Cinelink, Sarajevo

CineLink is the industry development section of the Sarajevo Film Festival and it’s designed to reshape and meet the needs and expectations of Southeast Europe’s film industry. Activities take place throughout the year, including Project Development Workshops, Industry Screenings and a Coproduction Market.

It all culminates in the Regional Forum that runs for the next few days at the Hotel Europe here in the city, concentrating on key issues in the audio-visual sector of today – sustainable financing, digitalization, funding schemes, regionalization, sales etc. I’m up this morning, presenting on Film Commissions and Film Incentive Programmes and their applicability in Eastern Europe.

New In Town

What was Renee Zellweger thinking? I mean, this is the woman who brought us Ruby in Cold Mountain, Roxie in Chicago, even Bridget Jones – twice. I mean, she’s not Judy Dench or anything, but we’ve seen her stretch herself as an actress before, so why, oh why, oh why did she choose New in Town as a star vehicle? I can only think that Christina Applegate dropped out due to her chemo treatments – and she would have completely owned this part, turning it into something worthy (if not quite sublime.) But Renee? Give me a break.

The plot – such as it is – is that she’s a Miami-based career woman sent to wildest Minnesota in mid-winter to restructure a food processing plant. Of course she comes to love it and the townsfolk and the hairy trucker who’s the love interest. JK Simmons is in there too somewhere. Say wha???????

New In Town is not a bad film, per se, it’s just that it’s so utterly, perplexingly ordinary. Selkirk, Manitoba did stand in for New Ulm, Minnesota.

Martin Cuff Consulting Mid-Year Business Update

June 2009 sees the completion of the Durban and KZN Film Industry review, which has been conducted by Martin Cuff Consulting on behalf of the eThekwini Municipality / Durban Film Office and Department of Economic Development of the Province of KZN. The six month review was intended to revisit the province’s performance as a film centre, and to look at innovative new business models that can take the region forward into the future. The resulting draft strategy will be undergoing stakeholder consultation in Durban throughout the month.

Martin Cuff Consulting has also been working in South Africa with the Eastern Cape Development Corporation, devising a broad-based sector growth strategy and promotional plan for the provincial film industry. The Sector Plan includes enterprise and crew development, a location and permit strategy and possible local incentives, including closer cooperation with the Eastern Cape Film office. The draft plan is also currently being tested with provincial stakeholders.

Further afield, Martin returns to Serbia on the 14th June, where he has been working on a USAid-funded initiative for the establishment of the Serbia Film Commission. Having created the framework for the establishment in January / February of this year, and advised on the international launch at the AFCI Locations Trade Show in April 09, the next tasks include driving the creation of the Film in Serbia Board, signing off on the business plan and moving towards legal registration of the organisation.

Also in Eastern Europe, Martin has been working with the Georgia National Film Center in Tbilisi, on the establishment of a film-friendliness programme for the Georgian government. Following meetings with several key ministers in the Georgian government, Martin’s draft of a government statement on film friendliness has now been signed as an official proclamation by the country’s President. At the invitation of the Minister of Culture, Martin was invited to present the country’s planned offerings at the Georgian presentation at the Cannes Film Festival in May this year. Martin returns to Georgia in the spring.

Additionally this month, Martin Cuff Consulting begins work on a feasibility study for a potential Film and Music Office in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro – a blogsite and survey have been set up at the following site.

Business Update

I’m bracing myself for a bit of a week of it……

Firstly, I’m in the closing stages of a comprehensive Economic Impact Assessment of the Durban / KZN film sector – the fourth part of the comprehensive Sector Review that is now hurtling towards the final month of inputs. Next is the Strategic Plan, due May 5th.

Secondly, I’m also full tilt in research for a Sector Plan for the Film Industry on behalf of the Eastern Cape Development Corporation – the organisation that is picking up the mantle of industry growth in that province. First report due end of April.

And thirdly, on Saturday I head of to Santa Monica, Los Angeles for the AFCI Locations Trade Show, a fun, low-key event where film commissions and offices around the world gather to present their offerings to the Hollywood industry. I’m advising the Film in Serbia delegation, a great group of people who are launching their brand at the event and via a snazzy brunch at a famous Serbian restaurant in the city. Can’t wait, it’s going to be a blast.

PS. no this NOT a gratuitous picture of Caspar van Dien (which should probably require him to be shirtless anyway, no?) – but rather it’s his lovely wife, Princess Catherine Oxenberg of Serbia……


This month, Martin Cuff Consulting begins the 6-month process of a broad sector review of the Durban and KZN Film Industry on behalf of the Durban Film Office and the KZN Film Commission. The programme will include:

  • Analysis of the structure and depth of the Durban / KZN film industry and its challenges
  • Analysis of the operational strengths and weaknesses of the DFO
  • Identification of key areas for greater involvement by the municipality in the local sector through a process of best practice guidelines.
  • Recommendations for the restructurion of the DFO’s operations with a view to aligning the strategic mandate that suits the needs of industry – including cooperation with the KZN Film Commission
  • Devising tactics and a comprehensive action plan for growth, development and sustainability
  • Providing a structured response to industry development in the local film and media sector through the provision of an industry development programme coordinated by the DFO – defined by the business plan.

Mr. Bones II - Durban's latest success story

Ultimately the project is intended to re-structure the Durban Film Office’s business plan and support a new business model for the film industry of the region as a whole. You can follow the project’s progress at the dedicated blogsite we’ve set up to co-ordinate and communicate with the Durban / KZN stakeholders – DURBANFILMPARTNERSHIP.

As it is in Heaven

When I say As it is in Heaven is a Scandinavian Sister Act, I mean no disrespect to either movie. Both films feature a wild-haired, fish-out-of-water protagonist who unwillingly becomes involved in teaching harmony to a characterful, cacophanous choir, thereby allowing both choristers and choirmaster to discover joy and music, independence and community, redemption and love. There’s even a frosty religious zealot in both movies, proving once again that there’s no hypocrite like a religious hypocrite.

The difference of course is in the telling; As it is in Heaven is a gentle, moving human drama shot in the Swedish Norrland (in and around the rural towns of Kalix, Boden, Gallivare and Lulea, apparently) as the grim and gloomy winter slowly gives way to the promise of spring. Over 185 days, the characters fill in the gaps between their given lines and define themselves both as individuals and as part of a broader, connected family. It’s a lovely film, utterly winning in its humanity, and uniformly brilliantly acted. Look out in particular for the painful rebellion of the Preacher’s wife, and for the subtle kindnesses of the damaged Lena.

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Quantum of Solace

Strangely enough, I wasn’t really looking forward to Quantum of Solace, the 22nd Bond offering. In South Africa, movie critics roundly labelled the movie as dull, muttering that the artsy German director couldn’t “do” action, and they hinted darkly that the demise in standards marked the end of the Bond franchise globally. 

So to be honest, I was really pleasantly surprised. I mean, it’s not an outstanding film, and some of the more talkative moments feel awkward and they’re poorly lit. But it’s still got a enough of the old Bond legacy (cars, girls, glamorous locations) to make it striking, whilst moving ahead with the newer, grittier, brawlier Bond of the Daniel Craig era.

Taking up the story immediately after the death of Vesper in the previous film, Bond starts hunting down the people responsible for her death. The journey takes him from Siena to Haiti (with Panama playing grubby stand-in), then to Austria and finally to the deserts of Bolivia, where the criminal mastermind – weedy, nasty Dominic Greene – is undertaking a cunning plan to monopolise scarce water supplies.

So it’s got Bond islands, and Bond car chases along mountain roads and it’s got Bond hotel rooms and Bond girls at champagne-swigging parties. The most striking location is perhaps Greene’s eco-hotel in the desert – which is actually the space-age workers’ quarters at the Paranal Observatory, high in the Atacama Desert, Chile. There’s more at The Times on how to travel like Bond, and Nubricks goes a step further with ideas on how to buy property in the various locations. No gadgets in this movie though.

Seeker; The Dark is Rising

A downtrodden teenage boy discovers to his surprise that he has special, magical powers. He’s instructed in the use of them by an assortment of adult mentors, while a sinister dark lord of many disguises threatens an epic battle for the future of the planet……

These days, you would of course be forgiven for thinking the above was a precis of something by JK Rowling. In fact it’s the synopsis of a book – Seeker; the Dark is Rising – by Susan Cooper that she wrote in 1973 that was made into a movie in 2007. We watched it with Rowan last night. And what can I tell you? Well, Harry Potter obviously sets a very high bar for comparison that this fails to live up to. The film’s entertaining enough, but in a messy, afternoon-television kind of way. 

However it was the locations that really stood out – and not in a good way. Here’s a wee word of advice to film makers; if you’re doing a movie that’s unambiguously set in rural England, it really, really helps if you choose locations that look, well, English. 

Continue reading “Seeker; The Dark is Rising”