Kustendorf 2013: Kneecapping the press and directors
by Peter Weed

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Emir Kusturica, founder and director of the Kustendorf Film and Music Festival, pulled in a number of fascinating directors to talk about their work following screenings on the mountaintop.

Here are a few highs and lows:

Journalist kneecapping: During director Zhang Yimou’s moderated workshop, a Serbian journalist asked about Yimou’s next project. The moderator cut the journalist off at the knees: “No journalism questions here. I suppose the next question will be what it’s like to work with Tom Cruise.” Ouch. It probably would have been enough to just explain that the Q & A was only for students.

Moderator kneecapping: The moderator for director Aleksey Balabanov’s section should have done a bit of research before stepping into the ring. (His “workshop” followed “Me Too,” an intriguing film about the quest of four men and a woman for transportation to happiness via a mystical bell tower located in a dead Russian city.) To put it bluntly, Balabanov is pretty much of a prick about answering questions. And the Russian director raised the bar to “Prick” with a capital “P” while murmuring non-answers to both moderator and student questions.

Student question: “It seems as if your films are moving toward the more comedic. Can you talk about this?” Answer: “I don’t think so.” Student question: “Can you offer any advice for young directors who are working to improve?” Helpful answer: “Make good movies.”

The moderator served up some longish, influence and theme questions that Balabanov simply ignored. Finally, the befuddled moderator asked for help from the journalists in attendance. No help arrived. It seemed a long way for Balabanov to travel in order to be purposefully difficult.

Kneecapping nobody: Once again, the moderator snarled “no journalist questions” as he opened the workshop with director Matteo Garrone, who brought “Reality” to the festival. Garrone shrugged and smiled. “It’s OK,” he said. “I will answer questions from journalists or anyone.” The director of the successful Gomorrah, Garrone warmly and humorously described making “Reality” about a fishmonger obsessed with appearing on Italy’s “Big Brother.” The film is well worth seeking out. The lead role is played by Anniello Arena, who is serving a 28-year to life sentence in Naples. He worked on the film during the daylight hours, returning to prison at night. Oh, and the film is based on Garrone’s brother in law: “The crazy stuff (a cricket perceived as a spy for example) is real, and the everyday stuff is made up.”

A thoughtful take on Beasts of the Southern Wild: Director Behn Zeitlin delivered a thoughtful discussion about making his first feature film, which has garnered praise at Cannes, Sundance and Deauville, and recently earned a slew of Oscar nods, including a Best Actress nomination for 11-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis. To help his adolescent lead, Zeitlin shot the film in sequence, and adapted the fluid screenplay as he shot to accommodate the realities of a small budget.