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A Confederacy of Directors, Foreign Language Division

Movies: The academy's symposium and luncheon bring together new and old faces in one of the Oscar weekend's liveliest events.

March 24, 1997|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In its 15th year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Foreign Language Symposium has grown, in the words of writer-producer Fay Kanin, chair of the foreign language committee, from a loose gathering of 50 people in a small hotel conference room to a turn-away event held in the academy's 1,000-seat Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

The event, held Saturday at the academy in Beverly Hills, was hosted by director Norman Jewison, who introduced this year's five best foreign film nominees' directors: Nana Djordjadze (Georgia's' "A Chef in Love"), Jan Sverak (the Czech Republic's "Kolya"), Berit Nesheim (Norway's "The Other Side of Sunday"), Sergei Bodrov (Russia's "Prisoner of the Mountains") and Patrice Leconte (France's "Ridicule") after a screening of clips from their films.

The directors told how little their pictures, all of them intimate dramas dealing with human relationships, cost in contrast with the budget of an average Hollywood movie. Djordjadze said her film, a romantic, tragicomic fable involving a French chef who establishes, circa 1920, a renowned restaurant in Tbilissi, cost only $800,000. And as usual, the filmmakers declared their complete freedom of expression and their reluctance to exchange it for bigger budgets.

The event's companion luncheon, held at Le Dome, in honor of the foreign directors was one of the liveliest ever, drawing such stalwarts as Billy Wilder and Ronald Neame and first-time attendees like Robert Benton, Ivan Reitman and Anthony Minghella. Co-hosted by Jewison and director George Schaefer, it was sparked by Schaefer's invitation to his colleagues: "Tell us about your experiences filming abroad."

Sverak told about shooting a commercial in Iceland with only one hour of light per day, and John Schlesinger said that very rapidly the enchanting Paris and Florence of the tourist becomes ordinary when you're shooting a film. "A film crew is a film crew is a film crew," summed up Robert Ellis Miller. "They're rock solid everywhere." As for the language barriers, all agreed that, despite some amusing confusions, they were not insurmountable.

"A film's language doesn't matter if you have good dialogue," said Wilder, who always has the last word when it comes to wit and humor, although his recollection of a hilarious comment found on a preview card for the classic 1939 "Ninotchka," which he co-wrote for Ernst Lubitsch, defies repeating in a family newspaper even today.

Ronald Neame held everyone spellbound when he told in detail of a different kind of foreign language experience--of being a 16-year-old assistant cameraman on Hitchcock's 1929 "Blackmail," which in the midst of production was converted into Britain's first talking picture, starring a thickly accented Czech, Anny Ondra. "There was no dubbing then, of course, so Hitchcock had Wendy Barrie off camera speaking Anny's lines while she mouthed them."

Jewison raised a toast to directors "no longer with us," noting the recent deaths of Sheldon Leonard and Fred Zinnemann. Jewison expressed his gratitude to Zinnemann for his willingness to sit through a three-hour rough cut of Jewison's "Fiddler on the Roof," his kind, encouraging remarks--"and his advice on where to make cuts in the second half."

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