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ArtFilm leaves room for native fare

Fest spotlights local pics amid global lineup

In keeping with the makeover of the Slovak film biz, the country’s long-running sprocket opera is reinventing itself as well, making room to spotlight the local industry in the process.

The ArtFilm Fest, now in its 17th edition, was founded in 1993 (as the Artfilm Intl. Film Festival) in the idyllic old spa town of Trencianske Teplice before its growing size and popularity prompted more venues to be added in nearby Trencin.

With competition programs of 15 features and 45 shorts consisting of first, second or third films, the festival always includes prizewinners from Venice, Berlin and Locarno, giving local audiences a taste of international glamour.

The pics competing this year for a E15,000 ($19,920) top prize include Mexican director Enrique Rivero’s “Parque via”; “Wendy and Lucy” (the U.S.’ Kelly Reichardt); “Buick Riveria” (Goran Rusinovic, Serbia); and Berlinale Silver Bear (for best sound) winner “Katalin Varga” (Romania/U.K./ Hungary), the debut from British helmer Peter Strickland.

New to the lineup is a separate focus on Slovak film — with six world premieres among the eight features and five docs — which reflects the return to international attention of this small nation’s cinema, while the number and range of the festival’s eclectic mix of sidebars has been doubled.

“With strong competition from up to 200 international releases each year in Slovak cinemas, it is hard to see local films in Slovakia,” explains program director Peter Nagel. “We do not have a national festival, so we decided to select and show the most appealing Slovak films finished in the first half of 2009.”

Films such as Vladimir Balko’s “Soul at Peace” (which also screens this summer in the main competition at July’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival across the border in the Czech Republic) and Peter Kerekes’ documentary of military chefs, “Cooking History,” which takes Napoleon’s apocryphal maxim that “an army marches on its stomach” at face value, are among recent Slovak movies that Nagel, who used to run the Bratislava Film Festival, deems must-see releases.

Slovak premieres include Ivan Vojnar’s “My Husband’s Women,” about the fates of characters connected to a celebrity couple, and Jaro Vojtek’s “The Border,” a documentary on the Slovak village Vel’ke Slemence, split down the middle between Ukraine and Slovakia since the end of WWII.

Sidebars include European Corner, which features the work of arthouse directors such as Lukas Moodysson, Alexey Balabanov and Francois Ozon; All Around the World, which takes a look at American and Asian cinema and this year includes the Mickey Rourke comeback vehicle “The Wrestler”; and Late Night Show, which includes Cory McAbee’s dark sci-fi musical “The American Astronaut” and cult favorite “JCVD,” which shows action star Jean-Claude Van Damme in a new light.

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