Ralph Fiennes Kicks Off 2011 Belgrade Fest

Serbia's annual international film festival opened Friday with a showing of Fiennes' directorial debut, "Coriolanus."

As cameras swooped along the red carpet, into the backstage VIP room and through the 3,500-seat main hall for the opening of the 39th Belgrade Fest, Ralph Fiennes charmed the packed house on Friday night in perfect Serbian: “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, it is my honour to present to you your Coriolanus.” It was the first post-Berlinale outing of Fiennes’ directorial debut, shot almost entirely in the Serbian capital.

The event, broadcast live on national television for the first time in 10 years, was hosted by local superstar thesps Sergej Trifunovic and Maria Karan. The duo kidded each other about their international careers – he’s just returned home after coming off of John McTeigue’s The Raven while she decided to stay in the U.S. after finishing Jean Claude Van Damme vehicle Weapon – and sang a medley of famous film hits.

New artistic director Borislav Andjelic, one of the country’s foremost film critics, was flanked by Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, Minister of Culture Nebojsa Bravic, jury president Goran Paskaljevic and legendary filmmaker Dusan Makavejev, who will hold a masterclass discussion with Michel Ciment, the French critic and editor of Postif. Another masterclass will be held by Oscar winner Emir Kusturica.

Post-screening, Fiennes spoke about his film, along with producers Julia Taylor Stanley, Gabrielle Tana and Andjelija Vlaisavijec and two of the film’s local stars, Slavko Stimac (Underground) and Dusan Micanovic (Rocknrolla). Then began the serious proceedings: an all-night party with the cast and crew at a trendy nightclub, with a never-ending supply of quince grappa, a Serbian specialty.      

With over 80,000 tickets sold before the festival even began, selector Ivan Karl, who with Andjelic begins a four-year term helming the Balkans’ oldest and most highly attended international film festival, is confident admissions will once again break the 100,000 mark. “There are even scalpers outside the box office,” he beams, “which proves just how important this is for Belgrade.” Essentially, one of out 12 city dwellers will attend the Fest.

Once called the “Festival of Festivals,” the event has always showcased the best of year’s festival offerings. Andjelic explains: “It was historically where Western stars like Kirk Douglas, Robert De Niro and Sophia Loren used to flock to see the human face of socialism. And it was a meeting point for Eastern European filmmakers and journalists who couldn’t get out to the West. Today, we offer a balance between a commercial event and a panorama of world auteur cinema, from Europe and the rest of the world, as well as a competition instated five years ago.” And they do so on a budget of under $150,000.

The competition programme Europe out of Europe spotlights eight European titles from non-EU countries, including Ognjen Svilicic’s Two Sunny Days (Croatia), Aleko Tsabadze’s Rene Goes to Hollywood (Georgia), Dmitrij Mamulia’s Another Sky (Russia) and the world premiere of Mladen Maticevic’s Together (Serbia).

The Fest’s 70-title programme also featured a good number of Oscar nominees and winners (including The King’s Speech, Black Swan and 127 Hours) whose Serbian distributors, Karl is happy to point out, all pushed back their release dates in order to be included in the festival. He adds: “You won’t find popcorn flicks among our biggest titles, no superheroes or James Bond, but quality, studio art films.”

Titles from the Europe in Europe, Hollywood and Panorama of World Film sidebars include Best Foreign Language Film winner In A Better World, True Grit, Mandoo, A Sad Trumpet Ballad, Pure, Sarah’s Key and Route Irish.

Other guests in Belgrade this week include directors Robert Adrian Pejo (The Cameramurder), Marcel Grant (Just Ines), Gianfrancesco Lazotti (From the Waist Up), Milcho Manchevski (Mothers), Svilicic and Pawel Sala (Mother Teresa of Cats); actors Nik Xhelilaj (The Albanian), Ana Ycobalzeta (The Mosquito Net) and Dufli Al-Jabouri and Roland Moller, both from Danish drama R.

Susan Ray, widow of Nicholas Ray and president of the foundation named in his honor, will also be on hand to help the Fest celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the American director’s birth with a retrospective of his work.