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Whatever language, it’s the story: helmers

Oscar contenders discuss pics, passion

Helmers of the five foreign-language Oscar contenders packed the Academy theater on Saturday to discuss their pics and passions with producer and Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee chair Mark Johnson.

In a welcome encore to the onstage antics of last year’s Oscar winner Roberto Benigni, Pedro Almodovar threatened to filibuster the proceedings in Spanish, while his interpreter/co-producer held his breath.

Lucky charm

And French helmer Regis Wargnier showed off with his videocamera and ribbed Almodovar for calling him his lucky charm at the Cesar Awards in Paris, where the Spanish helmer won a prize after also winning the Golden Globe — where Wargnier was also present.

Nuttiness aside, all directors — from Almodovar (“All About My Mother”), to Frenchmen Eric Valli (Nepalese entry “Caravan”) and Wargnier (“East-West”), and Brits Paul Morrison (“Solomon & Gaenor”) and Colin Nutley (Sweden’s “Under the Sun”) — agreed the story is the most important thing.

Documentary vets and first-time feature helmers, Valli and Morrison noted the importance of narrative in bringing their pictures to life.

“You see so many things, your heart beats, but you cannot capture that in a documentary,” said Valli, who had crossed the Himalayas 15 times with his docu subjects before casting some of them in “Caravan.”

Wargnier, too, felt his heart burning to tell the story of the plight of immigrants between the Eastern Bloc and Western Europe after visiting the East.

Like love

He likened storytelling to falling in love: “You wake up one day and you feel different,” he said. “I had a lot of emotional material in me and I had to do something with it.”

Almodovar was so taken by the women who played the roles of nurses in workshops on how to deal with organ donors’ families, he chose to tell one such woman’s story. “My film is about mothers and actresses, and mothers who can act,” he said.

An astute student of women, Almodovar finds them more humorous and more in touch: “Women are more in contact with real life, their day-to-day is much funnier than (that of men).”

When asked about his ambitions to work in Hollywood, Nutley — who has worked in Sweden for years — drove the point home: “I’d be happy to work here with the right story. But the danger of Hollywood from the Scandinavian perspective is that (Americans) take a chicken and try to turn it into a pig. I’m old enough to be fearful of losing my own heart.”

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