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TheWrap Screening Series: ‘Tangerines’ Producer Ivo Felt on the Film’s Anti-War Message

”Everything that happens in this film could happen in any war … it’s a very universal subject,“ Felt says

“Tangerines,” about the struggle to remain human in the midst of bloody conflict, contains a powerful anti-war message that helped propel the film into the Academy Awards race.

Estonia’s Oscar hopeful is among a record 83 movies in the running for the Best Foreign Language statuette this year. While that means there will be stiff competition, Ivo Felt, producer of “Tangerines” (original title: Mandariinid), remains optimistic.

“I would say our expectations are pretty high,” to make the Oscar short list, Felt said following TheWrap’s awards season screening of the drama on Tuesday night at iPic Theaters in Westwood.

The film — set in the early 1990s — as war raged for control of the disputed Caucasus region of Abkhazia, has won numerous awards at international film festivals, including several for director Zaza Urushadze.

The action unfolds in a village once home to ethnic Estonians, most of whom have fled except for two men: Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) and Margus (Elmo Nuganen), both determined to harvest a bountiful crop of tangerines. Their work is interrupted when a skirmish between Georgian and Abkhaz troops erupts on their doorstep.

Ivo takes the only two surviving soldiers into his home — a Georgian and his mortal enemy, a Chechen mercenary fighting for Abkhazia. He embarks on a kind of shuttle diplomacy between the separate rooms where the men are recuperating, trying to keep them from killing each other.

“Everything that happens in this film could happen in any war,” Felt said. “It’s a very universal subject.”

Urushadze talked about how quickly he wrote the script, leaving the audience stunned.

“Two weeks,” he said, which triggered a round of applause. Felt added that only minor tweaks were made to the original script.

“The first draft was solid enough to move on. We really have the characters within the first draft already,” he said.

The film is anchored by a moving performance from Ulfsak, one of Estonia’s leading actors. His Ivo, by turns forceful and humorous, prods the soldiers to recognize their common humanity despite their political and religious differences (the Georgian is Christian; the Chechen mercenary is Muslim).

The film could not be made inside Abkhazia because the region is still too volatile, Felt said.

“We shot it quite close to the Abkhazian border in Georgia — Guria, the area is called. The landscape is pretty much the same.”

Felt did most of the talking for the director, whose English is limited. Urushadze did share that he began his filmmaking career at age 16 and that he considers Italian cinema a possible influence.

TheWrap’s Steve Pond asked if the director wrote his previous screenplays as quickly as the one for “Tangerines.”

“Same time (two weeks),” he answered.

Felt then said that even in his native Georgian tongue, Urushadze is a man of few words.

“His communication is more making films than talking.”