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It's showtime in Shanghai!

Behind the glitz and glamor of the red carpet and the A-list stars and directors, a diverse range of young film makers from around the world is showcasing their work at the Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF).

From a small-budget Australian thriller to a Brazilian romantic comedy, the works are labors of love that provide a fascinating insight into cultural and social dynamics.

This year's SIFF is considered as one of the most diverse ever.

While there are 79 countries and regions with films in the festival, the cinema of six countries receives special attention: Australia, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Turkey.

"Compared with previous years, this year's selection of international films stands out both for the quantity and quality," says festival managing director Tang Lijun.

At launches across the city this week, the special-focus countries have wheeled out their brightest directing and acting stars.

Among the most acclaimed is SIFF jurist and former Academy Award winner Xavier Koller. The Swiss director will screen his film "Journey of Hope," which won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 1990.

Koller is one of five Swiss directors with works at the local film festival and he says it is a wonderful experience for a small film industry like that in Switzerland to be able to screen films for a Chinese audience.

Young Swiss director Moretz Gerber is screening his first feature film "Tag Am Meer" ("A Day at the Sea" ). The coming-of-age story about romance and betrayal is autobiographical, says Gerber, who also wrote the screenplay.

"My girlfriend would say that my life mirrored the film and hopefully it is a film with resonate with young people who maybe facing these types of questions," he says.

The festival focuses on young film makers, especially Europeans.

In addition to feature films, the festival offers documentaries, short films and animation.

German animation director Kathrin Albers will screen her short animated film "The Rat Train Robbery," which was co-directed and written by her collaborator Jim Lacy.

The pair is the creative force behind the small Stoptrick animation studio in Hamburg.

The film, inspired by privatization of railroads in Europe, was painstakingly filmed using stop motion animation.

The miniature sets and characters were entirely built in the studio and then meticulously filmed frame by frame.

"Animation is an art form that can touch people regardless of language or culture, and while this film may have an obscure subject, we hope Chinese audiences will be really interested in the look and feel of the film," says Albers.

The German Focus section of the festival includes "Hilde," a biographical film looking at the tumultuous life of songstress and diva Hildegard Knef.

Festival director Tang says she is pleased at the wide selection of Australian films.

In the past there were one or two independent Australian films, but this year there are six in the Australian Perspective section.

They include thrillers "Crush" and "Fragment," coming-of-age movie "Playing with Charlie" and the award-winning "Disgrace" directed by Steve Jacobs.

"Fragment," an erotic thriller, was shot by self-described "weekend warrior" Andrew Miles Broughton. The former music video and advertising director is premiering his film at the film festival.

"We hope by premiering in Shanghai that we can really get some buzz for the film, make some contacts and get the ball rolling for the film," Broughton says.

On Tuesday night the Italian community celebrated their rich film heritage, with a cocktail party at the Art Lab of MoCA in People's Park. Two Italian films are entered for the Jin Jue (Golden Goblet) Award, and another five films showcase the work of young directors.

In the competition are Guiulio Manfredonia's "We Can Do That" and Dodo Fiori's "Schemes of Affection."

Manfredonia's film looks at the lives of former patients of Italy's mental health institutions in the 1970s. He calls it an "uplifting comedy."

Italian government closed its mental health hospitals in 1978 and decided patients were better off reintegrate into their communities. Manfredonia says the film looks at how people face daunting challenges and can still make a meaningful life.

"This film tells about a positive part of Italy's history, which can be rare in Italian cinema," he says.

"This is a story of beginnings, of people building a life and feeling what it means to be in love, have a family and buy a house. I think these themes really resonate with young audiences," he adds.

Also in the running is the Brazilian film "Romance," which was well received on Tuesday by Chinese viewers.

"We were wondering how the jokes and the differences in Brazilian culture would work with Chinese audiences," says producer Clarice Saliby says of the drama/comedy's first screening.

"But they laughed in all the right places and seemed to love the film, which is an amazing feeling for us," Saliby says.

Saliby, a producer of at Natasha Films, one of the biggest movie producers in Brazil, says Brazilian film is expanding its horizons.

"Brazilian film makers are becoming freer in their minds," she observes.

"While poverty and violence are part of the reality of life in Brazil, film makers are starting to move away from more stereotypical subjects and make movies with more universal themes," says Saliby.

Turkish films are enjoying a stellar year at film festivals around the world.

This is the first year Turkish cinema has been showcased at the Shanghai International Film Festival.

Directors Atalay Tasdiken ("Mommo the Bogeyman") and Dervis Zaim ("Dot"), as well as actress Hatice Aslan ("Three Monkeys") are in the city to discuss their films.

Other Turkish films include "Issiz Adam" ("Alone") and "Uzak Ihtimal" ("Wrong Rosary"), the Rotterdam Tiger Award-winning debut feature by Mahmut Fazil Coskun.


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