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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

One Month, Two Juries

BACK IN EARLY SUMMER, I committed to two time-intensive film juries that I didn’t expect to overlap, all the while keeping on top of daily and weekly assignments. For the Gotham Awards’ “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You,” seven of us had 25-to-30 movies each to preview over the course of a couple of months, with a final conference call across a couple of time zones. As a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine, I’ve participated for five years, watching movies that had play at festivals but still haven’t secured distribution. (The five finalists will screen at MOMA November 18-22.).

The date and time for the BPNP conference call, after inevitable give-and-take, wound up overlapping with the other commitment, the New Directors Competition for first- and second-time directors at the Chicago International Film Festival. Four film critics, Paris-based Lisa Nesselson, Berliner Reiner Veit and Chicagoan Zbigniew Banas and I, had fourteen films to see in the first week of CIFF. I watched most with other jury members, but one entry could be seen only at a specific screening, with no other opportunities, the German Shahada, a multi-strand narrative about borders, literal and figurative, by 29-year-old director Burhan Burqani. It had debuted at Berlin 2010, a rare feat for a student production, but it was a fresh quantity to me. And when was this screening set? Precisely at the same 90-minute slot as the BPNP conference call. I sent notes for that, went to the screening of Shahada, which, as it turns out, was my favorite of our possible choices, assured, memorable and quietly ambitious. And the final five chosen during the parallel BPNP deliberations make an impressive list, close enough to my own choices. And the deliberations were likely much more efficient with one less voice leaping out of the speakerphone.

Over lunch the next day, deliberations were not as brisk, but we quickly enough concurred on Shahada, with a second notice going to Jonathan Segal’s Norman. For Saturday night’s award ceremony, a few lines to explain our reasons were composed with an ear more to be spoken aloud than read.

It was startling Monday morning to find a 1,200-word article about Burqani on page A6 of the New York and national editions of the New York Times. The film opened in Germany last week, just as Chancellor Merkel had, as the Times’ reporter put it, “added an official imprimatur to the anti-immigrant sentiment that had been the providence of marginal political figures and right-wing ideologues.” The Times quoted two of the three sentences we agreed upon: “In a world packed with narratives that overlap, Shahada pinpoints in precise moments the forces in its characters’ complicated lives—work and love, immigration and Islam. The story is specific to Germany and Europe today, but universal in its implications.” I had no excuse. I confess. I wanted to intone the words “In a world…,” just like in movie trailers, while giving an award a serious drama. But on Saturday, Burqani, fresh off a plane from Berlin, readily topped that. Stepping to the dais, the very young-looking director’s first words were “What. The Fuck. What! The. FUCK!” Seeing the citation quoted in the Times was a smaller kick. But still? Definitely WTF. [Post-CIFF award photo of Burqani: Ray Pride. Trailer here.]

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