The Cracow Film Festival, in its 44th year, once again demonstrated that it stands tall and proud in programming some of the best shorts, documentaries and animations from around the world. The festival is traditionally uncompromising because of its primary focus on the film programme rather than attempting to glamorise itself by inviting big names or throwing lavish parties. However, the backdrop of the beautiful town of Cracow was always an easy respite between the screenings.
The festival’s two main sections, the National and International Competition, introduced some excellent new talent, and encouraged the belief that at least some directors should progress into distinguished film careers, even if their works aren’t seen by a larger audience. The award winners should take particular encouragement from acclaim at one of the oldest and highly regarded of festivals. For the FIPRESCI Jury, it was difficult to pick a winner from 76 entries as the shorts and animations were mainly of a very high standard. Some documentaries were indifferent, too long, or in a couple of cases unnecessary, but the best ones were the highlights of the International Competition.
The FIPRESCI winner “Miguel, Ne Terren” (On the Spot, Spain, 2003, directed by Enric Miro and Lluis Jene) was chosen because it depicted not just the heroic and compassionate life of 90’s war journalist Miguel Gil but sought to highlight the propagandist nature of war reports and the foreign media misleading the masses on the true actualities of war.
Another remarkable documentary was “Et Steinkast Unna” (A Stone’s Throw Away, Norway, 2003, directed by Line Halvorsen) which told the story from the point of view of Palestinian children after having a curfew imposed upon them and sought to explain why many grow up to become suicide bombers. War related documentaries sometimes take a contrived persuasive stance towards the viewer but these two films fully informed and educated us on their subjects.
In relation to this approach, it seemed even more fitting that the legendary American documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles was the guest of honour and was awarded a Golden Dragon (the symbol of the city) for his life work and achievement. As he accepted the award at the festivals opening ceremony, he pointed out that the main purpose of his work is to simply document events and not to make a judgement on his subjects. He feels that the best documentary films have been because of this stance.
The International Competition was perhaps too conspicuously drawn from Europe, with some entries from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Middle East and Australia. There was nothing in the competition from Africa, the Far East or South America. This raises varied questions as to whether they were overlooked, not of a high enough standard, or simply that there were too few entries. Great Britain came to dominate the competition in the number of shorts and animation entries.
The main festival award, the Golden Dragon, went to “Wasp” (Great Britain, 2003, dir. Andrea Arnold), a short film (23 minutes) about a young single mother from a typical British council estate with four little children, who meets by chance an old flame. The desperation of the character and her situation is encapsulated by the continual, almost nervous, use of hand-held cameras. Her quest for a new partner means she lies about being the mother of, and also neglecting, her four children as she seeks romance in the local pub while he mainly focuses on his pool game, and the children are left cold and hungry outside. Her neglect comes to a head as a wasp lodges in the mouth of her baby. The enthusiasm and energy of this film transcends the bleak premise and made it a popular choice with many of the juries.
As film festivals go, Cracow is relatively short at just five days of screenings, but these are full and enriching days. May the defiant roar of the festival long continue alongside the legendary dragon which it has adopted as its own symbol, a choice somehow quite fitting, both are quiet and mythical but ready to awaken the town every year.
© FIPRESCI 2004