Vet players, upstarts go toe-to-toe

Berlin Daily Spotlight: Spring Fest Preview

From the inaugural Sundance London to the long-established Hong Kong

fest, spring showcases strive to establish brand ID in crowded field

Dates: Feb. 26-March 4
Location: Croatia
Coming just after the Berlinale’s European Film Market, Zagrebdox is a Balkan meeting point that aims to showcase recent non-fiction productions from the region, while at the same time facilitating international and local co-prod opportunities. Established in 2005, this bijou fixture has already carved out a place among Euro filmmakers and sales agents, thanks to some innovative programming: this year’s edition sees a retrospective dedicated to Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellow Jay Rosenblatt, as well as sidebars devoted to new films from the Baltics, a spotlight on student work from the Danish Film School, and, most intriguing of all, a look back at 1960s Mondo exploitation cinema, much of which was pseudo-documentary in tone. Plus 50 films spread over a variety of program strands (Controversial Dox, Musical Globe, Teen Dox and, everybody’s favorite, Happy Dox), while the Masters program will screen new work from Werner Herzog, Errol Morris and Nick Broomfield, among others.

Dates: April 26-29
Location: UK
A number of U.K. fests are looking anxiously at this new, fat kid on the block — a collaboration between Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute and Europe’s AEG Entertainment Group. To be held in a multiplex in southeast London’s O2 entertainment district (which is owned by AEG), the fest will showcase a reportedly all-American lineup, drawn from January’s primary Sundance event. (Says Redford: “It is our mutual goal to bring to the U.K. the very best in current American independent cinema, to introduce the artists responsible for it, and in essence help build a picture of our country that is broadly reflective of the diversity of voices not always seen in our cultural exports.”) Plus live musical performances, industry panels, and more. For established Brit fests like Leeds, Bradford, Edinburgh and even Raindance, it reps an unwelcome incursion into already-crowded territory. If it’s successful, however, expect to see the Sundance brand push into other Euro markets.

Dates: March 9-17
Location: Austin, Texas
Last year’s SXSW saw the triumph of Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture,” which nabbed the fest’s narrative feature prize. This time sees the world bow of “Small Apartments,” from helmer Jonas Akerlund. Do we discern a theme, here? Certainly, while other fests expand to fill every available space, SXSW topper Janet Pierson has chosen a more modest, intimate approach, citing the importance of the fest to provide a safe atmosphere for filmmakers to experiment and collaborate. Dunham, meanwhile, returns with her HBO comedy series “Girls,” exec-produced by Judd Apatow; and the whole thing kicks off with a fanboy’s wet dream: the world preem of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s eagerly awaited horror pic “The House in the Woods,” which reportedly “turns the genre inside out.” Expect onstage interviews with Whedon, and also with composer (and frequent Soderbergh collaborator) Cliff Martinez, riding high after his signature electronica work on Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive.”

Dates: March 9-18
Location: Bulgaria
Not much changes at Sofia, 16 years since its inception as a music showcase — and that’s the way its loyal band of regular attendees like it. Part of a coterie of like-minded Eastern European fests (alongside Warsaw, Cottbus, Transylvania and Karlovy Vary), it brings enthusiastic local auds the best in recent festival hits, while providing, with the Sofia Meetings (March 15-18), a production market that regularly draws filmmakers, financiers and buyers from across the Balkans and beyond. Among its prizes is the Sofia Award, a joint initiative between the city and the festival. Past honorees have included Wim Wenders, Theo Angelopoulos and Peter Greenaway — as well as two former members of Monty Python, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. And expect fest topper Stefan Kitanov to rock the party with his band, comprising fellow festival directors and programmers: the Rock Bottom Remainders of the repertory set.

Dates: March 21-April 1
Location: New York City
As befits an ongoing collaboration between two of Gotham’s cultural heavyweights, the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, ND/NF’s programming remains daring, surprising and assured. Selection here might not bring much in the way of sales (this is very much an event by and for buffs, rather than the industry), but it’s an undeniable endorsement of quality. And with a line-up evenly split between recent fest hits and off-the-radar discoveries, it’s less mainstream than the NYFF, and more dependable — at least to date — than Tribeca. This year’s showcase sees U.S. preems for Pablo Giorgelli’s road movie “Las Acacias,” well-received at Critics’ Week in Cannes, and a stunning debut from Russian helmer Angelina Nikonova, “Twilight Portrait.” And Norwegian multi-hyphenate Joachim Trier (“Reprise,” ND/NF 2007) makes a return to present his sophomore effort, “Oslo, October 31st,” a classy remake of Louis Malle’s classic “Le Fou Follet.”

Dates: March 21-April 5
Location: Hong Kong
Sprawling yet communal, this veteran event (established in 1977) was one of the first Asian cinema showcases, and remains the ne plus ultra of a festival that expertly services both the public (courtesy of an exhaustive screenings program, with over 330 titles set to unspool in 11 different venues across the territory) and the international industry. Each year, a loyal cadre of buyers heads East — drawn both to the Filmart market, and to the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (March 19-21), which selects 25 projects annually, and aims to match them with 1,000 filmmakers, investors, and distribs. Recent projects have included Bong Joon-ho’s “Mother” and Lu Chuan’s “City of Life and Death.” As if all this weren’t hectic enough, the fest will also host the fifth annual Asian Film Awards, which this year takes place March 19, and will be broadcast to more than 300 million viewers around the world.

Dates: March 31-April 15
Location: Turkey
With many of the bigger Turkish auteurs now sidestepping their country’s flagship fest for higher-profile premiere slots at Berlin and Cannes (and reaping the rewards: Semih Kaplanoglu took the 2010 Golden Bear for “Honey” and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” won the Grand Jury Prize on the Croisette last May), IFF is understandably looking to focus on the next generation. One of its solutions is the “Meetings on the Bridge” initiative — a co-prod summit designed to facilitate local filmmakers’ collaborations with Euro funders and distributors. Last year saw an alliance with Germany, via partnerships with the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein Film Fund, with seven projects selected to receive support. Another, with Holland Film Meetings (to mark the 400th anniversary of Dutch-Turkish diplomatic relations), is scheduled for this year. Plus there’s now a Work In Progress round, open to five features either 50% completed or in post-production.

Dates: April 18–29
Location: New York City
All eyes will be turned to Tribeca this spring, as French import Frederic Boyer makes his Stateside debut, overseeing the selection for Gotham’s Lower Manhattan showcase. The ex-Directors’ Fortnight chief, ousted from Cannes following internecine conflicts with the Society of Film Directors (which oversees the Fortnight) and an occasionally stormy relationship with the French press, might prove a good fit for this occasionally directionless fest — and reps the first time Tribeca has had an actual artistic director since the resignation of Peter Scarlett in 2009, shortly after the arrival of former Sundance a.d. Geoff Gilmore as chief creative officer of Tribeca Enterprises. Gilmore, for the record, is also said to be taking a “more active role” in programming, and this, coupled with reports that Boyer is so far contracted only through the summer, would seem to indicate an interesting, perhaps make-or-break year for Tribeca.

Dates: April 19-May 3
Location: San Francisco
Having added former L.A. Film Fest program director Rachel Rosen two years ago, SF Film Society last year hired another well-respected industry vet, the recently deceased Bingham Ray, as executive director — filling the vacancy created by the death of SF mainstay Graham Leggat. No word yet on how organizers will deal with this latest blow. As it stands now, this dependable fixture still plans to offer a tidy handful of world preems, including Sam Green’s expanded-cinema piece (still untitled at this stage) about designer-architect Buckminster Fuller, which will coincide with a Fuller exhibition at SF’s MOMA. Last year’s State of Cinema address, by Killer Films’ Christine Vachon, caused a mild sensation; this year’s talk will be given by novelist Jonathan Lethem. And the fest continues its recent tradition for innovative pairings of live music and cinema: this year’s showcase event sees indie darling Merrill Garbus, a.k.a. Tune-Yards, performing a newly composed score for a silent film classic at the city’s deluxe Castro Theater.

Dates: April 28-May 6
Location: South Korea
Amid a plethora of Korean fests (dominated by the fading but still powerful Busan), Jeonju’s chief claim to international prominence remains its quirkily independent programming, and its production fund, the Jeonju Digital Project, which has sponsored three international filmmakers per year to make short-to-medium-length films; these preem at the fest before commencing their festival life. After skewing all-European last year — with new works from Jean-Marie Straub, Claire Denis and Jose Luis Guerin — this time the balance shifts entirely Eastward, with commissions for Philippine auteur Raya Martin (whose “The Great Cinema Party” offers a dyspeptic study of film industry people visiting his homeland), Sri Lankan helmer Vimukthi Jayasundara (“Light in Yellow Breathing Space,” an impressionistic study of a father and his son) and China’s Ying Liang, whose “The Isolated” focuses on a mother whose child kills six policemen — and is based on actual events.