The city of Tampere, situated between two lakes, about 160 kilometers to the Northwest of Helsinki, is still covered by a thick layer of snow at this time of year, but that did not prevent more than 120 guests from all over the world from meeting there with their Finnish colleagues and celebrating the art of short film. Since short films rarely find their way into the cinema distribution circuit, most of them are presented at festivals but usually even there they are treated as marginalia, except by festivals like Tampere which care about this the neglected form.
So over 800 guests, not only film makers but also festival directors, scouts and managers, took the opportunity to get an impression of the enormous variety in different lengths and genres which were screened during these days.
With 71 entries from 38 different countries, the International Competition is the most important section of the festival, followed by the National Competition, subdivided into animation, documentaries and fiction films, with 36 entries and an amazing variety of special screenings, tributes, and even retrospectives: examples of Finnish animation film since the 1930s as well as Thai shorts from seven decades of film making, Austrian experimentals, a selection of pioneer George Méliès’ special-effects-cinema of the 1900s and 1910s, and some early slapstick comedies of Jacques Tati. First films of masters like Scorsese and Kieslowski, Tarkovski and Malle were to be seen along with students’ recent debuts. There were also personal tributes, just to name a few, to Finnish documentarist Tahvo Hirvonen and German experimental filmmaker Michael Brynntrup.
The most spectacular program probably consisted of three screenings of shorts from post-Taliban Afghanistan, mostly shot by the first Afghan film students themselves, supported by AINA, a European foundation for the development of independent media and cultural expression. AINA has trained Afghan women especially who, due to the Taliban ban on films, may not even have watched TV for years, to work for radio, TV, and newspapers.
The contributions to the Tampere program “Daily Life in Afghanistan” generally depict everyday life not only in Kabul but in the provinces far from the capital. So in “Afghanistan Unveiled” and “The Shadows”, in which a group of the first female students of journalism explored the living conditions of their sisters with the camera showing that there are still a lot of obstacles to get out of the way to peace, freedom and equal rights in Afghanistan. Probably we will see a lot more examples of post-war Afghan documentary cinema within the next couple of years, not only because they are made to be shown to a wide international public but also because they are apt to draw big audiences at festivals. The festival also showed the first examples of fiction film, dealing with traditional music, cinema, and the difference between people from the country and people from the city.
Four juries served at the festival; one for the international and one for the national competition, one for a special prize awarded by the Finnish Film Foundation, and one youth jury established to educate and integrate a new generation of cinema-goers, as well as the audience awarded prizes for the national and the international competition. Grand Prix Winner and Audience Award winner in the international competition was Swede Jens Jonsson’s film “Headway”, a laconic 15-minute-story of a man struggling with his fears.
Unfortunately most of the Finnish entries were not subtitled, so that it was a difficult task for any foreigners not being in command of the Finnish language.
Anyway, the general impression of the Tampere festival, thanks to its director Jukka-Pekka Laakso, is one of charming, friendly, and relaxed hospitality – a serious recommendation for next year!