- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2006

CANNES, France — A longtime favorite low-cost destination for many big movie productions, Eastern Europe is now starting in a big way to come into its own on the international film stage.

A new generation of exciting young producers is emerging across the region and making waves at this year’s 59th international Cannes film festival.

This trend was highlighted by the festival’s artistic director Thierry Fremaux before the 12-day event, which culminates tomorrow with a star-studded prize-giving ceremony.

“Over recent years, we’ve sensed an east wind rising. The 2006 selection confirms it,” Mr. Fremaux says.

This promises to be a vintage year for a number of Eastern European countries, and the director for the film market, Jerome Paillard, says there were 300 film titles from Eastern Europe being sold at the market compared with 150 last year.

“There is real progress. Cinema there is moving. It touches us, deeply with original and serious subjects,” he said.

“We’ve not had so many films in Cannes for 20 years, so it’s an exceptional year for us,” said Csaba Zoltan Papp, spokesman at the Hungarian film stand.

Poland and Romania, which has a stand here for the first time, are also both strongly represented in the lower-key, but still prestigious, ancillary events held alongside the competition for the coveted Palme d’Or.

The region has always produced some outstanding prize-winning filmmakers, including Poland’s Krzystof Kieslowski, whose three-part “Red,” “White” and “Blue” film series won him fans around the world.

Serbia’s Emir Kusturica has the distinction of having scooped the top Cannes honors on two occasions. First, in 1985, with “When Father Was Away on Business” and again in 1995 with his film “Underground.”

But the number of filmmakers achieving international recognition has remained small, mostly as a result of a lack of state subsidies as well as political upheaval in some countries.

The tide appears of have turned, however, if the number of countries turning out at this year’s Cannes festival to promote their fast-expanding range of high-quality movies is any indication.

Such is the growing importance of the film industry to the countries’ economies that Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia have all turned up to share or host their own pavilions, despite the high cost.

Even tiny Kosovo is represented by Nehat Fejza of Concordia Pictures.

“This is my first-ever year at Cannes, and I am the first-ever Kosovo film producer to participate here,” Mr. Fejza said.

Mr. Fejza, who has a couple co-productions under way — “Tonight Has Been Canceled” with Ireland and “Power Cuts” with a German partner — said the festival was proving a great place to learn and network.

Although no Eastern European film is in the running for the Palme d’Or, the region is well placed to scoop top honors in the “Un Certain Regard” competition, the festival’s top sidebar event.

After winning “Un Certain Regard” last year with Cristi Puiv’s “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” Romania is again in the race with Catalin Mitulescu’s “The Way I Spent the End of the World.”

But “it will be difficult to win a prize for the second year running,” noted Romania’s Laorentio Bratar, here to promote the country’s wide range of films.

Poland will also be putting up stiff competition with Slawomir Fabicki’s debut film “Retrieval,” a hard-hitting story of a 19-year-old who is forced to enter a world of evil to protect the woman in his life and her child.

“Taxidermia” by young Hungarian director Gyorgy Palfy has already been sold internationally after creating a box office sensation at home with its lurid scenes of feasting, drunkenness and debauchery.

There is also a wide choice of promising films outside the “Un Certain Regard” event.

Young Hungarian director Agnes Kocsis, who is fresh out of film school, is attracting a lot of attention. She has two movies in official screenings here this festival.

Her short movie, “The Virus,” is screening as part of “Cinefondation” that introduces work by film students, while her first feature film, “Fresh Air,” is being presented in Critics Week.

With all Eastern European countries competing to offer tax incentives to attract more film-production business while also supporting their blossoming national film industries, it is proving to be a great time to be in movies in the east of Europe.

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