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Garcia, Ossard, Neville, Fremaux, Konchalovsky, Make Kusturica’s 8th Kustendorf Fest

Kicking off with ‘The Postman’s White Nights,’ event one of the most singular of world’s festivals

L.A.-based Mexican producer-financier Alex Garcia, French producer Claudie Ossard and Amanda Neville, British Film Institute CEO, form the three-member jury panel at this year’s 8th Kustendorf Intl. Film and Music Festival, which opened Jan. 21 with a gala screening of Venice competition player “The Postman’s White Nights.”

Beforehand, director Andrei Konchalovsky took an audience through some of the challenges of filmmaking, such as the stolidity of the camera, which, per a festival report, he explained, citing Robert Bresson’s diktat: “The camera is like the eye of a cow.”

Also in attendance: Cannes director Thierry Fremaux, to present a restored copy of 1929’s “In the Night,” the only film helmed by resilient French actor Charles-Marie Vanel, whise 77-year career took included being seen with Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief.” Vanel received a tribute-retrospective at Lyon’s 2013 Lumière Festival, which Fremaux runs with Institut Lumière president Bertrand Tavernier, who commissioned a score for the film from composer Louis Sclavis.

Run by Emir Kusturica, the great Serb director, Kustendorf is not quite like any other festival in the world. A place where cool industry cats hang out, there is no red carpet: the Serbian Culture Minister brought his own for last night’s gala opening. Gala attendees included a wolf; there is challenging partying.

Kusturica, whose band plays at Kustendorf, not only built the festival. He also built the village where it takes place. Perched high on a Servian hill, it was the location of his 2004 Cannes Competition player “Life is a Miracle.”

Many Festivals focus on first-time directors. The Competition which Garcia, Ossard and Neville will judge fishes more upstream, screening substantial shorts. Few of their directors have yet gone the longer distance.

Drawn from Serbia and often, though not always, its hinterlands, a few have risen to some kind of prominence: “The Aftermath of the Inauguration of the Public Toilet at Killometer 375,” a black comedy from Omar el Zohairy inspired by Anton Chechov’s short story “The Death of a Government clerk,” was the first Egyptian film to play Cannes’ Cinefondation competish; “Whale Valley”,” from Iceland’s Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundar, about two brothers living by a remote Icelandic fjord, received a special mention in Cannes Competition.

Most directors, however, are still way off the international radar. Some shorts hint at humor: “The Merry Go-Round,” from Serb Luka Popadic, portrays a Serbian choir, The Singing Women of Pozega, whose members are enthusiastic if elderly.

Yet most underscore a new generation’s continuing concern for a turbulent, angst-laden world. Austrian Florian Pochlatko’s “Erdbeeland” is a troubled teen drama; Croatian Sonja Tarokic’s “On Shaky Ground” turns on a family plunged into crisis when the father loses his money on Split’s property market. The Competition includes a degree of experiment: “Flaming Red,” from Isabel Lamberti, has a teen yearning to escape a grey Netherlands: It is filmed in extended shots, described as motion painting. Just as comedies with some broad social point are triumphing over Europe, its on-the-rise directors seem often locked into a turbulent, if fascinating modern world.

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