The Festival That Wasn’t…or Was It?

in 44th Göteborg International Film Festival

by Lukas Jirsa

Being at a film festival requires a lot of time, energy, a highly insufficient amount of sleep, a never-ending urge to consult the programme and check the schedule, if and where there would be a sufficient pause to arrange a meeting between those four or five screenings per day etc. Screening, coffee, screening, socializing, screening, coffee, party (if one gets the invitation)… Day by day.

But being at the festival on-line demands slightly different skills – as it is demanded anywhere else during our pandemic times. There is a festival (somewhere at Göteborg may be), but at the same time, we can hardly give up our other ordinary duties (work, family etc.). Unless we are able to move to the isolated island…

During the COVID crisis, it is much more difficult to accomplish a “full festival experience” (comp. Francesco Casetti’s concept of “full filmic experience”) for any festival goer. And it is just to say that the organizers of the 44th Göteborg Film Festival took as many steps as needed (and even a few more) to make it possible for anyone with the appropriate interest.

The festival proposed well curated sections with many films that could strongly impact its viewers (Casetti’s full filmic experience), and I am sure they did so even though the experience couldn’t be shared in cinemas.

The collection of seven films in Nordic Competition proposed a variety of strong and mature art works with my personal highlights consisting of a Swedish feature Ninja Thyberg’s debut Pleasure (2021), multilayered and intellectually compelling Itonje Søimer Guttormsen’s debut Gritt (2021), or widely acclaimed Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round (Druk, 2020).

From other sections, which I haven’t seen in their entirety, l feel the need to mention at least three documentaries: a strong Firouzeh Khosrovani’s documentary Radiograph of a Family (2020) from Nordic Documentary Competiton, questioning the Islam religion, culture and one’s identity in Iran using almost only archive footage, Gianfranco Rosi’s Notturno (Notturno, 2020) a widely open window on life behind the battles in war-torn areas in the Middle East (section Voyage), and highly emotional and up-to-date Alistair Morrison’s Time to Pause (2020), where this iconic photographer  copes with our on-line living world and shows us – let’s hope – the emerging consciousness of planetary era (section Focus: Social Distances).

Regarding the feature films, I had a chance to finally discover stunning  Jasmila Zbanic’s Quo Vadis, Aida? (2020), deeply emotional reconstruction of Srebrenica massacre which took place in July 1995 – it was screened in the International Competition – and also a really touching, slow-paced and mature Li Dongmei’s debut Mama (2020) where the director went back to deal with her childhood spent in a remote China’s countryside – for which she received the main award in Göteborg’s Ingmar Bergman Competition.

The Isolated Cinema

I hadn’t had a chance to spend the 44th Göteborg Film Festival on an isolated island, but there was one person to whom that chance was given – and that is for me another highlight of the festival. The idea of “Isolated Cinema” project consisted in the possibility to spend one week on the inaccessibly located island near the Swedish shore, where the only duty was to watch the festival films and every day record a short video. No phone, no friends, no fast food. Just cinema and nature. The organizers got over 12 000 applications from more than 45 countries. Finally, the lucky one was Lisa Enroth, Swedish emergency nurse, whose daily video messages are worth to discovering.

Lukas Jirsa
Edited by Savina Petkova