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January 30, 2012 at 9:26 AM

Seattle at Sundance: A deal and a prize

Word has it that “Safety Not Guaranteed,” a locally produced movie, has inked a seven-figure distribution deal. We’ll have more on that later.

In the meantime, here’s a short report from Christy Karras, who attended the fest, about prize-winning producer AJ Rei-Perrine — a former UW law student:

By Christy Karras

Special to The Seattle Times

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AJ Rei-Perrine calls her status as a producer of the short film “The Return,” which won the Jury Prize for an International Fiction short at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, a “happy accident.”

Rei-Perrine, a Seattle native and University of Washington law school alumna, went to work for the U.S. Foreign Service to be a diplomat in Africa. But she ended up in Kosovo, where she was working with the Kosovo Assembly when the nation declared its independence in 2008.

“It was an epic day,” she recalled in an email interview.

During her next post, in Argentina, she found herself losing patience with bureaucracy – and missing Kosovo.

She left the foreign service and returned to Kosovo in 2011. There, producer Blerim Gjoci’s production company, PrishtinaFILM/The Group, asked Rei-Perrine to write subtitles for “The Return,” about a young father who returns home from a Serb prison four years after being arrested during the war in Kosovo.

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“I jumped at the chance, because film is such an important way to communicate across cultures and the opportunity to have quality subtitles is often missed,” Rei-Perrine said.

Moving into a producer role, she worked on submitting the film to Sundance and shepherding it through the festival.

“I fell in love with Kosovo and I wanted people to understand why the place is so special, why the people are so special, how compelling their stories are,” she said.

Rei-Perrine plans to bring the film to more festivals (perhaps including the Seattle International Film Festival) and hopes to get wider distribution.

“I am really thrilled with how the film has touched audiences at Sundance. So many people have come up to us and shared how powerful the film was to them and how it touched them,” Rei-Perrine said. “And for the first ever Sundance film from Kosovo to win the Jury Prize — it is just incredible.”

(Photos: Still from “The Return” by Sevdije Kastrati. AJ Rei-Perrine and her brother Aaron Rei-Perrine at Sundance, courtesy of AJ Rei-Perrine.)

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