31st Goteborg International Film Festival
Sweden, January 25 - February 4 2008
Always a famously festive occasion in a likeably boisterous port-city, this year’s Goteborg International Film Festival (GIFF) necessarily carried with it a tinge of sadness. This was a result of the news which broke in mid-summer of 2007 and made front page headlines across the globe: the passing of Scandinavia’s great master of cinema, Ingmar Bergman, at the age of 89. Bergman himself worked in Göteborg as director of the city’s Municipal Theatre between 1946 and 1949 — its harbor providing the atmospheric setting for his 1948 film Port of Call (Hamnstad), although by the end the protagonists have fled the second city’s oppressive environs for a new life in the capital, Stockholm — and in 1994 became GIFF’s honorary president.
The film festival had been conceived in 1978 by Göran Bjelkendahl and Gunnar Carlsson, after Bjelkendahl had visited the London Film Festival and became convinced that the people of Sweden’s second-largest metropolis deserved the opportunity to see international cinema in its full glory. The first Goteborg Film Festival was held in 1979 — showing 17 films to 3,000 viewers. In the intervening decades GIFF has become the best attended and most high profile film event in Scandinavia: ticket sales of around 120,000 are expected for the 2008 renewal (officially the 31st, but actually only the 30th — the numbering went straight from #12 to #14, superstitiously skipping over #13).
450 titles — features and shorts — were included in the line-up, including a Bergman tribute/retrospective with 51 films, this being the first year under the festival’s new director, Marit Kapla. The other sections followed what has become a standard template for major public film festivals of this kind: pre-premieres, a survey of the year’s more successful pictures from the festival circuit, sidebars of documentaries, midnight movies, a national focus (on Mexico), and several competitive sections. The FIPRESCI jury concentrated on the Nordic Competition, namely eight features from the Scandinavian area: three from Denmark, three from Sweden, one from Iceland and one from Norway (Finland was, disappointingly, not represented).
The general consensus among jury-members (three separate juries watched the Nordic films) was that this octet did not represent a vintage crop — although, by the end of the week, everyone seemed to have discovered at least one prize worthy candidate among the bunch. The FIPRESCI members, meanwhile, were able to reach a consensus very quickly around a single title — Omar Shargawi’s claustrophobic Danish drama Go in Peace Jamil (Ma salama Jamil) which, for us, stood out from the pack. (Neil Young)