prizes went to the producers of the film “Sun Belt Express” (dir. Evan Wolf Buxbaum) and “Lake Los Angeles” (dir. Mike Ott). Both films had their world premieres in the U.S. and screened this year in
competition as part of the Spectrum section at the American Film Festival.
The best films from the last Paris (during
the Champs-Elysees Film Festival) and Wrocław editions constitute the
core of AFF
repertoire and, after their world premieres, will compete in the
Festival’s Spectrum section. These include Onur Turkel’s “Summer of Blood,” Leah Meyerhoff’s “I Believe in Unicorns” as well as “Sun Belt Express” and “Lake Los Angeles.”
Importantly, reps of the top European
distributors and sales agents can see unfinished projects and offer
feedback and deals at the
early stages of production (before
screenings at Sundance or Berlinale) enabling the films to break through
to the European market.
The 2014 U.S. in Progress formula is expanded
to include a location scouting tour in Lower Silesia (in partnership
with the Wrocław
Film Commission), as well as a presentation
of Polish projects looking for American co-producers. Polish filmmakers
increasingly seeking North American partners
and are interested in learning more about new and alternative ways to
finance films outside the mainstream system.
For more information about US in Progress visit HERE