Monday, January 23, 2012

African Film Spotlight, CAN 2012

In the past, I had to postpone an African Cup of Nations (CAN) Film spotlight due to the difficulty in tracking down an adequate number of films from the nations taking part in the tournament. That difficulty still exists and in a way, the 2012 tournament is more challenging than previous editions because of the high profile absences of Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and Algeria. Much has been written about the footballing ramifications of the absence of these five countries especially since Egypt won the last three tournaments, Nigeria and Cameroon have been major forces in the region for the last two decades while Algeria took part in the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa. However, their absence is more serious from a cinematic point of view because Egypt and Nigeria are the two most prolific film producing African nations while in recent years South Africa and Algeria have contributed a good dose of worthy films. Thankfully, Mali and Senegal are present in this year’s tournament as they are a reliable source of films and it is also relatively easy to find films from Morocco and Tunisia. I decided to go ahead with a CAN spotlight because I was able to find atleast two films from each group.

Selection Criteria & Rules

This spotlight has the least amount of rules because of the hurdles involved in finding enough representative films. The selections can be from any decade and co-productions are essential requirements. There will be no head-to-head judging of films but I will write about the selections and then pick my three favourite entries at the end of the spotlight. Backup films will only be allowed in case I cannot find the entries below.

Group A

Equatorial Guinea: None
Libya: The Message (1977, Moustapha Akkad)
Senegal: Madame Brouette (2002, Moussa Sene Absa)
Zambia: None

Unfortunately, the co-hosts Equatorial Guinea are not known for their film industry although a documentary about the nation’s oil industry does exist.

Group B

Angola: The Hero (2004, Zézé Gamboa)
Burkina Faso: Dreams of Dust (2006, Laurent Salgues)
Ivory Coast: Adanggaman (2000, Roger Gnoan M'Bala)
Sudan: None

Ivory Coast are the soccer powerhouses in Group B and it would be a major shock if they didn’t win their group. However, in cinematic terms, Ivory Coast will have their hands full with the two other group entries.

There are a few foreign made documentaries about Sudan but no adequate direct or co-production entry could be found.

Group C

Gabon: Dôlè (2000, Imunga Ivanga)
Morocco: Le Grand Voyage (2004, Ismaël Ferroukhi)
Niger: Le Medicin De Gafire (1985, Mustapha Diop)
Tunisia: Khorma (2002, Jilani Saadi)

There is potential to see films from all four nations.

Group D

Botswana: The Gods Must be Crazy II (1989, Jamie Uys)
Ghana: Life and Living It (2008, Shirley Frimpong Manso)
Guinea: Dakan (1997, Mohamed Camara)
Mali: Den Muso (1975, Souleymane Cissé)

Like Group C, all 4 films might be present.

The football tournament ends on February 12 but this spotlight will be allowed to run until March.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight

Back in 2006, I held my first soccer film spotlight to compliment the Soccer World Cup. The film spotlight proved a far more rewarding experience than I had expected as the spotlight forced me to spend hours digging up films from around the world. Each successive soccer film spotlight expanded my film viewing experience as I was able to see my first ever films from nations such as Paraguay, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, North Korea and Honduras. I tweaked the rules and criteria for each spotlight so as to incorporate a mix of film genres thereby ensuring I saw a diverse set of films. Last year, I added books to the mix in the Copa America 2011 Spotlight and that was even more enriching as the South American books dwarfed the films. So books are once again included in this Euro 2012 spotlight and the number of films has been increased to a maximum of two entries for each nation. The total of 16 books and a maximum of 31 films makes this by far the most comprehensive spotlight I am undertaking. The rules, outlined after the book and film selections, are even more complex than before as well.


Selection Criteria -- The author must have some ties to the competing European country, either by citizenship (birth or immigration) or familial. The latter applies in situations when the book is written by a foreign born author but whose roots can be traced back to the selected nation.

Group A

Poland: House of Day, House of Night, Olga Tokarczuk
Russia: A Hero of our Time, Mikhail Lermontov
Czech Republic: The Joke, Milan Kundera
Greece: Z, Vassilis Vassilikos

Group B

Holland: A Posthumous Confession, Marcellus Emants
Germany: The Appointment, Herta Müller
Portugal: Knowledge of Hell, António Lobo Antunes
Denmark: The History of Danish Dreams, Peter Høeg

Group C

Spain: Quarantine, Juan Goytisolo
Italy: The Porthole, Adriano Spatola
Ireland: Kepler, John Banville
Croatia: The Ministry of Pain, Dubravka Ugresic

Group D

Ukraine: The UnSimple, Taras Prokhasko
England: GB84, David Peace
France: The Giants, J.M.G Le Clezio
Sweden: The Dwarf, Par Lagerkvist


There are abundant choices for films in most cases so here are some criteria to help narrow the selections:

1) Production Source: Ideally, the selected film should only be produced by a single European country. However, a co-production is acceptable as long as the European nation is represented either by the story or the director’s nationality.

2) Release Year: The film should have a release date between 2008 - 2012 to coincide with the 4 year gap in between the two European Championships. This also applies to the film’s production meaning a film made a decade ago but only released between 2008-2012 does not count. This criteria ensures a fair competition as all nations would have films within a few years of each other.

3) Film Festival selection: Ideally, the selected film should have played at a few international film festivals. This rule is in place to ensure that each nation has the best chance to do well in the competition and that there are no heavy defeats like in previous competitions. Of course, there is no guarantee of a film’s quality just because it played at a few festivals but atleast the film would have undergone a prior screening process.

Each nation can have a maximum of two films in the competition, a primary film and a backup film. In case the primary film cannot be seen by June 8, the backup film will step in and compete throughout the competition. If both primary and backup films are available, each can take part in a separate group match as outlined by the rules.

The primary film is mentioned first followed by the backup film.

Group A

Poland: The Mill and the Cross (2011, Lech Majewski), In Darkness (2011, Agnieszka Holland)
Russia: Silent Souls (2010, Aleksei Fedorchenko), How I Ended This Summer (2010, Aleksey Popogrebskiy)
Czech Reoublic: Surviving Life (2010, Jan Svankmajer), The Country Teacher (2008, Bohdan Sláma) Protektor (2009, Marek Najbrt) ***
Greece: Homeland (2010, Syllas Tzoumerkas), ALPS (2011, Giorgos Lanthimos)

Group B

Holland: C'est déjà l'été (2010, Martijn Maria Smits), Winter in Wartime (2008, Martin Koolhoven)
Germany: Sleeping Sickness (2011, Ulrich Köhler), Storm (2009, Hans-Christian Schmid)
Portugal: Mysteries of Lisbon (2010, Raoul Ruiz), The Strange Case of Angelica (2010, Manoel de Oliveira)
Denmark: Applause (2009, Martin Zandvliet), Terribly Happy (2008, Henrik Ruben Genz)

Group C

Spain: The Last Circus (2010, Álex de la Iglesia), Map of the Sounds of Tokyo (2009, Isabel Coixet)
Italy: The Salt of Life (2011, Gianni Di Gregorio), Terraferma (2011, Emanuele Crialese)
Croatia: Buick Riviera (2008, Goran Rusinovic), The Blacks (2009, Goran Devic, Zvonimir Juric)
Ireland: The Guard (2011, John Michael McDonagh), Kisses (2008, Lance Daly)

Group D

England: Shame (2011, Steve McQueen), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011, Tomas Alfredson)
Sweden: Play (2011, Ruben Östlund), Everlasting Moments (2008, Jan Troell)
France: House of Tolerance (2011, Bertrand Bonello), Rapt (2009, Lucas Belvaux)
Ukraine: My Joy (2010, Sergei Loznitsa)

A minor concern is that there is no backup film for Ukraine. Ultimately, I don’t think that will matter too much as My Joy is slated for a mid-March release so Ukraine should have its primary film in competition.

***Update, Mar 15 2012: Film Movement confirmed in an email that they don't have legal rights to sell The Country Teacher in Canada. So that means neither or Film Movement will ship the film to a Canadian address. The film is therefore ineligible and thus removed.


The rules will be different for the group and knock-out phases. As in previous soccer film spotlights, the match-ups will be determined by the soccer tournament draw.

Group Phase

There is a potential for each group match to have three unique titles competing. However, each match will still result in a maximum of 3 points so that at the end of the group phase, a nation can earn a maximum total of 9 points, similar to the soccer tournament.

Group Phase, Match 1:

Primary Film vs Primary Film or
Backup Film vs Primary Film or
Primary Film vs Backup Film or
Backup Film vs Backup Film

The first match will see the two films compete against each other in five categories which will count as goals scored by a nation.

Five Categories: Acting, Story, Direction, Cinematography & Production values

a) If one film is superior to another film in a category, then the superior film will get one goal while the other film will get 0.
b) If both films match each other in a category, they will score one goal each.
c) If both films fail in a category, they will get 0 goals each.

Each film’s respective goals will be totaled up and compared to the other film’s.

The film with the greater total will get 3 points while the goals will serve as goal-difference. Meaning, if Nation A has 5 goals while Nation B has 3, then Nation A will get 3 points and have a goal-difference of 5-3, while Nation B will get 0 points and have a goal-difference of 3-5.

If both films are tied, then each of them will get one point.

Group Phase, Match 2: Book vs Book

If one book is superior to the other nation’s book, then the winning book gets 3 points with a score-line of 1-0.

If both books are equally good, then each nation gets one point with a score of 1-1.

Group Phase, Match 3:

Backup Film vs Backup Film or
Primary Film vs Backup Film or
Backup Film vs Primary Film or
Primary Film vs Primary Film

If one nation does not have a backup film, then it can use the primary film in its place. The judging rules here will be a straight forward 1-0 win to the more superior film. The winning film will also get 3 points. In case of a tie, then both films get 1 point and a goal-difference of 1-1.

Group Phase, points total

The top two nations with the most points in all 4 groups advance to the knock-out stage. In case, multiple nations earn the same points in the group phase, the tie-breaker will be in the following order:

a) goal-difference
b) head-to-head match-up results

Books will only compete in the group phase and will be out of contention in the knock-out phase. At the conclusion of the group phase, a decision can be made to replace a nation’s primary film with its backup film only if the backup film proves itself superior to the primary film.

Knock-out phase

The quarter-finals, semi-finals and final will be governed by the following rules:

The films will compete against each other in 5 categories -- Acting, Story, Direction, Cinematography & Production values.

a) If one film is superior to another film in a category, then it will get one point, while the other film will get 0.
b) If both films match each other in a category, they will score one point each.
c) If both films fail in a category, they will get 0 points each.
d) In case of a tie after these 5 categories, then a subjective vote tie-breaker will be used. This means that the film which sways me emotionally advances. I feel this is similar to the emotional penalty kicks used to settle soccer games when two teams are tied after extra time.

Note: It is possible to have scores such as 3-2 or 5-5 (if both films score maximum on all 5 counts) in this scheme.

Restricting films to be between 2008-2012 ensures that this spotlight will be a catch-up of some worthy titles that I missed over the last few years. The staggered nature of film releases means that it takes me sometimes almost 2 years to finally view a new release. As a result, a lot of films slip through the cracks and never end up in any end of year list. So this spotlight will serve as a correction in that regard.

Interestingly, restricting the films to be between the Euro Championships gives a glimpse into how things have changed with certain countries when it comes to films. Back in 2008, I struggled to find a worthy entry from Portugal as none of Pedro Costa's films were available on DVD. This time around, I had plenty of Portuguese titles to choose from and had to keep out Pedro Costa's Ne Change Rien & João Pedro Rodrigues' To Die Like a Man. On paper, Portugal appears to be quite strong in the film category. However, as previous soccer tournaments have shown, Portugal has never been able to translate its rich soccer talent into success. So it will be interesting to see if the films from Portugal can reverse that trend.

Overall, it promises to be a fun six months. Let the reading and film viewing begin...