After several years of planning, Madrid will finally serve up its newest entrée in the city’s tapas bar of international cultural events with the first edition of Filma Madrid, otherwise known as the Madrid International Film Festival, from March 28 through April 5.
You may be one of those cineastes who feels the world hardly needs another film festival; there’s already more than 500 worldwide, catering to every manner of major and not-so-major features, shorts and videos. (Filma Madrid itself falls right between two of the granddaddies, Berlin and Cannes.) But this promising upstart appears to have the all private sponsorship and public visibility – including the attendance of Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and Spanish star Angela Molina – to make it a tasty annual item on Europe’s festival menu.
Maria de Kannon Cle’, the festival’s energetic director and an actress and soon-to-be-feature director, calls the festival “small but very ambitious.” Small in that only about 10 films make the main competition list, ambitious because the focus is strictly on “film as art” and not on “Hollywood crowd-pleasers.”
“The artist has to be protected somehow,” she told me over lunch during last February’s Berlin film festival. “We’re like little birds. So I want the festival to follow my philosophy, which is to protect the artist himself.”
Some birds, of course, are less little than others, such as Mr. Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter, Melinda and Melinda, The Black Dahlia), who will receive the festival’s International Honorary Award, and director Roger Spotiswoode, whose drama set during the Rwandan massacres, Shake Hands with the Devil, is in the main competition. Taking home the festival’s National Honorary Award will be Julio Sempere, who besides being a well-known production manager in Spain has assistant directed any number of big pictures, including Charlton Heston’s Anthony and Cleopatra in the early ‘70s. So even in this heady little festival, Hollywood pedigree counts for something.
De Kannon Cle’ along with actress Angela Molina chair the non-profit foundation CIM & ART, which has been organizing the festival since 2005 and counts the city of Madrid and a number of foreign embassies among its supporters. Their mission? Promoting Madrid as a leading cultural center of Europe and to as “cinema as culture in its purest form…leaving to one side the party atmosphere…”
In other words, doff those after-screening dancing shoes and don a seriously focused attitude towards ars gratia artis.
“I don’t think we’re going to be the kind of festival that is going to compete with the others,” says De Kannon Cle’ . “I guess we are looking for our own place.”
There’ll be awards for best film, actor, actress, director and screenplay in the official section, as well special prizes voted on by critics, the audience and the competition jury. A concurrent competition features about five independent films, and the Opera Prima section recognizes the work of up and coming directors, with the jury awarding financial support to noteworthy screenwriters.
Films cited for outstanding achievements in artistic direction, music, costume and photography will be screened out of competition.
A disclosure here: yours truly has been tapped to be on the international competition jury, and they’re paying my bills to attend, so don’t expect to read here about my opinions of the films themselves. (Still, my reporter’s cap will remain snugly in place.) Joining me will be jury president and Spanish film director Antonio Hernandez; Hungarian filmmaker and screenwriter Livia Gyarmathy; Spanish film editor Jose Maria Biurrun: and Italy’s Elisabetta Brunella, Secretary General of MEDIA Salles, the EU program that promotes European films worldwide.
Also in the official line-up is the U.S. entry Trumbo, Peter Askin’s portrait of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo told through performances of some of his personal letters, clips from his films and various interviews. The all-star cast includes Joan Allen, Brian Dennehy, Michael Douglas, Paul Giamatti, Nathan Lane, Josh Lucas, Liam Neeson and David Strathairn.
From Japan comes Zo-No Senaka by Satoshi Isaka, about a successful Japanese career man who learns he has lung cancer and leaves his work to search for happiness “in the now” with his wife and children.
Pakistan is represented by Shoaib Mansoor’s Khuda Kay Liye (In the Name of God), set in the cultural, social and political crosscurrents battering Pakistanis, and particularly Muslims, since 9/11. Mexico offers up Juan Pablo Villaseñor’s drama Esperame en otro mundo, and India weighs in with its real-life story of a tiny but determined Anglo Indian community in Bow Barracks Forever by Anjan Dutt.
After the festival, De Kannon Cle’ plans to continue prepping her first feature as a director. It’s a small ($3 million) English-language romantic drama called My Sweet Stranger, “about people who cross paths in Madrid every day and who want happiness but feel loneliness.” Starring will be her Foundation co-chair Molina along with the Hungarian actor Erin Navy, Nick Nolte, and De Kannon Cle’ herself. Working behind the camera will be festival awardee Vilmos Zsigmond.