“All This Victory,” a drama set in 2006 in Lebanon during the war between Hezbollah and Israel, has won the Eastern Promises Works in Progress Award at the Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival. The competition is devoted to projects from Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, former Soviet Union countries, and, for the first time this year, the Middle East.
In director Ahmad Ghossein’s film, a coproduction between Lebanon, France and Germany, Marwan goes in search of his father, who has refused to leave his village. He finds no traces of him and when the ceasefire ends suddenly, he is forced to shelter in the home of Najib, his father’s friend, and some of Najib’s friends. As bombs hail down, tensions within the house rise; then a group of Israeli soldiers enter the building.
The jury was comprised of Matthijs Wouter Knol, director of the Berlinale’s European Film Market, Rossitsa Valkanova, a director and producer from Bulgaria, and Rickard Olsson of Berlin-based sales agent Picture Tree International.
Valkanova said the project “stood out in its creative approach to a complex idea and a highly relevant topic.” Ghossein and the lead producer, Myriam Sassine of Lebanon’s Abbout Productions, had presented it “with precision and deep personal involvement, convincing us of their ability to build a multi-layered film world within a limited space, using minimalistic yet cinematic methods of storytelling.”
Valkanova added: “We expect this film to impress and resonate with audiences, as it manages to rise above the particularities of a military conflict, implying questions of existential importance with a bitter smile.”
The project will receive prizes worth a total 100,000 Euros, consisting of post-production services at UPP and Soundsquare, and a cash prize of 10,000 Euro from Barrandov Studio.
Olsson added that the 11 projects had filled the jury “with great expectations and made [its] decision extremely difficult. In our hearts, we give 10 special mentions.”
Among the other projects were Suzan Iravanian’s “Leakage,” an Iran-Czech Republic co-production. This is a high-concept arthouse genre film playing on a number of contemporary social issues such as immigration, the world’s oil obsession and female exploitation. It follows a middle-aged woman whose body produces crude oil, and her quest to immigrate to Germany.
“There was a time I became sure that oil as an unreachable commodity is what poisons and metamorphosizes our perception of reality,” Iravanian told Variety. “‘Leakage’ for me is the exploration of such manipulated realities within an uncertain geography and a vulnerable community.”
In Jure Pavlovic’s “Matriarch,” a co-production between Croatia, France, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jasna returns to care for her bedridden mother whose influence still looms large over the house. Forced to face grudges she thinks she left behind, she must decide whether or not to confront her overbearing mother.
“In ‘Treasure City’ the audience is dropped into the middle of a web of family, sexual, political and romantic relationships where nothing is quite what it seems,” director Szabolcs Hajdu explained to Variety. “One event leads to something else, people appear in one situation and reappear in another and by the end the lives of 22 people intersect in unpredictable ways during a 90-minute period on one magical night in the city they share.”
Marko Škop’s “Let There Be Light” turns on a father trying to exonerate his son, accused of bullying and killing a classmate. “I would like to show how easily we can become enemies to each other,” Škop told Variety. “I would like to try to depict evil and the mistakes that can lead to it in our unstable existence.”
“‘Mamonga’ is a multifaceted film that toys with the tropes of Balkan cinema in a non-linear narrative structure,” director Stefan Malešević explained to Variety. “The slow-paced long shots are intended to relay the atmospheres of different societies in the Balkans, while engaging the audience in a dialogue regarding topics such as the relation between choice and consequence, outcome and intention, destiny and chance, and good and evil.”
“’My Morning Laughter’ is a coming-of-age movie with a difference: the main protagonist is not a teenager but a 30-year-old virgin,” explains debut director Marko Djordjevic. “In a broader sense it is a story about my generation, a generation that was overprotected by our parents, who did their best at shielding us from the awful reality that was lurking outside of our homes.”
Latvia, Belgium and Lithuania team on Juris Kursietis’ “Oleg,” another arthouse feature in which the protagonist deals with the difficulties of immigration. In it, the titular character is forced to go through a middle-man to find work, as his alien status eliminates traditional legal means of job-hunting. The stress of the situation pushes Oleg towards a break down, physically and psychologically.
Hisham Saqr’s “Certified Mail” is the tale of an Egyptian wife and mother struggling with suicidal thoughts who must learn to face them on her own as her husband faces incarceration for a mistake at work.
“The Flying Circus” is a true story from the life of director Fatos Berisha in which four actors illegally cross Balkan borders during wartime to try and meet Michael Palin under the guise of attending a theater festival.
“Monsters” follows what could be the last 24 hours in the relationship of a long-time married couple. It’s the directorial debut for Romania’s Marius Olteanu.
“Our agenda is rather simple,” Karlovy Vary head of film industry office Hugo Rosak told Variety ahead of the festival. “We want to have our Works in Progress selection well represented geographically to really find jewels in the entire region that we call ‘East of the West.’ Of course, these projects need to have an international potential and trigger interest.”
He also explained the addition of the newly-eligible Middle Eastern countries.
“We have seen a lot of high quality talented debutants from the region of Middle East that in our opinion deserve to be elevated,” he explained. “Part of our new KVIFF Eastern Promises brand is to allow projects from this region to travel internationally because many are very strong but may not have as many available platforms where they can shine.”
KARLOVY VARY WORKS IN PROGRESS
“All This Victory,” (Ahmad Ghossein, Lebanon, France, Germany)
“Certified Mail,” (Hisham Saqr, Egypt)
“The Flying Circus,” (Fatos Berisha, Kosovo)
“Leakage,” (Suzan Iravanian, Iran, Czech Republic)
“Let There Be Light,” (Marko Škop, Slovak Republic, Czech Republic)
“Mamonga,” (Stefan Malešević, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro)
“Matriarch,” (Jure Pavlovic, Croatia, France, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
“Monsters,” (Marius Olteanu, Romania)
“My Morning Laughter,” (Marko Djordjevic, Serbia)
“Oleg,” (Juris Kursietis, Latvia, Belgium, Lithuania)
“Treasure City,” (Szabolcs Hajdu, Hungary, Romania)