23rd Cottbus Festival of East European Cinema
Germany, November 5 - November 10 2013
Cottbus is arguably the best location for a festival, where eastern and western European cinema meet as equals. Formerly located in what was known as the Eastern bloc, after the unification of Germany the city – located only a short drive from the Polish and the Czech national borders – is now part of the western European family. It is also the only example of a truly bilingual city in Germany, with street-signs in two languages: German and Sorbian – the local tongue, a member of the Slavonic language group, and closely related to Polish, Czech and Slovak – spoken by barely 50,000 native speakers, who still cling to it.
It is hardly surprising then that the 23rd Cottbus festival of East European cinema should place such emphasis on the portrayal of minorities, marginals and migrants. The competition opening film, the Polish epic Papusza, is virtually a history of Poland’s Gypsy community in the 20th century (and indeed, the Focus sidebar section this year was devoted entirely to screen (self) representation of the Roma and Sinti peoples). A significant proportion of the 11 films in competition featured people living on the margins of society: unemployed, artists, prostitutes, immigrants, alienated youth, farmers in remote provinces, and so on.
Another subject area into which the Cottbus festival traditionally makes frequent forays is Europe’s bloody and totalitarian past. This year’s competition programme included films which, while set in the present day, deal with the overhang of Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romanian police state or the consequences of the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict, while the festival curtain-raiser was set during World War II.
This year’s festival, running November 5-10, comprised of more than 150 features, documentaries and short films, including six international premières. Their scope ranged from international co-productions to strictly local output. Thus Cottbus film-maker Donald Saischowa presented his work within the framework of a section, entitled Location Lausitz – the German name of the Sorbian-speaking region.
Fully established as a key networking location for film-makers, working across the east-west divide, the city has for the past 15 years hosted Connecting Cottbus (CoCo), an annual co-production market at which producers from all over Europe attend pitches for projects, set in eastern Europe. The two-day event features one-on-one meetings with funding top dogs and panels on recent developments in regional industries. 140 industry professionals were expected to attend this year’s event.
Since its inception, the co-production market has seen 173 projects pitched, of which 70, or more than one third, have ended up produced and commercially released. Three films in this year’s competition – Milos Pusic’s Withering (Serbia), Vali Hotea’s Roxanne (Romania) and Vinco Bresan’s The Priest’s Children (Croatia) – are beneficiaries of the CoCo initiative.
The strong selection – almost all competition movies have been invited to number of other festivals – made the success of the two Russian entries even more notable since they took the two main awards. The Best Film award went to Alexander Veledinsky’s quirky The Geographer Drank his Globe Away, while Yury Bykov was named Best Director for his police drama (as opposed to thriller) The Major.
The FIPRESCI jury however was deeply impressed by the first feature by a director from one of the poorest countries in Europe, one which has barely begun to establish a national cinematic tradition since its independence from the Soviet Union 22 years ago. The International Critics’ prize thus went to Moldovan director Igor Cobileanski for The Unsaved (co-produced with Romania), a portrayal of young people, adjusting to the harsh realities of capitalist society in a small provincial town. (Bernard Besserglik)
Cottbus Festival of East European Cinema: www.filmfestivalcottbus.de