Anything But Apathy!

in 16th Motovun International Film Festival

by Ingrid Beerbaum

“Anything but apathy!” says Motovun film festival director Igor Mirkovic in this year’s program guide. And, watching the films of this year’s competition, the festival has clearly adhered to this motto. The competition presented a huge variety of international productions which had one thing in common: they show people on the edge — the edge of society, the edge of their own lives, or living in edgy situations, sometimes due to the economic crisis. One could say that this is what cinema and good storytelling should always be about. But Jurica Pavicic’s selection has its own special touch.

This year the competition presented twelve films from eleven countries and, except for one documentary, all were feature films. Watching the documentary Powerless by young Indian directors Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar is like diving deep into a heist movie. Set in the city of Kanpur, the film follows its main character, Loha Singh, risking his life every day to provide the poor with electricity, and fighting against the local power company. Every day the power is cut for 15 hours and the company’s charges are completely unreasonable. So the people of Kanpur take action to ensure their right to electricity. Hundreds of people like Loha strip cables with their bare hands, tap the company wires and make illegal connections to the power poles, motivated by a Robin Hood ideology.

But this film is not only a strange modern Robin Hood story. It also tells about the fight of the new female Head of Company to be appreciated as capable leader. Her aspirations to solve the tapping problem by first negotiating and then by lessening the power supply based on the number of paying customers for the whole city are in vain. Soon she becomes the evil witch suppressing the poor. And those who don’t pay their bills aren’t the only ones in trouble. Kanpur used to be a centre of textile production, both for India and the international market. Now, due to power problems that can’t be resolved, the formerly flourishing city is in decline; with the constant power cuts, a reliable delivery output is impossible. And so the few remaining workers wait for the few hours of electricity per day to at least make a living. Others keep on relying on people like Loha, who’s continuing the fight against the Goliath power company that might never end.

The characters in The Plague (La Plaga) from Spanish director Neus Ballús are also struggling with a delicate economic situation. In his first feature-length film the former documentary film maker tells the stories of five people trying to get along economically in the outskirts of Barcelona. There is farmer Raul, who wants to grow organic food and Iuri, a Macedonian wrestler who’s helping him in the fields. His elderly neighbour Maria is forced to leave her house after an accident and go to a retirement home. There she meets Rose, a Filipino nurse, who has just arrived in the country and takes care of her. And finally Maribel, a not-so-young prostitute who’s facing constant loss of clients. Slowly their stories intertwine.

Using feature and documentary elements and a non-professional cast, The Plague shows the impact of the pan-European economic crisis on people struggling with “displacement and uncertainty caused by rampant globalization”, in the words of the program guide. With its combination of fiction and documentary it also depicts the lives of people not only at the edge of all-consuming cities but at the edge of Western economics.

So it is, according to the festival’s motto, no wonder that this year´s International jury awarded this film with the main prize.

Edited by Alison Frank