Foreign Stars In Sundance

Park City, Jan 21. While most people look to the World Dramatic Competition for foreign stars, several international names are showing up in American documentaries: Zoe Cassavetes’ BROKEN ENGLISH (which premiered yesterday) and Gina Kim’s NEVER FOREVER (which premieres tonight) both sport stars from abroad.

NEVER FOREVER [] centers around the conflicted marriage between a Korean-American man (David McInnis) [] and his white wife (Vera Farmiga) [] especially when a Korean man (Jung-Woo Ha) [] enters the picture. Kim, who is Korean by birth, wanted her cast to reflect authentically the roles they were playing. “When I wrote the script and was casting for the film, the authenticity of the roles was very important. I could not cast two Korean Americans; one had to be a Korean actor who had the aspect of Korean-ness, and the other had to be a Korean American.” For Korean audiences, Jung-Woo Ha and David McInnis fit both these categories. “In Korea, David is known as a Korean American actor,” explains Kim. “And Jung woo-ha is a very well-known, but he feels that Korea may be too small for him.” For both these actors, appearing in films at Sundance could move them into the spotlight of producers and talent scouts looking for fresh talent.

From the other side of the world, celebrated French actor Melvin Poupaard appears in his first English-language film, BROKEN ENGLISH []. While he won’t be attending the festival — he’s shooting a film in Lebanon — Melvil Poupaud was thrilled to be making an American independent film. “It is not only a question of money,” explains Poupaud, “it’s more a question of commitment, to feel that you really are part of a project more than just being hired for a job, for a part.”
Andrew Fierberg [], who produced both BROKEN ENGLISH and NEVER FOREVER, the inclusion of foreign stars in American independent film speaks to the changing nature of the international marketplace. “We have always been aware as indie filmmakers that we have been supported by the international community,” explains Fierberg. “From the 90s, I think that many people got lazy assuming that foreign markets would always buy our product because, well, we’re Americans.” But a host of forces — from a strengthening of European markets, a shift to blockbuster model, etc. — have made American films without world stars less marketable. In fact, many producers have found the demand for traditional independent film abroad to have all but dried up. For Fierberg, foreign talent helps to repackage American independent: “Casting international stars that have not been exposed in the in the US really helps to both parties.” As Fierberg points, so many early American Independent films were immigrant stories. These new films still tell immigrant stories, only in a different way.

Peter Bowen

Senior Editor, Filmmaker Magazine