TRAVERSE CITY — Slavko Matinov may have had a difficult time getting to the Traverse Film Festival, but he said the trip was worth his trouble.
The New Zealander was one of of nine foreign filmmakers who spoke Friday during a panel discussion, "Only 21 Hours to Get to Traverse City: Meet Our Foreign Filmmakers."
Martinov's film "Propaganda" raised the eyebrows of audiences around the world as well as the New Zealand counter-terrorism unit who made getting his travel papers a challenge.
"They said they 'couldn't guarantee my safety' when I got here," said Martinov, who is amazed to see audiences' positive reaction to the film.
Ben Anderson, director of "This is What Winning Looks Like" has been covering the war in Afghanistan for the last seven years with a hand-held camera. He said he made his latest film without a thought of making the festival circuit or playing it for an audience in Traverse City.
"It was not even a dream to see the movie on a big screen," said Anderson, a British journalist and war correspondent who makes documentaries for the BBC and HBO.
Markus Imhoof, director of "More Than Honey," said though he never expected his documentary about the threatened extinction of honeybees to garner the attention it has, he always keeps international audiences' perspective in mind.
"When I write a story, I often ask myself if they wound understand it in Japan," said the Swiss filmmaker.
Panel moderator and director of "Hotel Rwanda," Terry George said he had a code word while making the Academy Award-nominated film.
"'Peoria, Illinois'; it had to be understood by someone in the middle of America, the middle of the whole world," he said.
Canadian filmmaker Michel Poulette, director of "Maina," uses focus groups while making his films. He said feedback on his most recent film, set six centuries ago in Inuit lands, was crucial -- especially with the challenge of four languages being spoken on set.
"I do it so that I can make changes, so that what I want to say is understood, not to change what I want to say," he said.
Director Patxo Telleria, whose film "Bypass" is in the Basque language, said he thinks part of the appeal of his film is its universal storyline.
"I loved the experience of sitting in a theater in the U.S. with 500 people, listening to a film in Basque and hearing people laugh," he said.
A universal appeal is what the director of "Good Garbage", Ada Ushpiz, said makes any film worth watching.
"If there is not a universal point, it doesn't interest me. There must be a universal ache, universal pain, universal point of the story," she said.
Her co-producer, Shosh Shlam, said their film is really a metaphor for the political situation in their home country of Israel.
"We wanted to tell the story of simple people who wake up under occupation, not to patronize them but to give them a voice," she said.
Arvin Chen, director of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," said being an American living in Taiwan gives him an unusual perspective when he sees his movie in Traverse City. The comedy about a married man who begins to question his sexual orientation was released in Taiwan and Hong Kong in April.
"To come here and see it with an audience, without all of the marketing pressure, is great," he said.