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‘Sweet Mud’ wins at Motovun

'Mosquito' named best local pic

MOTOVUN, Croatia — The ninth edition of the Motovun Film Festival wrapped late Friday night, following a five-day movie marathon comprising some 80 features and shorts.

Unspooling on a remote Istrian mountaintop to capacity crowds, this high-energy summer film summit has become a favorite meeting place for regional helmers, students and artists.

An international jury headed by Hungarian helmer Istvan Szabo awarded Israeli director Dror Shaul’s conflicted portrait of kibbutz life “Sweet Mud” the main prize. A separate jury gave the best regional pic gong to Bulgarian Andrey Paounov’s witty and ironic doc “The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories.”

Chadian helmer Mahamet-Saleh Haroun nabbed the Amnesty International award with “Dry Season,” while Fipresci critics selected David Mackenzie’s Scottish coming-of-ager “Hallam Foe.” Croatian youth pic “Sing Love Songs” by Goran Kulenovic was voted most popular feature by the audience. It captured the same prize at the fest in Pula the week before.

The fest drew a total audience of 35,000 to the picturesque medieval village that’s home to some 600 locals, a ubiquitous population of feral cats, and some highly prized truffle dogs, who spend most of the year in pens.

Screenings take place in two open-air venues at night and two small halls during the day.

Only one permanent cinema exists in Motovun, refurbished in 1999 by the festival organization. All other equipment — from 35mm and video projectors to generator units, loudspeakers and multiple computers — is literally hauled up the mountain each year by the sturdy staff and volunteers. If this brings to mind the image of Indians dragging a boat in “Fitzcarraldo,” you’d be on the right track.

The Motovun audience is mostly young and of necessity hardy. With the burg’s sole hotel serving as the fest’s HQ, most visitors find their accommodation a steep climb away from the silver screens. After dark the village square resembles a rave, so filled with people that it’s nearly impossible to move across the uneven cobblestones. The last screening is followed by loud music lasting until dawn.

Founded to showcase independent productions in an open-minded atmosphere, the Motovun program included a few titles that will turn up at the Toronto International Film Festival later this fall. However, for the most part, the canny main selection was of slightly older titles already familiar on the fest circuit, but which would not otherwise be seen in these parts.

Among the sidebar highlights was a screening of Teinosuke Kinugasa’s silent classic “A Page of Madness” with live piano accompaniment and benshi narration, shown as precursor of the recent Japanese horror phenom.

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