Sidebar focuses on Balkan states

MOSCOW — The world’s longest running showcase devoted to film from Eastern Europe opens in Cottbus, Germany Nov. 6 with a competition slate of 10 features and a special focus on film from post-Yugoslav countries.

The 17th edition of the Cottbus Film Festival held in an old Prussian town between Berlin and Dresden in what used to be East Germany, includes eight premieres in its lineup and an out of competition screening for this year’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner Cristian Mungiu’s ”4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.”

The Romanian director’s heart-rending take on an unwanted pregnancy in Romania, set just before the fall of that country’s Communist regime in 1989, is one of 80 films from 25 countries that explore everyday life and visions from East Europe, festival director Roland Rust said Wednesday.

Rust, has who been involved with the festival since 1992, said it was founded in 1991 — two years before German reunification — as a way of preserving rapidly disappearing cultural links after regimes of Communist East Europe had collapsed.

Cottbus had been among the first international festivals to screen Mungiu’s early films in its competition program, Rust added.

The special focus on the former-Yugoslav territories is represented in the main competition by two pics.

“The Living and The Dead” is a co-production between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina — two countries that were at war little more than 10 years ago. Directed by Croat Kristijan Milic, the film is a parable for the insanity of war told through the stories of two conflicts — World War II and the Balkans wars of the 1990s. Pic was in competition at August’s Sarajevo Film Festival.

Serbian director Aleksander Rajkovic gives an entirely contemporary treatment to Shakespeare in his film “Hamlet.” Set at a barracks beside a Belgrade garbage dump, warring gangs of ethnic minority Roma people battle for supremacy.

Other films in competition are: “The Banishment” (Russia, dir: Andrei Zvyagintsev), which plays in its German premiere; fellow Russian helmer Vera Storozheva’s drama of family love and hatred, guilt and atonement, “Traveling with Pets”; Krygyz bride kidnap caper “Pure Coolness” (dir: Ernest Abdyschaparov); Polish director Andrej Jakimowski’s thoughtful family comedy “Tricks” — named Poland’s best film this year; Georgia’s “The Russian Triangle” — a fascinating take on the war in Chechnya that stars Russian blockbuster “Nightwatch” lead Konstantin Khabensky; thriller “Investigation” by Bulgaria’s Iglika Trifonova; psychological drama “Rules of Lies” (dir: Robert Sedlacek, Czech Republic); and Hungarian director Janos Szasz’s intense arthouse film “Opium — A Madwoman’s Diary.”

German thesp Henriette Mueller, Slovenian producer Dunja Klemenc, Serge Sobczynski from the Cannes Film Festival, Oleg Novkovic — the Serbian director who won Cottbus’ main award in 2006, and Hans Hodel, president of Swiss-based church film organization Interfilm, make up the competition jury.

In the short film competition productions from seven countries, including Russian director Leonic Rybakov’s dark documentary “Stone People” — which picked up an award in Venice this year — and Polish director Wojciech Kaspersky’s commentary on soccer hooliganism “Refuge City” are among the lineup.

In the special focus on film from the ex-Yugoslav countries, a broad retrospective of films made in the region in the past decade — including some 20 feature films — will also be screened.

With a prize purse up Euros 8,000 ($11,400) on last year, bringing it to its highest ever level — $91,000, the festival runs until Nov. 10.

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