Romanian film wins PIFF

Prague Independent Film Festival was in its third year

Romanian film Octav, directed by Serge Ioan Celebidachi, won the Grand Prix at the Prague Independent Film Festival, which just finished its third year. The same film also won Best Actor for Marcel Iures, a veteran actor who played an old man selling his childhood home after an absence of many years.

The festival took place Aug. 5–7 at Prague's kino Lucerna, and screened features as well as shorts and documentaries, with many of the filmmakers coming to present their films.

Best Feature went to the Russian film Ivanov, directed by Dimitri Falkovich, who also wrote the film and starred in it. It is based loosely on his experiences as a businessman in Russia and includes a look at contemporary Kyiv. Georges Lechaptois won for Best Cinematography for that film as well.

Herbert Golder attended the festival with his film Ballad of the Righteous Merchant, which took the Best Documentary prize. Golder has worked with director Werner Herzog for over 20 years. Ballad of the Righteous Merchant focused on Herzog during the making of the 2009 film My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? a modern day tale steeped in mythological themes.

Golder, who co-wrote the script to My Son, said that Herzog was a very active filmmaker and could continue to work if he lost an eye, but not if he lost a leg. Golder over the years has had many roles with Herzog, including acting and assistant director on other films.

His background includes teaching classical studies. “Werner always introduces me as a practitioner of martial arts and an expert on Greek mythology,” Golder said, adding later that Herzog appreciates people who are active in the world as well as being deep thinkers.

Golder tried to assemble his backstage footage in 2009 but was unhappy with it. He returned a decade later to take a fresh look at it and now is pleased with his film, which combines behind the scenes looks at filmmaking with a discussion of the darker themes in My Son, which was based loosely on a true story. As part of his research, he interviewed a former actor who in real life killed his mother, re-creating a Greek tragedy but in modern times.

The festival's opening film I May Regret, which won the Grand Prix recently at the Vienna Independent Film Festival, took Best Director and Best Original Screenplay this time, with both awards going to Graham Streeter. He is also currently looking for locations, cast and crew for a film he will shoot next year in either in Prague, Budapest or Vienna. That film is called The Month of April. “It is a play on the word. April is a girl. And it is a month when this girl is in this man's life. One intense month. The story takes place just after spring break,” Streeter said.

The cast and locations they find will help determine where the film is eventually shot.

For all of his films, Streeter says he looks for commitment and the desire to be involved and wants to make sure his type of story and the actors are a match.

I May Regret is set in the 1980s and deals with an elderly woman with Alzheimer's disease and a nurse who may be taking advantage of her, but it is not easy to determine. “It has very few locations, very few cast members and a very intense story,” Streeter said.

He added he is comfortable making story-heavy films and is not looking to jump to big action movies. “That is not what I carved myself to be,” he said.

“We're doing films that matter. If you are interested in a topic, we are not afraid to do films that have a serious topic. We try to make it a very exciting ride as well. If we ask you to spend an hour and half of your life watching one of our films, we hope you come out inspired to be a better person,” he said.

The category with the toughest competition was Best Short Film. The comedy Mr. Goody, directed by Jason McDonald, beat out a tense Western, several rather dark dramas and some other clever comedies. Jason MacDonald is also an actor who appeared in the TV series The Vampire Diaries and the soap opera One Life to Live, as well as in a small uncredited role in I, Tonya among other TV and film roles.

Mr. Goody is about a job interview process. He said he shot it in about one day in his own actual office in Atlanta, Georgia. His win was a complete surprise considering how good the other films were, he added.

A favorite among the audience was Moon's Milk, a stop-motion fairytale that took the prize for Best Animated Film. Director Ri Crawford said it took seven years to make in his basement, though he worked on other projects at the same time. He managed to get Tom Waits to do the narration, but at first, Waits declined. Eventually Waits changed his mind and the narration was recorded in a single day.

Waits involvement was due to a cold email request, and he accepted via a call from an unlisted number. Crawford said not to be afraid to email people you don't know and to always answer your phone, even if the caller is unknown.

Another famous name involved was Diva Zappa, youngest child of Frank Zappa, who made a sweater for one of the puppets.

The other prizes at the festival were for Best Music Video, which went to #Instrgram by Russian director Valeria Gai Germanika. The prize for Best Art Direction went to the music video Dance to the Party by director Wayne Isham. Pop singer and dancer Ari B attended the festival and said that the dancing in the video really pushed her to learn new things.

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