Focusing on the One Who Tells the Story, and on the Film, Too

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JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZ, the esteemed Hollywood director, screenwriter and producer, once said, ”I think it can be said fairly that I’ve been in on the beginning, rise, peak, collapse and end of the talking picture.”

In a career spanning more than 40 years, Mankiewicz, who died in 1993, won four Oscars (Best Direction and Screenplay for ”A Letter to Three Wives” in 1949 and ”All About Eve” in 1950).

His work encompassed musicals (”Guys and Dolls”), film noir (”No Way Out”), romances (”The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”) and historical epics ( ”Cleopatra”).

Jean-Luc Godard, the French director, called him ”one of the most brilliant of American directors, and the most intelligent man in all contemporary cinema.” Unlike most film luminaries, Mankiewicz maintained close ties to the East Coast, residing for many years in Bedford, N.Y.

How fitting it seems, then, that he should be the guardian angel of Stamford’s Director’s View Film Festival. Now in its second year, the festival, held Friday through next Monday, was originally designed not only to champion Mankiewicz’s movies, but to celebrate other influential filmmakers (past and present) who have similarly raised the artistic standards of the cinema.

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”As a group, directors have not been adequately appreciated by the public,” said Robert T. Kesten, Director’s View president and founder. ”Film is a director’s medium. Someone has to tell the story. You can always edit around a bad performance or a bad script. But if you don’t have a point of view, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re in trouble.”

On Friday, the festival’s opening night kicks off with what many consider the greatest directorial achievement of all time, ”Citizen Kane.”

Despite its Oscar-winning screenplay by Herman Mankiewicz (Joseph’s older brother), Orson Welles’s towering debut remains ”one of those cases where egomania really does work,” Mr. Kesten said. ”It seems as creative today as it did when first released. In some ways, more, because you didn’t have the technical advances that you do today, and yet Welles accomplished so many of those same effects.”

The centerpiece of the evening, indeed the entire the festival, will be the presentation of the Joseph L. Mankiewicz Excellence in Film Award, during a black-tie dinner sponsored by the Stamford Marriott. Last year’s crystal trophy, designed by Tiffany & Co., was awarded to Mankiewicz protege, Robert Benton, the Academy Award-winning director of ”Kramer vs. Kramer”). This year, the recipients are the director/producers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, creators of the films ”Howard’s End,” ”Remains of the Day” and ”Room with a View.” These movies, and three others — ”Maurice,” ”Slaves of New York,” ”Mr. and Mrs. Bridge” — will be screened, free of charge, at Stamford’s Crown Majestic theater on Saturday, with introductions by Mr. Merchant and Mr. Ivory. (Some movies from the retrospective will also tour in Greenwich, Westport and New Rochelle, N.Y.).

The festival will close next Monday with the regional premiere of their latest film, ”The Golden Bowl.”

”Merchant and Ivory made literary period films popular again,” Mr. Kesten said. ”They took a genre that had died and just knocked everybody’s socks off.”

The duo also helped launch the screen careers of Helena Bonham Carter, Daniel Day Lewis and Hugh Grant.

Rosemary Mankiewicz, widow of Joseph and on the board of Director’s View, thinks her husband would have approved of Merchant and Ivory’s latest honor. ”They parallel his work in that they take tremendous care with the writing and presentation of material,” she said.

The festival’s Dorothy Arzner Prize, new this year, is named for the first woman member of the Director’s Guild of America. Ms. Arzner, a Hollywood outsider, ultimately became a professor of film at U.C.L.A., where she mentored star pupil Francis Ford Coppola. Mr. Coppola, in turn, has agreed to serve as the honorary chair for the prize, designated for directors who have persevered over difficult obstacles to create a feature of unquestioned artistic merit.

Alison Maclean, the winner of the prize, will preside over an award reception and screening of her 1999 Venice Film Festival Award-winner, ”Jesus’ Son.”

Another innovation this year is the incorporation of two weekend long film competitions: he Director’s View Independent Film Festival and the International Student Film Festival. The Independent Film Festival consists of roughly 40 new films, (features and shorts) that will be judged on directorial excellence by a panel of six critics. Three winners will be honored next Monday at Stamford’s Ferguson Library. Among the contenders are ”Foet,” an oblique commentary on abortion and fetal experimentation, ”The Windigo,” a suspense film reminiscent of ”The Blair Witch Project,” and ”Grandfather’s Birthday,” which stars veteran character actor Robert Prosky and is currently under consideration for an Oscar nomination as Best Short Film.

A handful of up-and-coming Connecticut directors will participate in the Independent Film Festival, including Greenwich’s Christopher Summa, whose short ”The Anchor Man” was just screened at Sundance, and Justin King of Wilton, currently developing a feature-length followup to his short entry, ”Cheap Curry and Calculus.” He calls the festival a ”good platform. There are a lot of industry people who reside in this state, but it’s currently under shot and underrepresented in terms of filmmaking. I’m hoping to meet some crew and potential backers who might become involved in my upcoming project.”

This year’s festival has an events committee that includes Tom Cruise, Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Tim Robbins and Jack Nicholson.

”But if bringing in celebrities was all the festival was about,” said Tom Mellana, the arts editor for The Stamford Advocate. ”it wouldn’t be as important to the city; it wouldn’t have an impact beyond Stamford’s borders. This has the potential to be hugely important for the reputation the city wants to develop as a major arts center.”

Mr. Kesten is well aware of the potential of Director’s View to culturally benefit Stamford and, indeed, the entire Connecticut-Westchester region. One of the cornerstones of the festival, he said, will be an announcement concerning a long-term joint collaboration between Director’s View and Stamford Center of the Arts, to get under way during the latter months of 2001.

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He is particularly committed to encouraging the growth of a local film industry and serves as chief executive of the Film Makers Educational Cooperative of Bridgeport, a not-for-profit organization devoted to training students for directorial careers. A number of films created by that cooperative will compete in the Director’s View International Student Film Festival (though Mr. Kesten had no personal involvement in the selection process), which will feature more than 20 narrative and documentary shorts by directors age 19 or younger.

”Connecticut has all the tools to make the industry happen here: a highly educated and literate population, an open waterfront, good transportation, and a perfect location between two of the most important hubs in technology, New York and Boston,” Mr. Kesten said. ”If it took hold, the state would have a clean, non-polluting industry that’s high-paying and encourages creativity, which is vital to the future of everything this country exports.”

The Director’s View Film Festival begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday with a celebrity cocktail reception and gala screening of ”Citizen Kane” at Stamford’s Rich Forum. For more event and ticket information to any event, visit www.dvff.org or call (914) 533-0270.

>>> Click here: Selling Marketers a Spanish Accent That Doesn’t Sound Faked

Selling Marketers a Spanish Accent That Doesn’t Sound Faked

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From his spot in the control room at Tono Studios, Jaime Zapata has a window into the growing influence, and nuance, of the Hispanic market. In the last month, his Santa Monica, Calif., commercial audio company has brought sound to advertisements for such organizations as Alaska Airlines, Acura, the Humane Society and Universal Studios. All of these spots are in Spanish.

Tono’s role, which entails tasks as varied as casting talent and recording voice-overs, or sound design and final edits, is typically the last step in a television or digital campaign. The finer points of audio can make all the difference between an advertisement that resonates and one that falls flat.

For advertisers looking to target the increasingly multifaceted Hispanic market, the challenge goes beyond recording, mixing and editing. An ad must be culturally authentic.

”Laughter is a big difference,” said Mr. Zapata. Hispanics, he said, tend to be more boisterous when they laugh. Other cultural nuances must be considered. When a native Spanish speaker ”shushes,” it sounds a little different, he said. The same goes for humans making animal noises. Dogs do not ”ruff, ruff” in Spanish. They ”guau, guau.”

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In 2007, Mr. Zapata and Raquel Ramirez saw an opportunity to cater to the Spanish-language advertising market. They combined their savings and brought in a silent partner to open their studio.

Relatively quickly, they built a following among advertising agencies that focus on the Hispanic market or have a division dedicated to this group. Tono’s portfolio, or reel as it is known in the industry, includes campaigns for Jack in the Box, PlayStation and Toyota. It even has a Cannes International Film Festival Award and a 2015 Super Bowl spot for T-Mobile.

Now the partners want to expand into the general market by helping advertisers speak to many audiences, whether in Spanish, English, or, as is increasingly the case, ”Spanglish.”

The motivation, Ms. Ramirez said, is not just to make the business grow but to make sure the business evolves with the Hispanic market. ”More and more you see the Hispanic channels throwing in English spots,” she said.

While the number of Hispanics is growing, to be sure, the share of those who speak Spanish is expected to decline to 66 percent in 2020, from 78 percent in 2000.

Though Tono is among a small number of audio studios in this niche, it is serving a growing number of creative agencies that have sprung up in the last decade to help companies reach Hispanic consumers. AHAA, a national trade organization representing the Hispanic marketing, communications and media industry, has more than 45,000 members.

Hispanics represent more than $1.4 trillion in purchasing power, according to the consumer research firm Nielsen, and that influence is growing. The Census Bureau projects that by 2020 more than 19 percent of the population will identify itself as Hispanic or Latino.

As this segment of the population is growing, digital, mobile and satellite media have created more opportunities for marketing to it. ”When I started there was really just Univision and Telemundo for Hispanics,” said Ms. Ramirez, who moved to the United States from Mexico in the early 1990s.

This is not to say marketing to this group is easy. Quite the opposite. For one thing, the term Hispanic describes people with ties to more than 20 countries, each with its own traditions, dialects and slang. ”If the writer is from Mexico and didn’t take into account that the ad is not just for people who are Mexican, it will not be the same, even if it’s perfect Spanish,” said Mr. Zapata, who added that Tono itself represents a combination of backgrounds. It has six full-time employees representing Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, and cultural differences are a frequent source of lunchtime banter.

At the same time, the definition of Hispanic is changing. ”Whereas Spanish used to be spoken primarily among immigrants, now the majority of Hispanics were born here and are bilingual,” said Andrew Orc, owner of Orc, a creative agency that specializes in Hispanic marketing and a Tono client. ”We have one foot in America and one foot in our roots.”

This has prompted advertisers to rethink their approach. While in the past a company might hire two ad agencies to develop two distinct campaigns, one for the Hispanic market and one for what is known as the general market, now it is taking a total market approach. ”You may have different demographics but you need to be consistent,” said Pablo Buffagni, who was head of creative at Conill Saatchi & Saatchi and Grupo Gallegos, and recently started BBQ Agency in Redondo Beach, Calif. ”There needs to be crossover.”

It is a delicate dance. ”If you’re not doing communication specifically targeted” to the Hispanic market, ”you’re going to miss them,” Mr. Orc said. ”And if you’re going to do an ad for the general market, you don’t want to alienate them.”

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Late last year, Tono did the audio in English and Spanish for a Toyota Prius campaign. Now Ms. Ramirez and Mr. Zapata are making subtle changes to their own messaging with the goal of bringing in similar projects. They are recruiting engineers and producers who have worked primarily in English, and they recently revised their website with more emphasis on the general market.

One pitfall in any expansion is that a business alienates the very group that made it successful in the first place, forgetting its own roots. ”If you look at almost any successful campaign, they have a cultural insight with the group that they are connecting with,” said Felipe Korzenny, director of the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University.

In that case, Tono’s owners say they are well positioned to make the leap. ”We aren’t just communicating to the Hispanic market,” Mr. Zapata said. ”We are that market.”

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PHOTO: Jaime Zapata and Raquel Ramirez saw an opportunity to cater to the Spanish-language ad market and formed Tono Studios. (PHOTOGRAPH BY J. EMILIO FLORES FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Rory K brings film deal Home

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PARK CITY, Utah – Rory Kennedy, the youngest member of Ethel and the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s clan, is headed home to New York today.

She didn’t leave with a coveted Sundance Film Festival Award for her documentary, “American Hollow,” but she does have what every filmmaker here was hoping for – a production deal.

Rory snagged a development deal with Home Box Office for her documentary about an Appalachian family before the film was even finished.

It will be released theatrically in New York, then aired on HBO during the November sweeps.

“HBO was involved from the outset and that was really great for us,” Kennedy told the Track.

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The 30-year-old sister of former U. S. Rep. Joe Kennedy has been making documentaries for several years, but this was the first accepted to the prestigious Sundance festival.

“I was absolutely thrilled,” she said. “It was such a great experience to come here and see all these wonderful films.

“And Sundance really does put documentaries on the same playing field as dramas. It was a trophy just getting here.”

Kennedy, who has done previous films about female substance abusers and needle exchange programs, began this project looking to do a film about the effect of welfare reform on poor families in Appalachia.

Then she met Iree Bowling, the 68-year-old mother of 13 and grandmother of 30 whose family’s life in Saul, Ky., is beset by poverty and domestic turmoil.

Rory filmed the family for almost a year; and as the cameras rolled, one of Iree’s sons was jailed for trespassing, a granddaughter was battered by her husband and a 17-year-old grandson proposed marriage to his flighty girlfriend.

The Sundance reviewer raved that Rory’s true-life flick “emerges as a humanistic, life-affirming exploration of love and kinship in the face of adversity.”

“It’s a lifestyle that you really don’t see anymore in America,” Kennedy said. “It’s a very poor region but Iree doesn’t consider herself poor. All of her children at one point left but they’re all back and have their homes and families right near her.

“She looks around and sees her family, these beautiful hills and her gardens and says ‘I’m as rich as the Lord wants me to be.’ ”

Kennedy, who got the flu in Park City but recovered in time for her final screening of “American Hollow” over the weekend, said she likes to take on film projects in order to “tell stories that would otherwise go unheard.”

Consequently, she formed a production company, Moxie Firecracker, with Elizabeth Garbus, whose “The Farm: Angola, USA,” won the Sundance documentary competition in 1998.

The documentary-making duo recently completed “Different Moms,” a one-hour film about mentally retarded mothers raising their kids.

It will air on Lifetime in April.

So, did the Kennedy family’s famed commitment to the less-fortunate have any influence on Rory’s choice of subjects????

“Obviously my family has been interested in a range of social issues and I think that certainly is a factor,” she said.

“But this film was less an advocacy-educational thing. It was more that the family led the camera and we had no idea where it would go. Ultimately it took us many different places and that was a very rewarding process.”

File under: Family Values.

Distributing the best

While none of the made-in-Massachusetts movies took home any of the coveted Sundance Film Festival awards over the weekend, the filmmakers are closing in on the real prize – distribution deals.

Steve Maler, director of “The Autumn Heart,” said they’ve had lots of interest from foreign distributors and a couple of Hollywood studio honchos want a look at the film in La-La ASAP.

Meanwhile, Michelle LeBrun had discussions with distributors interested in her documentary, “Death: A Love Story,” during the festival and she’s hopeful about snagging a deal.

For the record, the award winners at Sundance were “Three Seasons,” the Harvey Keitel movie about the ‘new’ Vietnam, and “American Movie” a documentary about an impoverished but inspired filmmaker.

Guess that one got the sympathy vote!

Independent living

And then there’s Alec Baldwin. The actor, who sat on a panel at the indie flickfest, called the Sundance Film Festival the “Playboy Mansion of Filmmaking.”

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“Everybody gets in bed with whomever they have always wanted to get into bed

with,” he said.

Then he turned to another panelist and said, “I’ve always dug you. Let’s do a film together.”

Oh, we bet lots of “independent” movie deals went down that way in Hugh Hefner’s bunny hutch!

Hasty decisions

Meanwhile, back here at home, those crazy kids at Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals will announce this morning their annual picks for Woman and Man of the Year.

Oh, bless their Hasty little hearts for bringing Hollywood to Harvard in oh-so-dreary February!

Last year, Sigourney Weaver – like Pretty Woman Julia Roberts before her and Susan Sarandon before her – was paraded through Harvard Square. Then a week later, Kevin Kline came In for an Out-ing a la past winners Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford at the Hasties’ annual madcap musical.

This year’s production is “I Get No Kick From Campaign,” which doesn’t sound like a drag at all!

Clothes call for Beck

And finally, the big rumor on Newbury Street the other day was that Beck thought Louis, Boston was Where It’s At.

Word is, the haute haberdashers opened their doors earlier for the rocker with the Devil’s Haircut – but nice threads – to run through the racks.

Talk back to the Inside Track online at bostonherald.com and listen to us weekdays at 6:55 p.m. on WBZ 1030 AM. Drop dimes at trackgals@aol.com.

>>> View more: Message received – American Indian filmmakers send ‘Smoke Signals’ the way it’s intended

Message received – American Indian filmmakers send ‘Smoke Signals’ the way it’s intended

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For Sherman Alexie the challenge was never getting his 1993 book of short stories, “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” made into a movie. The challenge was getting it made his way.

“When the book came out, I got a lot of interest from white producers,” explained the acclaimed American-Indian author of 10 books and now filmmaker. “They all wanted to possess it and change it, usually with changes involving white characters or change an Indian to a white. It was the colonial process all over again.

“I decided it was going to have to be an Indian-originated process,” he added.

The result is “Smoke Signals,” a Sundance Film Festival award-winning film which was written and co-produced by Alexie and was directed by and stars American Indians. The film opens tommorow.

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“The primary motivation was to give our own voice to our culture,” said Alexie, a Coeur d’Alene Idaho Indian, who grew up on the Spokane, Wash., Indian Reservation.

“Smoke Signals” is a leisurely “road movie” as two young Indians, the angry Victor (Adam Beach, who starred in Disney’s “Squanto”) and his nerdy, but sweet, pigtailed childhood buddy, Thomas (Evan Adams), leave their reservation.

Victor’s father, who had been estranged from his family for years, has died and as Victor goes to pick up his truck, the past intermingles with the present and offers a panorama of Indian history and life.

Unexpectedly, Alexie mixes humor with “Northern Exposure”-style wackiness. There is a lone Indian who sits in a virtually deserted country road intersection giving reservation radio traffic reports, as well as an Indian woman whose car drives only backward.

“It’s slapstick,” Alexie explained. “Non-Indians will say, ‘What the hell is that about?’ while Indians know. We have a long, illustrious history about Indians and their cars.”

Is the no-traffic reporter real or imaginary?

“In my world it’s real – but I’m a sick man,” he answers.

Humorlessness, in fact, is one stereotype “Smoke Signals” demolishes, the notion that Indians are stoic, grave and nonverbal.

“In my experience, Indians are the funniest, most congenial people I’ve been around,” Alexie said.

Alexie co-produced “Smoke Signals” with director Chris Eyre, a Cheyenne-Arapaho who graduated from New York University’s film school. The two attended the Sundance Filmmaking Lab, which has had a major impact on how the outside world viewed their project.

“Sundance had been interested in both me and Chris and as soon as they heard we were working together, they dragged us there. That gave us the Sundance Seal of Approval, which is like the Good Housekeeping seal or UL.”

But what’s been most surprising for Alexie as he tours the country to promote the film is its emotional power. “The big shock was at the Nantucket Film Festival.

“After we screened it, a middle-aged upper-class white woman came out crying. She said to me, ‘I’m going to call my father. I haven’t spoken to him in 12 years.’

“Think of that. Our movie caused her to reach across 12 years and talk. It has a power in ways I never thought of.”

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Alexie, who’s married with a 13-month-old son, has no fear of ever running out of material.

“It’s impossible. Every moment in Shakespeare, every story in the Bible, every movie, every sculpture is all contained in my tiny little reservation. Hamlet, Candide are there. You can bet King Lear lives there.”

If “Smoke Signals” is the success industry buzz predicts, moviegoers haven’t seen Victor and Thomas walk into the sunset just yet.

Alexie’s 1995 first novel, “Reservation Blues,” has Victor and Thomas forming a rock ‘n’ roll band. Says Alexie, who’s already written the screenplay, “It’s optioned and ready to go.”

>>> Click here: Experiment’ works as study of ultraviolence

Experiment’ works as study of ultraviolence

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Byline: STEPHEN SCHAEFER

“Das Experiment.”

Not rated.

In German with English subtitles. At the Kendall Square Cinema.

3 stars (out of four)

The smart, slick German import “Das Experiment” (“The Experiment”) scores as a compelling psychological study and an intense, ultraviolent thriller. Unlike far too many American “thrillers” that defy common sense and logic, “Das Experiment” is involving because it is plausible.

Adapted from Mario Giordano’s novel “Black Box” and scripted by Giordano, Christoph Darnstadt and Don Bohlinger, this international film festival award winner is inspired by the 1971 Stanford University Prison Experiment. This study put a group of male volunteers into a makeshift prison and cast them as either prisoners or guards. The intention was to learn what would happen if you put ordinary people in an environment where they had power over others.

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Director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film in no way mirrors the actual Stanford experiment; fiction lets the violence (and the ensuing body count) run much higher.

Here, 20 men answer a newspaper ad to be a part of an experiment for the equivalent of $1,000; the study requires them to role-play as inmates or guards within a prison setting for two weeks. All their interactions supposedly are monitored via security cameras by Dr. Thon (Edgar Selge) and his Vampira-like assistant, the aptly named Dr. Grimm (Andrea Sawatzki).

The first rule for the guards is no violence. Among the eight chosen to wear uniforms (they’re given sticks but no guns), two stand out: a jolly Elvis impersonator (Timo Dierkes) and an airline office worker named Berus (Justus von Dohnanyi). They quickly become the most sadistic of the lot and assume leadership.

What they don’t know is that among the 12 “prisoners” is Tarek Fahd (Moritz Bleibtreu), a magazine reporter equipped with a 007-style video recorder in his reading glasses. Because he assumes – rightly, as it turns out – that this is actually a stress study for the military, Fahd is planning an expose.

His fellow inmates include Schutte (Oliver Stokowski) a lonely newspaper vendor and self-described “professional guinea pig” who’s saving for a used Ferrari, and Steinhoff (Christian Berkel), a taciturn soldier type who is really an Air Force pilot, also undercover.

The night before Fahd begins the experiment, he rather dramatically meets Dora (Maren Eggert): Their cars collide when she runs a red light. Dora is mourning the death of her father and she and Fahd form an almost psychic bond after spending the night together.

This is most fortunate for Fahd, who will need all the help, psychic or otherwise, he can get. He willingly arouses the antagonism of the guards supposedly to fuel a better story and soon finds himself the target of their (unmonitored, nontelevised) wrath. He also has, from a childhood incident, a phobia of being confined in a dark, small space, which means when the fearful “black box” is brought into the cellblock, we know it’s not going to be used only as a “psychological deterrent,” as Dr. Thon promises.

As the experiment rapidly careens out of control, the implications are obvious: What would you do if given life-or-death control over others? Would you soon transform from a good ol’ boy to a warmongering cowboy?

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The impeccable casting assures that these are faces you won’t soon forget. The Polish-born Bleibtreu, with his soulful eyes and plump lips, is an obvious sensualist (and, thanks to “Run Lola Run,” Germany’s reigning male star). Von Dohnanyi’s Berus is incredibly scary, an Aryan ideal as Nazi nightmare.

(“Das Experiment” contains explicit violence, nudity and scenes of torture and confinement.)

Caption: SHOCKING: Moritz Bleibtreu stars as an undercover reporter in `Das Experiment,’ inspired by Stanford University’s Prison Experiment.