Skopje's festival continues to grow and with it comes more success. Igor Pop Trajkov is relieved that the festival still has many of the advantages of a "small" event but warns of worrying signs for the future.
When you consider the Skopje Film Festival, which took place between the 14 and 23 March this year, from a comparative perspective, be that regional or European, it is easy to come to the conclusion that so-called "minor" film festivals can prove to be just as significant as the grand "A status" events on the circuit.
True, the smaller events may be struggling, but nevertheless the interest from audience and film professionals shows that Europe needs smaller events with more focussed aesthetic profiles. It's these festivals that have the strength to form an independent view of European and world film production. Audiences are fed up with the deforming tendencies of the larger events by which fading names are glorified in the hope of increasing the glamour and prestige of the festival and political factors seem to over-ride aesthetic ones in the selection process.
Unfortunately, it's these negative trends that can do most to marginalise films from areas with smaller national film traditions, such as central, southeast or eastern Europe and make it seem as though both output and acheivement in these countries is very low, something that has greatly disappointed film professionals from these regions.
Thus, small festivals that are located in such parts of the world offer a particularly valuable outlet for evaluating the aesthetic acheivements of the surrounding area and provide an invaluable fourm for directors and socialise with other creative artists in their field. And some very successful European film agreements have been concluded at some of these festivals. All these factors are very much present at the Skopje Film Festival, which is trying to establish itself as one of the most significant regional festivals.
That festivals can stimulate creative and practical solutions was supported by Danijel Hočevar, the producer of the Slovene film Rezervni deli (Spare Parts, 2003, directed by Damjan Kozole), which has a cast which is largely from Macedonia. Hočevar admitted that when he was at the festival two years ago, he met the producers from the company Katena Mundi and they decided to co-operate on Rezervni deli. There were some other guests at the festival from the southeast Europe, whose presence strengthened the conviction that the cinematography of the so-called New Europe has a bright future. A particularly strong impression was created by the work of the Croatian director Dalibor Matanić's Fine mrtve đevojke (Nice Dead Girls, 2002) and the Bulgarian director Tedi Moskov's Rapsodija v bjalo (Rhapsody in White, 2002).
Hočevar's view that regional co-operation is essential was backed up by another guest of the festival, Stefan Kitanov, the director of Sofia's film festival and one of the producers of Rapsodija v bjalo. At a press conference, Kitanov delivered a thorough presentation on the possibilities of producing films in the region, by networking film productions with the local television stations as well as through regional co-productions.
The annual Skopje Film Festival has managed very successfully to provide a cross-section of the latest trends in art film worldwide. The most recent developments are to establish a fresh narration, or to experiment with it, irrespective of whether it is a question of complicated and complex plot from more mainstream productions (The Hours, 2002, directed by Stephen Daldry or Adaptation, 2002, by Spike Jonze), experiments with the film time and poeticising reality (as in Cuckoo / Kukushka , 2002, by Alexander Rogozhkin, or Blissfully Yours, 2001, by Apichatpong Weerasethakul), or an unpretetentious and easygoing narration (present in the Latin American productions, especially in Y ta mama tambien, 2001, by Alfonso Cuaron). Audiences have enthusiastically welcomed this trend, so that it is possible to expect a real surge of inventive and different scripts, even in blockbuster productions, in the next few years.
This year, as with last year, there was the opportunity to see a selection of short films selected by Miguel Valverde. The real gems in the genre were the Spanish Desaliñada(Salad Days, 2001) by Gustavo Salmeron and the Slovene film (A)torzija ((A)torsion, 2001) by Stefan Arsenijević, winner of the prize for a short film at the Berlin Film Festival. As part of this programme were shown films by two Macedonia film directors working in France and America. But at a press conference, the selector took the unusual step of announcing that the films were included in the selection not by him, but by the director of the festival Dejan Pavlović.
A very interesting debate was heard on the Latin American films along with their selector (Rafael Drinot Silva ), particularly about the past and present of the Latin American countries and how this has affected film production. A particularly inventive workshop was held by Alberto Korsin Himenes on the so-called anthropological films, which may be will open a new sphere in the development of film genre.
Not only has the festival attracted regional film professionals, but it has intrigued local viewers, this year more than ever before. The excellent selection of films based on innovative and controversial film topics (one of the raison d'etres of any film festival) can take the credit for it, along with the superb quality of the projection proceedings at the Milenium (sic) cinema. The downside of this, though, was that every performance suffered from a shortage of tickets.
The audience was predominantly open-minded and young, which is the traditional image of the festival. However, there was also the appearance of the eminence grise class—ex-ministers of culture, professors, businessmen, self-proclaimed journalists in the field of culture and the like. They stirred interest in the media, giving support to the festival, but given that few of these figures have ever supported the festival in its attempts to survive when it most needed it, accusations of hypocrisy may not be unjust. All the more so since some of these figures have previously commented that the festival should be abolished, considering it only as a private project of a group of ever-lasting teenagers.
This year, Skopje still managed to prove its worth as a "small" film festival. It can only be hoped that the continued trend for enlargement (first outlined in Kinoeye's review of the festival for last year) allows it to keep the benefits of a small festival while avoiding the disadvantages of larger ones, and not the other way round.
Igor Pop Trajkov
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