First animated film to vie for Blue Angel

As in previous years, Art Film Fest 2015’s centrepiece will be the International Competition of Feature Films. During the 23rd edition, held from 19 to 26 June 2015 in Trenčianske Teplice and Trenčín, the works of talented directors will face off, many of which have already enjoyed rousing success at respected film festivals like the Berlinale, Sundance and Venice. A total of 11 films will compete for the festival trophy – the Blue Angel.

“Awards, even ones from prestigious festivals, are not the most important argument for including a film in our competition. I’m pleased that the stories of most of the films selected centre on a young person. Most importantly, despite the fact that these young protagonists find themselves in different temporal, social, even human circumstances, they are bound by one thing: the aspiration to make it in an “unjust” world, find love or friendship and gain hope for a better life,” responded Peter Nágel, section programmer and Art Film Fest director, when asked about the films’ common denominator.

The latest Blue Angel laureates will be chosen by a five-member jury consisting of Italian film curator Laura Aimone, Kazakh director Emir Baigazin (recipient of the 2013 Blue Angel for Best Film), Czech director and FAMU instructor Václav Kadrnka, Austrian film and theatre director Tina Leisch and Hungarian director Gyula Nemes.

An exception for this year’s competition, but also a first in the history of the festival is the inclusion of a feature-length animated film in the line-up. The picture in question is a Czech-Slovak-German modern adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” entitled Little from the Fish Shop. “It is a terrifyingly realistic story about unfulfilled love and the values of today’s society, marked by an enthralling atmosphere, unique characters and the visual originality typical of Czech-Lion-winning director and production designer Jan Balej. His powerful puppet-based interpretation of the classic fairy tale pushes the story in a decidedly more adult-oriented direction,” said Peter Nágel on the reasoning behind the selection.

Arriving at Art Film Fest with the prestigious Berlinale’s Best First Feature Award in tow, Mexican film 600 Miles from director Gabriel Ripstein stars Oscar nominee Tim Roth. It tells the story of a teenager who smuggles weapons for a drug cartel, unaware that a dangerous agent from a special US police unit is hot on his heels. Their fates are forever intertwined by an inexorable spiral of violence.

Bearing another Berlinale award – the Alfred Bauer Prize for opening new perspectives on film, the Guatemalan film Ixcanul focuses on a 17-year-old Kaqchikel Maya who lives with her parents on a coffee plantation at the foot of an active volcano. She is supposed to follow local tradition, but longs to discover the unknown world on the other side of the mountain and escape to the USA. Director Jayro Bustamante himself grew up in the same tribe, creating not a film about indigenous culture, but one emerging from within it.

The powerful, moving portrayal of “eternal” love in the British film 45 Years revolves around tour-de-force performances from two legends of British cinema: Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, earning each a Silver Bear at this year’s Berlinale. Director Andrew Haigh depicts a married couple just a week away from their 45th wedding anniversary, when the husband receives word that the body of his first love has been found in the mountains. Their enduring marriage starts to show cracks, and neither can even begin to imagine what to do about their long-awaited anniversary celebration.

Awarded with Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize, Scottish director John Maclean’s wild Western Slow West will join the fray as well. Well-known actor Michael Fassbender, who also produced the film, portrays the stoic Western hero as an enigmatic loner with sarcastic humour and a modern sensibility. The film’s overall impact is enhanced by the enthralling panoramic camerawork of Robbie Ryan, who has worked with the likes of Ken Loach and Stephen Frears.

Another competing film awarded at Sundance, the best-known festival of independent film, is The Summer of Sangaile from Lithuanian director Alanté Kavaïté, winner of Sundance’s Directing Award. It centres on the quiet, introverted girl Sangaile, who meets a confident, decisive young woman while summering in the countryside. The two gradually discover what life has to offer, and their closeness gives rise to an intimate secret.

Earning the Special Jury Prize at Venice, Sivas, from debut director and screenwriter Kaan Müjdeci, is one of the most talked-about Turkish films of the year. Set in the bleak countryside of eastern Turkey, it is a dramatic tale about a big white sheepdog and an 11-year-old boy who finds himself perched precariously at the threshold of adulthood.

The New Zealand film The Dark Horse from director James Napier Robertson is the touching true story of an extraordinary man who struggled to improve the future of socially disadvantaged children and teach them to play chess. It won six national film awards, including Best Film and Best Director.

The selection also includes the British psychological drama The Goob from debut director Guy Myhill, premiered at Venice; the Latvian film Modris from debutant Juris Kursietis, internationally premiered at Toronto and earning him the Kuxta Award – Honorable Mention for Best New Director at San Sebastián; and the Norwegian family drama Homesick from director Anne Sewitsky, screened at Sundance.