To Go East, You Must Go West

in Festival of Central and Eastern European Film – goEast, Wiesbaden

by Michela Manente

To learn about the cinematography of the countries of Eastern Europe, including Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, the Baltic Republics, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, the countries of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Romania, Moldova, the Czech Republic and other Balkan countries geographically, just come to the GoEast Festival, which was available to the public only in an online version. The 21st edition, organized by DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum, offered 16 competing films and a series of events and streaming panels to satisfy the widest spectrum of interests and themes that revolve around films from Central and Eastern Europe. Discussions with filmmakers during the festival week were rounding off the Competition’s program.

The 2021 edition – 20-26 April – was held in physical form only for the FIRESCI jury, some members of the international jury (others were online), those working in the film industry and other guests, in the historic cinema Caligari FilmBühne – also to underline the importance of the festival as an industry event. The Festival center, in the nearby closed-to-public Wiesbaden Museum, provided the daily Covid tests in accordance with the current COVID-19 pandemic protection regulations of the State Government of Hesse. It was crucial to meet filmmakers and producers who talked to journalists about the difficulties of making films in these regions of the Eastern European world where war is still raging, where political ideology prevents personal freedoms, where corruption is high or there is extreme poverty, of culture, means and resources. Seven documentaries were selected for the competition, most united by personal experiences and nine fiction films, for the most part dramas dealing with current and dramatic problems of ordinary people and the wish for a better life, emigration, exploitation of women (Ulbolsyn by Adilkhan Yerzhanov), problems related to worklife (The last ones by Veiko Õunpuu), refugees (This rain will never stop by Alina Gorlova; Should the wind drop by Nora Matrirosyan) and links between tradition and modernity, religion and superstition (Chupacabra by Grigory Kolomytsev).

Other themes can be added to those which have already been presented, such as portraits of partisans (the historical drama In the dusk by Šarūnas Bartas; the documenary How i became a partisan by Vera Lackova; the documentary Landscapes of resistance by Marta Popidova), regionalism (Bilesuvar by Elvin Adigozel) and post-communism (Preparations to be together for an unknown period of time by Lili Horvát; Papier-mache by Vitaly Suslin). Some films share breathtaking footage, even shot with the use of drones, of scenarios and landscapes, from the Tundra to the mountains of Transcaucasia (Life of Ivanna by Renato Borrayo Serrano). Some characters show grievance towards their past (Holy father by Andrei Dăscălescu), others are projected towards the future (Bebia, à mon seul désir by Juja Dobrachkous). The documentaries were mainly built on interviews with characters with an interesting and personal point of view (Please hold the line by Pavel Cuzuioc; One upon a youth by Ivan Ramljak).

At the end the FIPRESCI jury awarded two films, one for the fiction category and one for the documentary category. For the fiction category, the award went to Bebia, à mon seul désir, by Juja Dobrachkous (Georgia, United Kingdom 2020), an intimate black and white film that connects the present with the past, with the young protagonist discovering her Georgian roots. The film also won the Golden Lily for Best Film awarded in Wiesbaden by the international jury.  For the documentary section, the price given by the FIPRESCI jury went to the documentary Please hold the line, by the director Pavel Cuzuioc (Austria 2020), which highlights – in the free dialogues between telecommunications technicians and users who have to solve problems in their homes – the difficulty in the modern world of being able to communicate effectively via telephone and other media. The documentary highlights the often-overlooked profession of cable technicians and the importance of communication, without which modern life in the more rural regions of Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria seems almost impossible.

We have great hopes that next GoEast festival will completely take place in the cinema, once again.

Michela Manente
Edited by Karsten Kastelan