Shooting Stars Initiative Showcases Rising European Stars at Berlinale

6:51 PM PST 02/13/2011 by Karsten Kastelan
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Up-and-coming actors spotlighted by the talent selection program in the past include Rachel Weisz, Daniel Craig and Carey Mulligan.

While it's become a breeze for tourists to cross European borders, European films don't travel as easily.

A French comedy that generates lines around the block in Paris might attract five people and a dog in Hamburg and not even generate enough interest to be pirated in Poland.
 
This sobering situation is bad news for European filmmakers, but for young actors it's even worse. Having generated some heat at home gives them a good shot at another picture or two, but -- especially in smaller markets -- local recognition does not lead to constant employment or, of course, a shot at the big prize: an international (read: Hollywood) career.
 
The Shooting Stars program has been battling this isolationist trend for the past 13 years by bringing up-and-coming European actors to the Berlinale and introducing them to the world -- and vice versa. Founded and organized by European Film Promotion, whose 31-member organization from 32 countries supply the talent, the initiative was greeted with much backslapping, but also encountered criticism at times, with naysayers pointing out the obvious flaws of the system.
 
One of them was that countries could simply hand their nationally established actors a ticket to Berlin, which lead to the number of Shooting Stars ballooning up to 25 in 2007. 
 
This practice was discontinued in 2008 -- and now an international jury chooses 10 young actors to share the spotlight. "Presenting 25 to 26 actors at the Berlinale became difficult to handle," explains Karin Dix, who runs Shooting Stars under the auspices of EFP managing director Renate Rose. Dix's comment rings even truer now that Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and Albania have joined EFP -- especially since countries with a smaller output would be hard pressed to come up with an ideal candidate every year. Others agree that a lower number of actors benefits both sides: "You get to spend a lot of time with the actors and you get to know their personalities. That's great from a casting point of view," says casting agent Lana Veenker (Twilight), who became involved with the Shooting Stars after the selection was tightened. 
 
New selection criteria were also introduced for 2008 and current requirements ensure a somewhat high level of talent: While a maximum age of 35, fluent command of the English language and a successful career at home are lax or left open to interpretation, other criteria -- namely a main role in a film in the last 12 months, wide international exposure from a film or the actor or film having received a national film award -- have narrowed the field quite a bit. 
 
Change also occurred in the member-organizations themselves, where the selection process often started at institutes or ministries, but was -- as in the case of Denmark -- later handed over to industry professionals. And while it seemed for a while that the program was vying for the attention of the mainstream press, which would be a quixotic quest at best, the focus is now clearly on bringing them to the attention of film professionals. 
 
Another addition was the creation of a network of casting agents in 2005, which currently includes 40 members from 18 countries. As founding member Lina Todd recalls, "there was the matter of letting all the European agents not only connect to the United States, but to connect to each European country and feel that we had an ally, a friend, in those countries when we were working on films that needed actors from specific places." 
 
This has worked out very well so far: When Todd cast Peter Weir's The Way Back, she was able to attach actors Gustaf Skarsgard (Sweden) and Dragos Bucur (Rumania), though she admits that the latter became a Shooting Star after she had already cast him. "I also got many European Shooting Stars to audition for Peter Weir. And on all my casting projects where I'm looking for European talent, I always suggest or try to bring in or get on tape in Europe." 
 
Oregon-based Veenker, who has been a member of the network for only 3-4 years, hasn't been able to cast a Shooting Star yet, but helped in other ways. "I've arranged meetings with casting directors in L.A. and New York for them," she says, pointing out how skilled some European actors are at different American accents. "Most Americans can't even do it. When they are able to do accents and dialects, it makes more opportunities available for them."
 
Other actors who have gone on to greater international fame after being named as Shooting Stars are Rachel Weisz (1998), Daniel Craig (2000), Ludivine Sagnier (2001), Daniel Bruhl (2003), Cecile de France (2003), Thekla Reuten (2004) and, of course, Carey Mulligan (2009). And while it's tempting to ask if the award had much to do with the success of these individual actors or if they weren't already way past the starting gate when the honors occurred, this might be beside the point. "We found that it's important for the actors to have standing and success in their home countries for this to work," says EFP's Dix, adding that actors who are new to their craft will only profit if they arrive with an outstanding film in tow, like Mulligan did with An Education.
 
Stamina will also be needed, since the three full days the Shooting Stars spend in Berlin are not meant to be wasted. Apart from a welcome dinner, a photo-shoot, an industry breakfast with casting directors, a press conference and the award ceremony and gala, 2011 offers a new item on the agenda: a workshop with agents and managers from the U.S., where Brad Lefler (Gersh), Sheila Wenzel (Innovative Artists) and Scott Wexler (Brillstein) will educate the young actors on the nuts and bolts of the Hollywood-business, including work-permits, unions and how to get signed by a Hollywood agent or manager. 
 
Add to this the many other events Shooting Stars may be invited to, and it makes for a pretty crowded schedule, though Dix admits that getting the entire group into a party can be quite a challenge. With agents and the occasional publicist in tow, one might be talking about more than 50 people, which -- as a late addition -- is likely to induce heart attacks in many but the most seasoned host.
 
And while this year's crop -- Domhnall Gleeson (Ireland), Andrea Riseborough (U.K.), Nik Xhelilaj (Albania), Clara Lago (Spain), Pilou Asbaek (Denmark), Alicia Vikander (Sweden), Alexander Fehling (Germany), Marija Skaricic (Croatia), Natasha Petrovic (Macedonia), Sylvia Hoeks (Netherlands) -- looks like a particularly resilient bunch, they'd do well to conserve their energy, since the EPF annually selects new partner festivals for their Shooting Stars on Tour program, with 2010's destinations including Copenhagen, Hamburg, the Hamptons, Rome and Tallinn. Add to that the fact that they've just gotten on the radar of many more producers, directors and casting agents, and it's likely that their dance card for 2011 will be pretty full. 
 
If that is because of the Shooting Stars initiative, the work they put to get there or their latest film is anybody's guess. Bottom line is this: They will be working, which is more than many of their colleagues can say. 
 
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