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Eastern European cinema flourishes

The movie scene in the former East bloc seems to be reinventing itself, with new film festivals appearing and movies like 'Tangerines' receiving acclaim.

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Lembit Ulfsak appears in the film 'Tangerines.'

Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

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When Georgian director Zaza Urushadze’s film “Tangerines” was nominated for the best foreign language film Oscar last year, the movie made history for Estonia, with the film becoming the first from the country to be nominated for that prize.

“Tangerines” is just one of the recent films to come from the former East bloc and receive acclaim. The movie scene in the region is reinventing itself, says Moritz Pfeifer, editor of the East European Film Bulletin. Some governments are encouraging directors to film there, too. The Czech Republic, for example, offers cash rebates that could make it easier to finance a film production there.

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Meanwhile, smaller festivals centering on films produced by former Soviet and Yugoslav societies have sprouted across  Europe. Paris, for instance, hosts an event focusing on Czech cinema, while Berlin has one for Georgian films. “These festivals are new, and the main reason is that now you can really have a selection of 10 films from the region worth seeing,” says Mr. Pfeifer.

Following the collapse of Soviet and Yugoslav dictatorships, violent conflicts erupted in Tajikistan and in Chechnya as well as in ex-Yugoslavian countries like Bosnia-Herzegovina. Now a new generation of directors is depicting how those upheavals still affect people’s lives today, says Gaby Babić, director of the Go East Festival in Wiesbaden, Germany, which focuses on Eastern European films. Questions of identity, generational conflicts, and fear of foreigners often dominate the plotlines.

In 2014, the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, which is held in Tallinn, Estonia, was added to the list of festivals that are accredited by the International Federation of Film Producers Association to hold an international competition program. Today the cinema world isn’t just looking to Cannes, France; Venice, Italy; and Warsaw, which are home to some of the other accredited festivals, says Edith Sepp, chair of the Film New Europe Association. “People are looking toward Tallinn, too,” Ms. Sepp says.


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