Local fare gets its big day in the sun

New fest progam celebrates Austrian films

· Austrian Film Commission
Riviera Stand K15
Tel: +33 (0) 492 99 32 40
· Execs attending:
Martin Schweighofer,
managing director
Anne Laurent,
international relations
Brigitte Weich, sales desk

In early ’80s adaptation of an early work by Nobel literary honoree Elfriede Jelinek, featuring the notoriously reclusive author in the cast, is just one of the many forgotten Austrian gems due to screen as part of a Cannes focus on Austria.

The country is one of seven territories getting the spotlight in the fest’s new Tous les Cinemas du Monde program this year. Although small, Austria’s film industry already enjoys a high profile on the Croisette.

“We might be a pretty small country without a big film industry but we’ve continuously had films in official selection,” comments Martin Schweighofer, managing director of the Austrian Film Commission (AFC).

Over the past decade, red-carpet regular Michael Haneke has competed three times, winning the Grand Prix in 2001 for another Jelinek adaptation, “The Piano Teacher.” He returns this year with “Hidden.”

Younger directors such as Jessica Hausner (“Hotel,” “Lovely Rita”) have been well received in Un Certain Regard. The country is repped in that section this year by “Sleepers,” a co-production with Germany and helmed by Teuton Benjamin Heisenberg.

In earlier days, the Austrian-produced World War II drama “The Last Bridge,” helmed by German Helmut Kautner but featuring a mainly Austrian cast and crew, picked up the international prize in 1956.

A decade earlier, Austrian-born Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity” had won the Grand Prix at the first-post WWII edition of the fest in 1946. The Jewish director fled Europe in the mid-1930s.

Tous les Cinemas du Monde will screen Austrian titles never seen before at Cannes. The AFC suggested pics but the fest made the final selection.

Franz Novotny’s 1982 “The Excluded” is an adaptation of an early Jelinek work set against the backdrop of late-1950s Vienna and revolving around disenfranchised youths who express themselves through violence.

“I think this will be something of a discovery for many people,” says Schweighofer. “It didn’t really do anything internationally at the time of its original release. It was seen as quite extreme. It was 10 years ahead of its time.”

Axel Corti’s 1986 “Welcome in Vienna” follows a Viennese Jew who flees to the U.S. from Austria in the 1930s, only to return as part of the U.S. occupying forces at the end of WWII.

Carrying on the WWII theme, Andre Heller and Othmar Schmiderer’s docu “Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary” features the first on-camera interview with Adolf Hitler’s secretary Traudl Junge. Some 50 years on, she recounts her experiences.

The selection also includes shorts by some of Austria’s hottest young directors such as Hausner and Ruth Mader. Hausner’s 25-minute “Flora” is a coming-of-age tale revolving around a shy teenage girl. Mader’s “Punks” follows three girls on a housing estate on the edge of Vienna.

Barbara Albert’s 1999 debut feature, “Northern Skirts,” about five young immigrants who meet in Vienna, also will screen.

Albert and Hausner were among the founders of Coop99, a Vienna-based production house that has brought a new generation of filmmakers to the bigscreen over the last five years.

“These directors represent the future of Austrian cinema. It’s interesting to see where they came from,” says Schweighofer.