Film - Arab Times

Docu brings action, suspense to nature genre
‘Virunga’, film on besieged African park, bids for Oscar
“They are my life,” a ranger in
Central Africa says of endangered
mountain gorillas in his care.
This bond of love infuses
“Virunga”, an Oscar-contending
describes it as a “David and Goliath”
struggle pitting wildlife park rangers
and other conservationists with few
resources against poachers, armed
groups and a company exploring for
The film about Virunga National
Park, a UNESCO World Heritage
site in eastern Congo, brings action
and suspense to the nature genre. Its
real-life cast includes Andre Bauma,
an endearing ranger who tends
orphan gorillas; chief warden
Emmanuel de Merode, an urbane
Belgian descended from nobility;
and Melanie Gouby, a French freelance journalist who records shadowy figures on a hidden camera in
scenes that make for tense viewing.
The dramatic events unfold in the
visually rich landscape of Virunga, a
jewel of biodiversity that has forests,
swamps, savannah and active volcanoes, and is home to about a quarter
of the world’s remaining mountain
gorillas and to various armed
“I probably could have filmed it
on a mobile phone and people would
have still said, ‘Oh, it looks beautiful,’” director Orlando von Einsiedel
said in an interview with The
Associated Press. And yet, he said of
the park: “Very few people have
heard of it.”
The nominee for best documentary feature, whose executive producer is Leonardo DiCaprio, is getting high-profile attention ahead of
the Feb 22 Oscar awards in
Hollywood. Former US president
Bill Clinton attended a recent
screening of “Virunga” in New
York. Primatologist Jane Goodall
described it as a “wake-up call.”
The documentary was released on
Netflix in hopes of reaching the
widest possible audience, and positive publicity has seemingly helped
to tilt the conservation battle, and a
broader effort to create a sustainable
economy, in Virunga’s favor for
now. Tourism is up, donations have
surged and hydropower projects and
other job creation schemes are pro-
gressing, von Einsiedel said.
But Virunga remains vulnerable,
the park’s backers warned. Over 140
park rangers have been killed in the
last 15 years, according to von
There are still a great many very
serious security issues,” de Merode,
the warden, said in an interview.
“These are all problems that relate to
illegal extraction of natural
De Merode, who was seriously
injured by gunmen in Congo last
year, said armed factions still operate in the park despite the 2013 military offensive that scattered the
M23 rebel group. Another rebel
group, the FDLR, has been active in
the area for two decades and is
active in the charcoal industry
blamed for destroying gorilla habitat. De Merode said there is also
concern about possible efforts by a
London-based company, SOCO
International PLC, to drill for oil in
the park. Last year, SOCO
International agreed that there will
be no exploratory drilling in Virunga
unless Congo and the UN cultural
agency UNESCO agree it would not
threaten the park’s world heritage
status. However, de Merode and the
Einsiedel, fear the company could
illegally try to extract oil from the
park at a later stage.
The Church of England, an
investor in SOCO International, has
said it is troubled by the firm’s
alleged conduct in Virunga and that
it could consider withdrawing its
SOCO International has said its
“area of interest” has been limited to
Lake Edward and adjacent lowland
savannah within Virunga, and not in
mountain gorilla habitats, the park’s
volcanoes and equatorial rainforest.
It has criticized the documentary as
one-sided and said it does not adequately reflect the company’s stated
commitment to ethical conduct.
Robert Richter, an American documentary producer who has been a
judge at international film festivals,
said “Virunga” depicts a threat to “at
least one part” of the park but it was
not clear that the mountain gorilla
sanctuaries would be directly threatened by the activities of the oil company.
Actress Lily James poses for photographers during the photo call for the film ‘Cinderella’ at the 2015 Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin, on Feb 13. (AP)
Films on Charlie Hebdo, terrorism draw interest at Berlin fest
Intl Film Festival’s youth jury,
Generation 14plus, announced
its selections for 2015’s Crystal
Bear recipients.
Sweden’s “Flocken”
(Flocking) by Beata Gardeler,
was honored with the Crystal
Bear for best film, with a special mention going to the
Netherlands’ Sam de Jong’s
“Prins” (Prince).
Two short films were also
singled out, with the UK’s
Petros Silvestros’ “A
Confession” winning the
Crystal Bear for best short film
and Austrian Chris Raiber’s
“Nelly” earning a special mention.
Generation 14plus’ international jury also bestowed
prizes, including the Grand
Prix, along with its EUR 7,500
($8,500) endowment, for best
feature-length film to Marielle
Heller’s “The Diary of a
Teenage Girl” and the special
prize for best short film to Ben
Adler’s “Coach.” (RTRS)
Cotillard will star with
Michael Fassbender in
“Assassin’s Creed,” New
Regency’s live-action adaptation of the Ubisoft video game.
Justin Kurzel is directing,
with production set to begin in
the early fall for a Dec 21,
2016, release through Fox. The
studio decided last September
to move the project out of the
2015 summer window.
“Assassin’s Creed” is cofinanced by RatPac and Alpha
Pictures. Producers are Frank
Marshall, Arnon Milchan,
Jean-Julien Baronnet, Conor
McCaughan, Fassbender and
Pat Crowley. Ubisoft Motion
Pictures developed the project
and is producing with New
Regency. (RTRS)
Carano will star opposite
Ryan Reynolds in FoxMarvel’s action-adventure
“Deadpool,” with Tim Miller
Lauren Shuler Donner is
producing “Deadpool,” set for
a March start in Vancouver.
Upstarts set to outshine vets
BERLIN, Feb 14, (AFP): The race for the
Golden Bear top prize at the 65th Berlin film
festival shaped up as a dead heat Saturday,
with break-out talents looking well placed to
pip cinema heavyweights.
Ahead of a gala awards ceremony in the
German capital for the Berlinale, as the 11-day
event is known, a slow-burn British drama
about a foundering marriage and a banned
Iranian picture emerged as favourites.
Britain’s Charlotte Rampling, a hot pick for
best actress, starred in “45 Years” as a woman
whose husband learns the body of his longdead first love has resurfaced.
The movie by Andrew Haigh led a critics’
poll in Berlin’s daily Tagesspiegel and industry
magazine Screen, with Britain’s Daily
Telegraph giving it five out of five stars.
Rampling has “rarely been better than she is
here, in the role of a placid, dog-walking, teadrinking middle-class Brit, who finds the floor
abruptly falling out beneath her,” its reviewer
Tim Robey wrote from the festival.
Audiences also cheered Iranian filmmaker
Jafar Panahi’s “Taxi”, the third picture he’s
made in defiance of an official ban.
Panahi, who is outlawed from travelling
abroad and was absent from the Berlin premiere, appears on-screen as a Tehran cab driver, swapping stories with the denizens of his
A mounted dashboard camera allowed him
to film in secret, away — at first — from the
prying eyes of the Islamic state’s authorities.
Film industry bible Variety called it a “terrific road movie” that offered “a provocative
discussion of Iranian social mores and the art
of cinematic storytelling”.
Latin American movies were also out in
force, with Chilean director Pablo Larrain
making a splash with “The Club” about
defrocked paedophile priests given refuge
from justice by the Roman Catholic Church.
Reynolds portrays the title
character, a talkative assassin
who winds up with superpowers while seeking a cure for his
cancer. Carano will play the
role of Angel Dust, part of the
Morlocks group of mutants in
the Marvel universe.
Miller is directing the
superhero film from a script by
Trade magazine The Hollywood Reporter
called it a “grippingly sinister portrait” and
pronounced Larrain, who garnered an Oscar
nomination for his 2012 black comedy “No”,
to be “one of the more genuine talents working
in cinema today”.
Guatemalan drama “Ixcanul Volcano” by
Jayro Bustamante, about a teenage girl living
with her family on a coffee plantation who
plots to run away to the United States with her
boyfriend, also drew warm applause.
While the latest releases by veterans such as
Terrence Malick and Werner Herzog divided
critics, Britain’s Peter Greenaway fared better
with his audacious biopic “Eisenstein in
The sexually explicit film imagines an
episode in the life of Sergei Eisenstein, the
lionised Russian director of “Battleship
Potemkin”, who tried to relaunch his career in
Mexico in 1931.
During his self-imposed exile, he starts a
torrid affair with his local male guide.
Critics said Finland’s Elmer Baeck, who
portrayed Eisenstein as an exuberant intellectual and a charming clown, had strong odds to
capture a gong as best actor.
Audiences also embraced inventive German
heist movie “Victoria” by Sebastian Schipper,
shot in a single take on the streets of Berlin.
The festival got off to a shaky start on
February 5 with the premiere of Isabel Coixet’s
“Nobody Wants the Night”, featuring Juliette
Binoche as the early 20th century Arctic
explorer Josephine Peary.
Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian called the
picture “a pretty flimsy piece of work... which
comes near to being broken on the wheel of its
own ponderousness”.
Smaller pictures from Romania and Russia
later in the festival won fans, however.
“Sworn Virgin”, the debut feature by Italy’s
Rhett Reese and Paul
Carano, a former MMA star,
broke into movies with 2011’s
“Haywire” and 2013’s “Fast
and Furious 6. (RTRS)
LOS ANGELES: It’s not often
that Hollywood releases two
Laura Bispuri, about a woman in the Albanian
mountains who opts to pass as a man rather
than live her life in marital subjugation, featured a much-praised turn by its star, Alba
And a rare Russian-Ukrainian-Polish coproduction, Alexei German Jr’s dystopian
vision of 2017 Russia, “Under Electric Skies”,
also found admirers.
“Nasty Baby”, Chilean director Sebastian
Silva’s tale of a gay New York couple who
want to have a child, scooped the “Teddy
Award” on Friday night for the festival’s best
LGBT film.
A seven-member jury led by Hollywood
director Darren Aronofsky will hand out the
prestigious Golden and Silver Bear statuettes,
which can propel a film to global box office
success and bigger prizes.
Among award winners last year were “The
Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Boyhood”, both
nominated for Oscars later this month, and the
gritty Chinese thriller that won the Golden
Bear, “Black Coal, Thin Ice”.
Like several of the Oscar best-picture
nominees, the highest-profile — and among
the bestselling — projects at this year’s
Berlin European Film Market were based on
real-life events: IM Global’s Mel Gibsondirected “Hacksaw Ridge”; FilmNation’s
Nicolas Cage starrer “Army of One”; and
“Gold,” with Matthew McConaughey, from
One all-too-real event, however, may be creating a niche market of its own: January’s
Charlie Hebdo slaughter. It will take months
for serious movie projects about the event to
hit the pre-sales market. But, compounded by
the decapitation of two Japanese citizens, one
a journalist, by Islamic State militants days
before the EFM’s Feb 5 kickoff, the murders
gave a suddenly tragic relevance to titles
major theatrical bombs on the
same weekend. But that’s
exactly what happened when
“Jupiter Ascending” and
“Seventh Son” both crashed in
US theaters on Friday.
Warner Bros’ “Jupiter
Ascending,” starring
Channing Tatum and Mila
Kunis, is quickly falling in
already made or just coming onto the market.
In early trading, Kino Lorber closed US
rights to Daniel Leconte’s 2008 docu-feature
“It’s Hard Being Loved by Jerks,” offered to
distributors for a second time by Pyramide Intl.
Two pubcasters, Germany’s Phoenix and
Denmark’s DR, have requested the film. There
is also UK acquisition interest.
A chronicle of Charlie Hebdo’s passionate
defense of freedom of speech in 2007 as it
fought a legal battle in a French court with
Islamic organizations over its publishing cartoons portraying Muhammad, in retrospect
“It’s Hard...” also explains why Charlie Hebdo
became a fundamentalist target.
Also at the EFM, BAC Films announced
pre-sales to Italy (Rai Cinema) and Japan
(Nikkatsu) on Nicolas Saada’s “Taj Mahal,” a
thriller set against the backdrop of the 2008
Mumbai terrorist attack, focusing on the true
case of young woman (Stacy Martin,
“Nymphomaniac”) trapped in a suite during
the assault. Germany and the UK are now
under negotiations.
“If the Charlie Hebdo drama hadn’t happened, we would never have re-issued ‘It’s
Hard...’ or sold it abroad. It would have stayed
in our library,” said Pyramide’s Eric Lagesse.
Films Distribution is selling Assad
Fouladkar’s “Halal Love,” now in post, presenting four stories about Muslims juggling
their love life and desire with religious rules.
“I had a conversation with a Japanese buyer
about ‘Halal Love,’” said FD’s Nicolas
Brigaud Robert. “They said there’s a curiosity about understanding the Muslim world, to
see if these types of movies could interest in
their country.”
Nobody’s trying to make a quick buck out of
Charlie Hebdo. Grosses from the French rerelease of “It’s Hard...,” which sold 40,000
admissions by early February, will be donated
to Charlie Hebdo, per Lagesse.
box office estimates to a
skimpy $18 million opening.
With a budget of $175 million,
the Wachowskis’ sci-fi tentpole
could lose tens of millions barring a dramatic turnaround
overseas, in what could be the
biggest flop of the year.
The forecast for Universal
and Legendary’s long-delayed
“Seventh Son,” starring Jeff
Bridges, is just as gloomy.
The pricey fantasy tentpole
has a projected loss of $85
million, as Variety exclusively reported this week, despite
earning $82 million at the
international box office. It’s
on track for just $6 million in
its US debut. (RTRS)