A Bird's Eye View of a Garden in Bloom. Dedicated to the cinemas of Central and Eastern Europe, in its 18th year the »goEast Festival« is directed by Heleen Gerritsen, an eminent newcomer and the fifth in an unbroken line of women since its founder, Claudia Dillmann. The Festival is aided and abetted by the present director of the Deutsches Filminstitut in Frankfurt, Ellen Harrington. Ten feature films and six documentaries in 23 spoken languages compete for stylised lily trophies and financial awards. Amnesty International and »Le Monde diplomatique«are espied on the list of Festival partners. Praised by Volker Schlöndorff, Wiesbaden's filmmaker son, the renovated Caligari Cinema, a silver, black and gold art déco oyster shell edifice, is the main venue for competition screenings and award ceremonies.
Of goEast's seven sections, Symposium focusses in 2018 on the Baltic States and the concept of hybrid identities, while the East West Talent lab, a teaching project, concentrates on dissecting the production aspects of "Miracle" (Stebuklas), a Lithuanian, Bulgarian and Polish coproduction directedby Egle Verteljte. "Oppose Othering" is about human rights ; Bioskop's territory is Arthouse film, "Open Frame", working in the precincts of the Fine Arts Museum, experiments with virtual reality. "Prague, 1968" is a whole section and Special Events embrace an exhibition of "swimming-pool" photographs by Maria Svarbova (born 1988 in the Czech Socialist Republic). Indeed, the theme of committment to resistance stands out in the Festival, and is illustrated by the documentary "Occupation 1968". Produced by Peter Kerekes from Slovakia, it is an omnibus film, partly sharp comment, partly wistful reconstruction. This year, the portrait is of the Russian filmmaker Boris Khlebnikov, known for "Roads to Koktobel"and "Arrhythmtia"(Aritmiya).
In competition, Radu Jude presents "The Dead Nation" (Tara Moarta),a sequence of black and white studio portraits taken between 1933 and 1945 and accompanied by a voice-over reading of the diary written by a Jewish doctor from Bucharest, Emile Dorian. Like many newspapers this week, »Die Welt« of April 19th deplores the plague of growing antisemitism at the time when Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary.
As president of the International Jury, Ildikó Enyedi from Hungary refers wittily to the goEast area of investigation as a look in the direction of Europe's back garden. Back gardens, always notoriously rich and rare, are enhanced by the summer skies of 2018. Two notable factors contribute to the present cultural wealth in goEast. Social consciousness and the call for change combine with traditions of dark humour and surreal fantasy characteristic of the relevant heritages of these areas. At the same time, the goEast awareness of complex identity is borne out by the parity of the sexes.
Among the women directors competing, Zhanna Issabayeva from Kazakhstan names her strangely intense film, "Sveta", after her protagonist, a deaf-mute factory worker who will stop at nothing to protect her family. The established director, Márta Mészárosrewinds history through a labyrinth of identities in "Aurora Borealis". Hanna Slak too delves into the past with "The Miner" (Rudar). Mila Turajlic is rewarded by the Federal Foreign Office for her contribution to cultural diversity, "The Other Side of Everthing", the evocative tale of a figure of the Yugoslav resistance, a mathematics professor, told by her daughter.
Both International and FIPRESCI juries award Bernadett Tuza-Ritter for "A Woman Captured", a remarkable Hungarian-German documentary. "November", the ambitious adaptation by Rainer Sainert of Andrus Kivirähk' bestselling novel "Rehepapp", is a deftly crafted, subversive and surrealist parody of the epic struggle between peasants, and the nobility that wins the International prize for fiction films. This Estonian, Netherlands and Polish production teems with supernatural creatures, whereas the FIPRESCI awards Bohdan Slama for "Ice Mother", a bittersweet comic mix of near absurd hilarity and the asperity of social satire.A coproduction of the Czech and Slovak Republics and of France, it depicts a widow who breaks with conventions, including that of maternal behaviour,. Into the freezing cold water she dives without looking back.
All in all, a Festival of thought-provoking and enjoyable films that bring us closer to that fascinating part of Europe and its history-laden issues, thereby broadening our souls. (Eithne O'Neill)