13th Rencontres celebrates diversity

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PARIS -- "I'm never reluctant to come to Paris," director Todd Haynes said as he spun through a retrospective of his filmography like a rolling stone in Paris this week.

Nor were the 13 Romanian directors and producers, the 30 French professionals, the 16 directors from all over the world and the public audiences who came out for the 13th edition of the Rencontres Internationales de Cinema a Paris (International Paris Cinema Meetings), an eight-day event devoted to global independent cinema organized by the city's film center and archive the Forum des Images.

"Audiences really are more sophisticated than we give them credit for," Haynes said.

The sophisticated audiences at this year's Rencontres came out to see not only Haynes' work but also 12 feature films in the Competition section, along with Lech Kowalski's "Winners & Losers" complete with an homage to the Polish director. The French public also got a taste of young Romanian cinema, with nine first films from six young directors from the country in the spotlight.

Eran Kolirin's "The Band's Visit" was the audience favorite, winning the Public Prize for best film and giving the humorous yet profound romp through Arab-Israeli relations €15,000 ($22,032) from the Forum des Images to aid its theatrical distribution in France when the film is released in the territory Dec. 19.

"I started with just an image of a man in an Arabic uniform, very serious and very closed-in, but underneath you can feel a heart beating," Kolirin said. "People think that because it's a big screen, you need to fill it with big things. But movies are a way to make small things big."

From big films to small films, from handicapped Norwegians to a lost girl in Afghanistan to internet romance in Canada, the Competition titles took audiences on a long voyage through different cultures. All of the directors were in Paris to present their films, with the exception of Denis Cote, who was stuck in Canada due to inclement weather.

A Press Jury -- featuring several top Paris-based journalists -- awarded its main prize to Bard Breien's self-described "feel-bad comedy," "The Art of Negative Thinking."

The Norwegian dramedy about handicapped people who join a "positive thinking" focus group had the audience laughing and crying -- often at the same time. "I wanted to show that human misery can be funny," Breien said. "We really don't need to smile that much."
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