25th FilmFestival Cottbus – Festival of the East European Cinema
Germany, November 3 - November 8 2015
Starting on a small scale after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening of the Iron Curtain, this German film festival which specializes in Eastern European films has gained a solid international reputation, alongside Karlovy Vary and Berlin. Located near the border with Poland, the festival, established by Roland Rust and now under the direction of Bernd Buder, is celebrating its 25th edition.
Around 200 films from over 40 countries screened in three competitions and ten other sections. The international competition contained twelve feature films; there were also competitions for short films, debut features and films targeted at youth. The Spectrum screened international festival hits, while the Focus program showed films about Eastern Europe. In addition, there was a program about Islam in Eastern Europe, a focus on the Netherlands called globalEast, a selection of regional films and films from former communist countries, a section of films for children, and two days celebrating Russian and Polish cinema respectively.
Of course, the main competition remains the center of interest. Half of the competition features were realized in co-production with other countries – perhaps an indication of how difficult it is these days in Eastern Europe to produce a film which has dedicated political and social themes, instead of just being entertainment for the public. The twelve films in the main competition represented the great diversity and creative potential of films from the region, which must compete with Hollywood and Bollywood for attention.
This year, films from countries of the former Yugoslavia were particularly impressive. After a great success in Cannes, Croatian director Dalibor Matanic’s The High Sun (Zvavdan) won several more prizes in Cottbus, including the Grand Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize. This film deals with the wounds of the Balkan wars in three different stories, following a couple (played by the same actors) in 1991, 2001 and 2011. At once realist and metaphorical, the film addresses the difficulty of overcoming past traumas and rebuilding relationships. Emotionally convincing and visually playful, this exceptional work reflects historical memory through individual tragedies.
The Ungiven (Imena višnje) by Branko Schmidt deals with an old couple returning to their destroyed village after the war. They continue the war through their personal relationship, until finally the woman becomes ill and loses her mind. The film depicts the reality of an aging society, and won the prize from the ecumenical jury.
Forgetting and remembering the past was perhaps the most important theme in this year’s competition films, along with the more or less hopeless attempt to risk a new start in life. In this respect, comedies have it easier than tragedies. The Slovenian comedy Siska Deluxe by Jan Cvitkovic won the audience award. Its story of three young men starting a new life by establishing a pizza parlor in a wasted area was convincing and humorous, but didn’t always suggest a sensitivity towards social issues.
Today, Serbia is the transit point for many immigrants and refugees from Africa and Syria. Director Želimir Žilnik, who was also the president of the international festival jury, filmed this reality long before politicians in middle Europe caught on. His documentary Destination Serbistan (Logbook_Serbistan) was presented at a special screening. What the film highlights is not the danger of foreigners, but the real relationship between refugees and Serbian people. Please watch this film – it shows us that anything is possible! (Hoger Twele, edited by Lesley Chow).
FilmFestival Cottbus – Festival of the East European Cinema: