Five helmers discuss their foreign-language hopefuls

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White Wedding (South Africa)

Director: Jann Turner

 
Jann Turner has written and directed hundreds of hours of television and "White Wedding" is her feature directorial debut, which she co-wrote with actors Kenneth Nkosi and Rapulana Seiphemo. The film is a road movie with romantic comedy conventions, but because the story centers on two black characters and a white woman in post-Apartheid South Africa, it's anything but conventional.

"In South Africa today, the sight of two black guys and a white woman on a road trip still turns heads. It happened to me with Kenny and Raps, my co-writers and stars, a few years ago when we took a long drive to Cape Town. As we talked of friendship, movies and the universe, the seed of 'White Wedding' was planted.

The three of us grew up during Apartheid, in very different worlds. Our early careers were focused on work that related to our changing society, with subject matter that was often of necessity very dark and heavy. For a long time I have wanted to tell a simple, uplifting tale about ordinary people. 'White Wedding' is a comic, romantic take on people encountering one another with prejudice, and being forced by circumstance to find affinities that are liberating and humanizing.

Not that we should forget our past -- far from it. My father was assassinated by the Apartheid regime, but I firmly believe that our painful memories should be balanced with pride in the new nation we have created.

Above all, the film is a family enterprise. With (novelist) Ken Follett (Turner's stepfather) as executive director, and close friends and colleagues in the cast and crew, we had a team that was relaxed, hard-working and efficient. We managed to shoot the film in only 18 days, with a budget of under $1 million.

The best part of the experience has been the overwhelming response from our local audiences. I've danced in the aisles with strangers as the credits rolled. We tried to make the film true to the way we think, speak and behave -- and the result is a mad-cap, multilingual adventure with many layers of humor and irony. Very much like living in South Africa today."

-- Mixie Von Bormann



Chameleon (Hungary)

Director: Krisztina Goda

 
Writer-director Krisztina Goda's comedic thriller is about a grifter whose game is endangered when he falls for a perfect target.

"I started working on the story when a stranger named Betty wrote to me on Facebook wanting to share her story. She was the victim of a con man who proposed marriage to more than 40 women and managed to steal most of their savings. I was fascinated by how this talented man manipulated all these aging, lovesick women. Although I didn't end up using Betty's entire story, I certainly was inspired by it.

Lying is so much a part of civilized society that we don't even notice it until we become victims of it. This is what "Chameleon" is all about. The main character is a compulsive liar who longs for a privileged life with all its assets: fancy clothes, good cars and an expensive home. I found it challenging to portray an unlikable hero, someone people don't immediately identify with, but who they grow to feel for over the course of the story.

In Eastern Europe, lying is not only tolerated, it usually has no consequences. Even our former prime minister has recently been caught lying, and it didn't lead to his resignation. All the characters in the film are liars in one way or another. They lie to each other and sometimes to themselves. I wanted to show that our hero may achieve a lot by deceiving others, but at the end, he inevitably loses what's most important to him.

As a result of the movie, I was surprised at how many women came forward to share similar stories about men manipulating and exploiting them. I was glad that the film encouraged some of them not to be ashamed of what happened."

-- Michelle McCarthy



Dawson Isla 10 (Chile)

Director: Miguel Littin

 
Miguel Littin's film tells the story of political prisoners at Chile's Dawson Island in the 1970s and the terrible conditions they faced.

"Thirty-five years after being in prison at Dawson, the survivors of this concentration camp went back to the island. I had the privilege to go with them and to witness their re-encounter with their lives there, with their prison companions, all in an atmosphere of pure emotion.

I could see how some of them walked along the sea trying to find traces of their stay. I saw them unite in a hug, recognizing themselves, although time had passed. I saw them searching in an empty space for those moments where their lives had gone on. I saw them laughing, crying, talking to the emptiness in front of curious looks of those who had been their prison guards and captors, officials and marine corps. This was an unusual, nonsense paradox.

Little by little, the prisoners took over the site where they had lived their defeats; on a strange twist they were the ones who had won. Someone told me, looking straight into my eyes, "The world is upside down; they lost and we won."

To survive filming in the conditions meant a huge logistical effort. Sometimes we were isolated for hours under the snow and with powerful winds that devastated the camps. We had to set them up again to keep filming. There was no difference between actors or technicians. We all were actors and technicians as well, and that impregnated the film and its image with an irrefutable amount of force and reality."

-- Michelle McCarthy



Ajami (Israel)

Directors: Scandar Copti & Yaron Shani

 
Co-written by Yaron Shani, an Israeli Jew, and Scandar Copti, a Palestinian, Ajami recounts the struggles of a 13-year-old boy who lives just outside the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as he attempts to navigate the region's opposing views. Shani discusses a project that many people doubted.

"We started off with a complicated story, which many people didn't understand. We wanted to make it with an entirely unprofessional cast and shoot it in a crazy way -- not showing the script to the actors and shooting in chronological order with multiple cameras. It was our very first feature film, and almost everyone around us thought that we didn't know what we were doing.

The actors in our film didn't know anything about what was going to happen. They experienced the story as if it really happened to them. That's why when you see somebody in the film crying, he is really crying. When you see violence -- it is real. For example, when we shot a scene where the cops come to arrest a drug dealer and all his friends come to help him by fighting the cops, we had to jump into the scene and stop it, because it was so real for the actors that they almost hurt one another.

'Ajami' tells the stories of various characters in an environment that has never been portrayed in cinema before. The structure of the story is very unique and took more than eight years to develop. The method of shooting is also very uncommon, involving hundreds and hundreds of people who never dreamed of taking part in a movie before. It is a sophisticated and closely directed fiction film, with the dignity and truthfulness of a documentary. It confronts its makers with a lot of self-criticism. From the very beginning I knew that even if nothing would come out of it, it would still be one of the most important experiences in my life."

-- Michelle McCarthy



Ward No. 6 (Russia)

Director: Karen Shakhnazarov

Based on a story by famed Russian author Anton Chekhov, writer-director Karen Shakhnazarov's "Ward No. 6" follows a doctor who ends up committed at his own facility.

"The main challenge was making the film on location in the actual functioning asylum. That made the work very complicated, and we never knew what to expect. But that is what we wanted to do. The patients of the asylum were kind of supporting actors in the film, so that was quite unusual. Of course, it wasn't easy to deal with those people and to work in such surroundings. It had its difficulties. Some patients would have fits and acute states. That puts you in danger and you don't know how to react.

Twenty years ago, I received an offer from Italian producers. They wanted to make a film based on some classic Russian literature work with Marcello Mastroianni in the main part, and I suggested this story by (Anton) Chekhov. This story is as important today as ever, and it's contemporary. It was written almost 100 years ago, but the questions that Chekhov arises in that story are still acute questions today for everyone -- questions of death and life -- and that is always important.

What I wanted to say with the film is that one should understand that the human world is made up of different kinds of people. Every individual has his own point of view and understanding of this world. If his idea of the world does not fully coincide with yours, it doesn't at all mean that individual is insane. It's just that his point of view is different from yours. One should have patience and understanding."

-- Michelle McCarthy
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