Berlin Daily Spotlight: Central & Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe’s showing in Berlin highlights both the region’s diversity and its resourcefulness, say bizzers, with scant evidence of Europe’s economic crisis in sight — at least if the quality of output is any indication.

It may be that filmmakers from the former Eastern Bloc and Greece are simply well-versed in burnishing their images during times of adversity. But, as Berlinale Eastern Europe delegate Nikolaj Nikitin puts it, “There has been really very positive development in many countries — they’re more and more stable.”

And just as important, he says, “Most of the films are co-productions with either Western or neighbor countries.”

Cash-strapped nations in Eastern Europe are pooling resources more than ever, Nikitin observes, but also looking further abroad.

Western producers are also increasingly headed east, he notes, citing Angelina Jolie’s out-of-competish Berlinale preem of “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” partly shot in the Balkans.

Western producers have also taken note of Ralph Fiennes’ critically lauded “Coriolanus,” which relied heavily on Balkan sets, and John Cusack’s Edgar Allen Poe tribute “The Raven,” shot in the former Yugoslavia.

“Before, everyone went to the Czech Republic and Hungary,” says Nikitin. “Now they go more and more to the less discovered countries.”

As for local output, he observes, “Professionalism is growing. We should always keep in mind that after 1989 the level was very low,” Nikitin says, referring to the revolutions of that year that saw the fall of communism in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania. “Local productions are becoming state-of-the-art in terms of technology,” he says.

Hungary, for example, may be cash-strapped and facing EU penalties for government limits on the power of the courts and the central bank, but its film biz is looking brighter than it has for some time.

Aside from the presence of Bence Fliegauf’s Hungarian-German-French “Csak a szel” (Just the Wind) in competition in Berlin, Hungary’s new film fund is backing three other pics with a combined handout of $1.2 million: Hungarian-Danish co-production “Liza, the Fox Fairy” from Karoly Ujj Meszaros; Janos Szasz’s WWII story “The Notebook” and Czech and German co-funded mockumentary “Zero,” from Gyula Nemes.

Nikitin calls Fliegauf “very strong in his directing skills but also up to date on the situation in Hungary.” He notes that most emerging helmers from the region have shied away from portraying contempo politics or social issues in their work up to now — something the new generation seems more comfortable taking on.

Hungarian helmer Bela Tarr isn’t sitting idle during the crisis. His omnibus pic, “Magyarorszag 2011″ (Hungary 2011), showcases the work of 11 of his countrymen and women, including Fliegauf, Miklos Jancso, Agnes Kocsis and Marta Meszaros and is a special in Berlinale Shorts.

The collection doesn’t hold back on “the radical political and social developments” in Hungary, according to Berlin organizers.

Thesp talent is also on the rise, with two Eastern European actors dubbed Shooting Stars by the European Film Promotion org: Poland’s Jakub Gierszal, seen lately in Jan Komasa’s cult Polish hit “Suicide Room,” and Romania’s Ana Ularu, praised for the Romanian-Austrian thriller “Outbound” from Bogdan George Apetri.

The thesps have been celebrated for their subtlety and naturalness in front of the camera — qualities many of the theatrically trained actors of the older generation in the region have not always exuded.

Also, a new crop of thesps who have grown up speaking English promises benefits for future international productions.

Czechs, who have had a strong presence at Berlinale of late, are demonstrating their collaborative chops. Olmo Omerzu’s Czech-Slovenian co-production “A Night Too Young,” a coming-of-ager playing in Forum, is elegible for Berlin’s first film award.

Nikolaj Arcel’s Czech-Danish-German-Swedish pic, “A Royal Affair,” starring Mads Mikkelsen, is playing in competition. Both pics show that a small country can still hold up its end, say observers.

As the first European A category fest of the year, Berlin has traditionally been considered the top showcase for Eastern Europe — especially for Czechs, says the Czech Film Center’s Jana Cernikova.

“In the past, the festival was always very open to films from the former Eastern bloc,” she points out. “This changed after 1989 slowly and Czech filmmakers had to prove that they still are able to do interesting films on a high international level.”

It took some time, she notes, “but now I think Czech films are back again. Last year’s presence of three films (at Berlin) and this year’s ‘A Night Too Young’ are good examples.”

The renaissance of Eastern Europe can also be spotted in less obvious corners of the Berlinale.

This year, foodie sidebar Culinary Cinema features 15 food and pic pairings including Alexa Karolinski’s documentary about her grandmother and her best friend, both Holocaust survivors, in “Oma & Bella.”

The pair, who live in Berlin, have made a name for themselves as practitioners of traditional home cooking that recalls their childhoods. It’s bound to leave auds salivating for a nice, fluffy pierogi.

Berlin Daily Spotlight: Central & Eastern Europe
Hard times, tough pics | Former Eastern Bloc steps up game for Berlin | Spotlights

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