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Telluride 2011: Joshua Marston heads for farther shores

September 3, 2011 |  4:48 pm

The first time that American writer-director Joshua Marston made a feature film, he shot a movie in Spanish and largely set in Colombia, 2004’s “Maria Full of Grace.” In his latest work, the Telluride Film Festival drama “The Forgiveness of Blood,” Marston has traveled to even more distant geographic and linguistic shores: Albania.

Set in a small, impoverished village in the southeastern European country, “The Forgiveness of Blood” focuses on a violent feud instigated by a seemingly innocent intrusion by one family onto another clan’s land. Caught in the middle of the dispute is Nik (Tristan Halilaj), a teen-age boy who longs to be with his girlfriend and open an Internet cafe, and his younger sister, Rudina (Sindi Laçej), forced to take over the family’s bread-delivery business.

Because Nik and Rudina’s family killed someone else, centuries-old Albania law and custom holds that the victim’s family can take another life in return. Nik is the obvious target, and must hide indoors unless the feud can be resolved. Despite the title, there’s not a lot of clemency on the horizon.

Cast with local, non-professional actors and written by Marston and Albanian screenwriter Andamion Murataj, “The Forgiveness of Blood” won the screenplay award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. After playing at Telluride over Labor Day weekend, the movie is due in theaters early next year from IFC Films.

After “Maria Full of Grace,” which brought star Catalina Sandino Moreno a best actress  Oscar nomination,  Marston flirted with making a movie about the dangerous lives of non-military, contract truck drivers in Iraq, but he and Warner Independent Pictures split over casting (he wanted Chris Cooper, the now-defunct label wanted Mel Gibson or Tom Cruise). “I got very frustrated with the studio system, and even the independent studio system,” Marston said after the screening.

After directing a number of television series, Marston came across the broad “blood feud” idea behind “The Forgiveness of Blood” in news stories. When he was unable to find backers for the film in Hollywood, he found a much more receptive market in Europe.

“It’s quite a pleasure,” Marston said, “to know that an Albanian-language film will get a release in the United States.”


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--John Horn in Telluride, Colo.

Photo: Nik (Tristan Halilaj) in Joshua Marston’s "The Forgiveness of Blood." Credit: Anila Jaho.