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Seville festival favors comic fare

'Back Soon' wins top prize at European event

MADRID — Confirming a new direction for the Seville European Film Festival, Solveig Anspach’s memorably kooky comedy “Back Soon” took the Andalusian fest’s top Golden Giraldillo.

The prize, awarded by a jury presided over by Danish producer Vibeke Windelov, synchs with new fest director Javier Martin Dominguez’s crusade to broaden Seville’s range beyond Euro films that play well with an arthouse elite.

The new thrust went down well with the jury. “For once I’ve been able to laugh at a festival,” Windelov commented at the prize announcements Saturday. “Normally, films have to be tragic and quite often very boring to get into a festival,” she added, maybe only half in jest.

Seville’s plunge into quality Euro films with commercial potential also gelled with the Sevillian public. Dany Boon’s Gallic blockbuster “Welcome to the Sticks” took the audience award.

Another laugh-out-loud competish player, Leander Haussmann’s German romantic comedy, “Robert Zimmermann Is Tangled Up in Love,” was thought a hoot by Sevillian auds.

North of 80 fest films sold out their screenings. Average theater occupancy was 80%-90%.

Elsewhere, Seville’s juries spread prizes across the gamut of Euro film-making.

Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorra,” an early fest standout, collected the special jury prize. Paolo Sorrentino’s “Il Divo,” Italy’s other standard-bearer of a hoped-for national cinema renaissance, won the Eurimages prize. The Silver Giraldillo went to a film that needs more support: Mijke de Jong’s slight but paining “Katia’s Sister,” about a young girl in desperate need of family love.

In a strong EuroDoc section, Antoine Cattin and Pavel Kostomarov’s “The Mother” was most probably the best received of titles, going on to take the sidebar’s Golden Giraldillo.

Section, where Marc Evans’ “In Prison My Whole Life” also went over very well, also saw two preems: the handsomely lensed “Lads and Jockeys,” from France’s Benjamin Marquet, and Cristina Karrer and Werner Schweizer’s “Hidden Heart: The Story of Christian Barnard and Hamilton Naki,” about how apartheid skewed coverage of Barnard’s first heart transplant operation.

Seville’s 5th edition also pointed to fest’s second-phase growth. Much turns on its building role as a venue for Euro institutions.

The recently created European Union Film Commissions Network, formed by 64 commissions from 21 countries, held a board meeting at the fest.

The Network will prime members’ collaboration on Euro co-productions.

“For most of us, European producers are now our biggest clients, while Hollywood films keep cutting down on local expenses,” said the org’s general secretary, Patrick Lamassoure, managing director of Film France.

The board of directors of the Spain Film Commission agreed in Seville to support the launch of the Seville Intl. Locations Expo, whose first edition rolls Nov. 6-10, 2009, parallel to the Seville fest.

The European Film Think Tank — whose members include Europe’s leading national film agencies — held a two-day core group pow-wow, focusing on new media distribution strategies. Key conclusions will be published by year-end.

Seville itself is building in industry heft.

Alejandro Bana, a former Lolafilms and UIP Latin America exec, has just bowed ops at European Dreams Factory, a new Seville-based company, which he heads. The production-distribution house debuted in Spain releasing Alejandro Gomez Monteverde’s U.S. indie drama “Bella,” winner of People’s Choice Award at Toronto.

“Bella” raised a strong first 10 day E682,000 ($866,000) in Spain.

At the Seville fest, Andalusian production house Jaleo Films showed footage of Eva Dahr’s European co-production “The Orange Girl,” now in post, sold internationally by Germany’s Beta Cinema.

Jaleo exec Alvaro Alonso said it’s also attached Lucy Shuttleworth, former head of development at U.K.’s Spice Factory (“The Merchant of Venice”), as the writer of the bigscreen adaptation of “Driving Over Lemons,” the bestselling Andalusian-set autobiography by former Genesis drummer Chris Stewart.

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