Helmers bring immigrant vision to Euro pix

Abu Assad working on 'Cairo,' Traidia to make 'Bottles'

AMSTERDAM — The history of film in Hollywood has been written, in part, by some of its greatest talent crossing over from Europe. Now, a small but significant strand of filmmakers, coming out of the shifting populations and immigrant cultures of Europe, are beginning to make important contributions to the Euro film industry.

The experience of being trapped between two cultures may be a common one, but some of these filmers are providing new visions that are anything but common.

Palestinian-born Dutch director Hany Abu Assad is now lensing his sixth pic, “L.A. Cairo.” The Arab-American film about the American dream is being produced by Los Angeles- based outfit Dviant Pictures.

“L.A. Cairo” follows on the heels of multiple award winner and Palestinian Oscar nominee “Paradise Now,” about the last 48 hours of a suicide bomber. Says Abu Assad, “I was born to a people that have lost their land. When that happens, you have only the history, the stories to tell. If the stories are extreme, it is because the experiences have been extreme.”

Abu Assad’s experiences continue to be extreme. Shooting “Paradise Now” in violence-torn Nablus, his cast and crew faced threats to their lives, and his locations manager was kidnapped.

Algerian-born Dutch lenser Karim Traidia, winner of the Holland’s Golden Calf award for “Polish Bride,” is now financing his fourth film, “The Journey of the Empty Bottles,” a story about an Iranian political refugee’s search for identity.

Traidia says he strongly identified with the main character in the Kader Abdollah story. “I became Dutch, but it cost me a lot of pain and sacrifice before I could accept it.”

He adds, however, fears of cultural dilution are very real and pervasive in Europe today. “Everyone is being hit by Europeanization and globalization and has a fear of losing their identity.”

The experience of being different can nourish creativity and in some cases, provide an objectivity that a native helmer might not have.

Polish-born Pawel Pawlikovski, who came to the U.K. as a teenager, notes, “Everything looks more ambiguous, absurd, funny and threatening, sometimes more beautiful and attractive than it would if you understand the ins and the outs. You observe more intensely and spend more time in your own head.”

For Jan Fleischer, former Czech new wave filmer, now a lecturer in scriptwriting at the National Film and Television School (NFTS) in the U.K., the experience of filming under communism was a definitive plus for creativity. “Under censorship, you learn to talk in parable and metaphor,” says Fleischer, who, blacklisted, left the Czech Republic two days before the regime collapsed, to take up his post in the U.K. “Being given a straightjacket sometimes makes you more inventive.”

The creative contributions of film directors coming out of today’s Eastern camp is being tapped by Taskovski Films, which has produced and is representing “Czech Dream,” a satirical docu-jab at modern capitalism directed by Vit Klusak & Filip Remunda, already sold to some 15 territories in Europe

The London-based company was founded by Irena Taskovski, who fled to the Czech Republic at the age of 17 following the outbreak of the war in her native Bosnia.

Taskovski believes a major creative wind is coming out of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, reasons her company has moved into sales, not only for “Czech Dream,” but for a handful of other pics, among them award-winning lenser Jan Cvitkovik’s “Gravehopping” and Czech helmer Aleksander Manic’s “The Shutka Book of Records.” Company is getting significant interest on the slate of pics from the U.S., she says.

Scandinavian wave

Scandinavia is becoming a major hotbed for new first- or second-generation immigrant helmers, with box office numbers bolstering new sales expectations. Films like Khalid Hussain’s “Import Export” and Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen’s film “Izzat,” about Pakistani gangsters in Norway, have delivered beyond expectations at the box office, says Jan Eric Holst, exec director of the international department at the Norwegian Film Industry.

Lebanese-born Swedish lenser Josef Fares’ third pic, “Zozo,” failed to bring in the wild box office his comedies “Kops” and “Jalla Jalla” did in Sweden, but at 300,000, the numbers for the partially autobiographical drama were respectable. Iranian born Swedish lenser Reza Bagher’s “Popular Music” also came close to 300,000.

Sonet Film has picked up Amir Chamdin’s debut feature film “God Willing,” a romantic tale set for release next March about the love between a Syrian man and a Finnish woman, both living in Stockholm. Chamdin, known for cranking out musicvids and a member of the popular band Infinite Mass, says Swedish films continue to stereotype, as does the society at large. Local interest in “God Willing” should be strong, as Cardigan’s singer Nina Persson plays the lead.

Several of these filmmakers have been quite successful already — Trust Film Sales reports Fares’ “Zozo” sold to 26 territories, “Jalla Jalla” to more than 65 and “Kops” to some 55.

U.K. Film Council European executive Jan-Jacob Lousberg points to the successes of Turkish-born German director Feta Akim and Turkish born Italian director Ferzan Ozpetek, calling Ozpetek’s “Facing Windows” one of the most successful Italian films of all time.

Indeed, “Facing Windows” reported $14 million in box office, the third-biggest take in Italy in 2003, and sold to 32 territories. Abu Assad’s “Paradise Now” at last count, sold to 52 territories.

France’s second-gen lenser Abdel Kechiche, who last year picked up four Cesar’s for his film “L’Esquive” (The Game of Love and Chance) is now at work on another pic for Pathe, while Georgian born French lenser Gela Babluani’s pic “Tsameti” will have its U.K. release in January.

But sales execs agree it’s not about a helmer’s origin. “It’s irrelevant who it is made by and where it comes from. All the decisions we make are based on the quality of the film and whether we liked it,” says Artificial Eye’s Robert Beeson.