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Film Music City - Ghent, Belgium: Composers Take Center Stage

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Most film festivals celebrate the directors and actors of the silver screen with glitzy red carpets and paparazzi. However, imagine movies with no music - no score to complete the emotional pictures of characters and circumstance; no lingering theme in memory after leaving the theatre that somehow captures the entire core of a film. This magic is what the Ghent Film Festival celebrates, now in its 36th year. The stars are the composers. The nightly events are tributes to these musical masterminds - the marriage of film and music.

Oscar-winning composers descended upon the Belgium quaint town, whose history dates back to the Middle Ages as a prosperous port center. Cobble stone streets lined with boutiques, pubs and restaurants, haunted by the town's many university students are its heartbeat. Culminating the film festival is the revered World Soundtrack Awards this week, which is broadcast live on Belgium television.

Marvin Hamlish, famed composer of "The Way We Were" and "The Sting," was presented with the World Soundtrack Lifetime Achievement Award. Hamlish also recently composed the music for "The Informant." He took the stage to conduct his music from "A Chorus Line" and was met with a standing ovation.

Alexandre Desplat, picked up the prize for Composer of the Year and Best Film Score for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" He conducted the Brussels Philharmonic through selections of his music from "The Girl With the Pearl Earring," "The Queen," and "The Painted Veil."

A.R. Rahman won Best Original Song Witten for a Film for "Jai Ho" from "Slumdog Millionaire."

Highlight concerts during the week included Desplat's tribute to female movie icons, "Divine Feminin," performed by the Traffic Quintet, and a tribute to Japanese composer Shigeru Umebayashi by the Brussels Philharmonic performing his music for films by Wong Kar Wai and Zhang Yimou.

Countless international composers, agents, and tastemakers attended the week's events to lend support to their fellow musicos, and the energy and camaraderie spilled into the pubs and bars where late night discussions, dancing, friendship and potential collaborations were forged. Nowhere else in the world could Umebayashi, Hamlish, Desplat and Rahman socialize in such a supportive environment free of pretense and discuss each other's works.

The festival also lauds young film music with its Discovery Award, which went to Nico Muhly for "The Reader." Last year's winner Marc Streitenfeld was on hand to perform music from his "American Gangster" soundtrack.

Nathan Larson was honored with the George Delerue prize for Best Music for "A Rational Solution."

Above all what the composers learned personal things about each other. Umebayashi, affectionately called Ume by his friends, is a huge fan of Roxy Music. Hamlish has an uncanny wit and sense of humor. Rahman is obsessed with pop music and is working on new works. Desplat's wife is not only the love of his live, but his sometime collaborator and muse. Larsen is well versed in rock and roll trivia. Swiss composer and Ghent Film Festival jury member Niki Reiser is a really good dancer. Swedish composer Adam Norden does not like to dance, but was forced to.

All agree Belgium beer is good.