Interview with Mihai Chirilov

Transylvania International Film Festival has become one of the major film events in Romania and gained an incredible international recognition. Martin kludac was there and sat down with artistic director of TIFF, Mihai Chirilov, to discuss the festival and Romanian cinema.

Image 1Another year and Transylvania Film Festival is back with a strong and interesting line-up in all sections. However, the situation is not that bright due to financial setbacks in Europe. Many film festivals had to introduce various rather unpopular measures. How did TIFF survive these apocalyptic times and coped with the changes? Mihai: Somehow yes. First of all, I tried to reduce the number of films screened at the festival – not necessarily because of budget problems, but simply because the number was already too high and hardly manageable by the audience. The more films you have the higher the frustration of those who want to see as much as possible. Therefore, I cut by 20% the number of films, ending up with 155 features (and almost 40 shorts), which is still a lot and difficult to cope with, but the costs diminished. However, we didn’t want to cut any of the special programs or sections or events that we initiated in the past and worked, such as “Let’s Go Digital”, a several-day training workshop for children and teens who want to make films or “10 for Film”, a special presentation of 10 theatre actors to give them the opportunity to be known by the film community.

How was the programming process for this year´s edition? What themes, motifs you picked up for 12th edition? There are more and more films submitted and sometimes there could be pressures – but I’ve learnt how to navigate troubled waters. I have a solid programming team and yes, it can be tough, given the amount of work, but it’s a pleasant work to dig in and find the gems. I don’t have a hidden agenda as far as the programming process is concerned and I’m not looking for themes or motifs. I’d rather let them find me, so to say. I’m certainly not the terrorist type; I have an open mind and would always favour diversity and good films. I don’t want to put the audience in a box, but rather play with their expectations. The more eclectic and surprising the selection the better.

The focus sections are aimed at the national cinemas of Greece and Slovakia. Both could be regarded as parallels to the Romanian New Wave with sudden appearance of formalistic innovative and critically acclaimed films. Why did you choose these two countries and what appeals to you about them? Every year I invite one or two countries in our Focus section. Some of them simply had some good years in cinema – and their success needs to be praised and highlighted. It’s the case with Greece – where films like Attenberg and Dogtooth set the trend, but it’s equally worth considering the sensitive context in which these films were made. Others take you by surprise (like it was the case in the past with the Romanian New Wave) and become fashionable overnight, because of sudden festival hits – if you’re an adventurous programmer, you won’t wait to see three or four more years for that specific country to confirm, you instantly set a showcase – like it’s the case with Slovakia.

For some years now, there has been a Renaissance in Romanian cinema. How did the national scene evolved so far? There are slightly more films made every year, despite the terrible financial conditions, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see that Romanian cinema is still riding the Wave, grabbing awards everywhere, despite some critics bitching about it (sometimes for good reason though). Most of the Romanian films that get awarded abroad don’t find their audience at home though and perform poorly at the box-office – which is a shame. It’s true; there aren’t that many theatres in Romania, which is a major handicap. There are big cities with not a single theatre. There’s no consistent or systemic strategy designed to optimise the impact and the presence of the Romanian films on the local market.

Are there enough opportunities for young and emerging filmmakers to show their talent? It’s very limited. The National Film Centre doesn’t provide that much funding for emerging filmmakers. They have to stay in line for years if they want to make a film with state money, sometimes they are even humiliated like it was the case with Adina Pintilie’s first feature. Her script was widely awarded, but it was snubbed by the National Film Centre commission when she first applied with it. Other filmmakers gave up waiting in line and turned to guerrilla filmmaking, private sponsorships and alternative solutions.

What can we expect from Romanian cinema in months or years to come? This year, at TIFF, we’ll be showing no less than 11 features in our official program, and 9 other brand new titles in closed screenings for film professionals and festival representatives. It’s an eclectic offer that’s gonna surprise all those who think they know what to expect from the Romanian cinema. I’ve seen all of them and I can say that the future looks bright.

Interview by Martin Kudláč

“Made in Ash” by Iveta Grófová

Made in Ash follows the current trend of blending fiction, documentary and animation into one coherent piece. The documentary style yields a genuine naturalism, in one particular scene was used a mobile phone to shoot it with incredible sense for tension.

Slovakian cinema has finally been put back on the film map. After years of struggle and local productions, the country´s borders have been overcome by the film House (directed by Zuzana Liová). In the wake of once more regained power and confidence to produce a film destined to become internationally acclaimed, emerging new talent, Iveta Grófová, shows up with her feature debut Made in Ash. Tremendous success for a longtime overlooked tiny country in the heart of Europe.

Made in Ash scooped a handful of awards and is still riding the festival circuit. Someone might say that the film possess qualities just adjusted to the arthouse formula: formalistic approach, social issues and pinch of tragedy. An array of aspects unknown to Slovakian cinema since New Wave happened there. Perspective filmmakers tend to rise from documentary diaspora which is an amusing paradox. So is the story of Made in Ash, originally intended as a docu-piece on where young Slovakian girls end up when they sail away abroad to make a decent living. However, during the shooting process, the director found out that there is actually much more to say.

So begins the story of Dorothy, freshly out of high school whose family cannot afford to keep her under one roof due to extremely low income (meaning no income as the family is on social welfare). When the social-economical status of their daughter changes from gold mine (as they were eligible to receive welfare for her as unprovided dependant) to burden, she is hastily kick out of home to make her own living. Leaving her boyfriend behind with the promise of faithfulness, she embarks on a journey into the unknown. It turns out, she has been provided with a job in Czech Republic as a needlewoman.

She comes to Aš, small town on the verge of German borders which capitalism left completely intact. Actually, it looks like living museum of communist era there. Nevertheless, the troubles are just around the corner as soon as she is fired from the job. No money, no accommodation and left alone in a hostile world. She is about to face some unflattering choices for the future. A little hint, profiting from the closeness to the advanced West, Aš is a paradise for elderly German gentlemen with fat wallets A.K.A. sugar-daddies.

Made in Ash follows the current trend of blending fiction, documentary and animation into one coherent piece. The documentary style yields a genuine naturalism, in one particular scene was used a mobile phone to shoot it with incredible sense for tension. The animation parts serve as introspection into protagonist´s mind and it is a distinguished alternative for internal monologue. And the fiction binds them all into social drama meets psychological portrait. The film functions well also in the context of coming of age dramas as the growing up in Aš is especially bitter pill to swallow. Iveta Grófová also plays with the theme of border crossing in whichever sense the audience is willing to interpret it. There is some physical trespassing as moral one into the extent resembling Seidl´s docudrama Import/Export. The director shuns any explicitness whatsoever using an unconventional camera angles or image distortion. Moreover, the narrative structure has been built upon a fairy-tale paradigm employing several of notorious codes thus becoming a modern (social) fable. Couple of inter-textual similarities could not be overlooked as those of Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz.

Alice and Dorothy pose as inseparable figures in the context of growing-up and facing the threats of life. Nonetheless, Made in Ash proved to be a well-thought and well-structured piece of social (fairy) drama seconded by an extraordinary camerawork, intriguing lighting and transtextual crossover overshadowing some montage discrepancies.

Review by Martin Kudláč