Award Winners and Festival Wrap: American Film Festival Poland

WINTER’S BONE AND THE TWO ESCOBARS WIN AUDIENCE PRIZES AT INAUGURAL AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL

First Eastern European Film Event Devoted To American Cinema Is A Resounding Hit With Audiences And Local Media

The AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL (AFF), the first film event in Eastern Europe solely devoted to the works of contemporary and classic American cinema, announced the two winners of its Audience Awards, chosen by the public as their favorites among the films presented over the past five days in Wroclaw, Poland.

The winner of the American Independent Narrative Audience Award is WINTER’S BONE, the celebrated debut by filmmaker Debra Granik that won the Grand Jury Prize and Best Screenplay awards at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and has been nominated for a record 11 Gotham Awards, the indie Oscars. The film also won the CICAE Prize at the Berlin Film Festival. Set in the rural Ozark Mountains in the southern United States, the film tells the tale of a young teenage girl who must confront the powers that be in her small town in order to protect her family from violence and exploitation. As the courageous teenage girl who uses her wits to eventually triumph, the young actress Jennifer Lawrence has received accolades for her performance, which very likely will be an Oscar contender this year. The filmmakers will receive a cash prize of $10,000 and a chance at Eastern European distribution. WINTER’S BONE was chosen amongst 20 American Independent films, most making their European Premieres at the American Film Festival.

The winner of the Documentary Features Audience Award is THE TWO ESCOBARS, the feature debut of the writer/director team of Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist. The film, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival before making its international premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, will compete at the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam next month. The film examines the fateful connection between Pablo Escobar, the infamous drug kingpin, and soccer star Andres Escobar, whose murder following the 1994 World Cup championship was never fully solved. By comparing and contrasting these two personalities, the filmmaker creates a challenging profile of the culture in Colombia, one that has been imbued with mob violence and lack of justice. The filmmakers will be awarded a cash prize of $5,000 and a chance at Eastern European distribution. THE TWO ESCOBARS was chosen from among 15 American documentaries, many making their international premieres at the event.

The American Film Festival concluded its inaugural edition with the Eastern European premiere of SCOTT PILGRIM VERSUS THE WORLD, a tongue-in-cheek rock-n-roll fantasy film by Edgar Wright, starring Michael Cera (JUNO). The Festival opened on 24 October with the presentation of the multimedia extravaganza REBIRTH OF A NATION, with live dj accompaniment by its creator DJ Spooky. In all, the Festival, which is the first to be solely devoted to contemporary and classic American cinema in the region, screened close to 100 films, many of which were sell-outs for the enthusiastic audience of cinema lovers in Wroclaw, Poland. Over 25,000 spectators participated in the Festival’s inaugural run.

Aside from the American Independent features and documentaries in competition, the Festival presented a program of avant-garde films entitled The Cutting Edge; and a selection of out-of-competition films in the Highlights section, introducing the biggest American indie films of the year, including GREENBERG (Noah Baumbach), KABOOM (Greg Araki), THE KILLER INSIDE ME (Michael Winterbottom) and PLEASE GIVE (Nicole Holofcener). While the accent was definitely on new work, the Festival also presented a host of retrospective programs as part of its goal of educating the public about the American independent film scene. Chief among these was a complete retrospective of the films of pioneering indie director John Cassavetes, considered the godfather of the American Independent film movement. Another highlight was the Play It Again Sam section, a survey of important works of the past decade from such indie auteurs as David Lynch, The Coen Brothers, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, Sofia Coppola, Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson, Gus Van Sant, Todd Solondz, Michel Gondry, Miranda July and Michael Moore. The program even included classic Hollywood films with rare big-screen showings by such diverse legends as Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, Michael Curtiz, Michaelangelo Antonioni, George Roy Hill, Woody Allen, Milos Forman and Arthur Penn.

“We wanted to bring the best quality American films from the past and the present to Poland with this initiative”, Festival Director Roman Gutek declared. “With our experience of the ERA New Horizons Film Festival, we know that Wroclaw is a film-loving city and that locals and those who visited the city this past week specifically to see these films came away with strong impressions and an appreciation of what the American independent cinema movement is. For next year, we are considering a longer festival with even more films and special events.”

“I am really happy and really pleased with the reaction of the audiences”, Festival Artistic Director Ula Sniegowska added. “The response to the films was really enthusiastic and the public was very engaged with the films and the filmmakers who came from such a long distance to share their visions with us. There is no question that this Festival was a success for everyone involved and that we look forward to returning to Wroclaw with more challenging films in the future.”

The AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL is organized by the New Horizons Association, which also presents the ERA NEW HORIZONS International Film Festival (www.enh.pl) in July, named by the Polish Film Institute as the most important film event in the country. For more information, visit: www.americanfilmfestival.pl or the Festival Dailies magazine: www.fest21.com/en/blog/americanfilmfestival.

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