Overview - The Universal Nature of the Themes
As a long-standing fan and admirer of short films, I was very pleased to take part in the film festival in Drama. This beautiful small city in the eastern part of Greece, where you can feel and smell the sea salt in the air and in which the freshwater springs in the center give the city its tranquil and fresh atmosphere, was once again the host of the 25th edition of the renowned short film festival, which was full of film magic. The excellent organization did not leave room for any improvisation, the events were arranged impeccably, and the most fascinating thing was the energy of the attendants who had an opportunity to exchange their experiences, which might lead to future film project collaborations. The importance of this festival as part of the festival map in Greece was evidenced by the attendance of the new Minister of Culture, who, as any politician would, promised to establish a film university in Drama, alongside the restoration of the old tobacco factory into a modern cinema.
From the 15th to the 21st of September, 199 films from 64 countries were showcased. The national selection of 60 works by Greek moviemakers was showcased individually, while the international category was comprised of 67 films from 60 countries. The work of the festival organizers during the past 25 years put Drama on the world map of prestigious short film festivals, and that is why moviemakers from all around the globe are happy take part in this festival.
Generally, the films in the international category presented contemporary themes that always focus on the fight of the individual with the Other, the one incarnated in many faces. The universal nature of the themes ranges from dysfunctional families and the troubled relationship between parents and kids, homeless children on the streets of the world’s metropolises, aging, crime, drugs and prostitution, the rights of LGBT people, the refugee crisis, war and its consequences, the repression of Muslim women, terrorism and the constant fear from it, etc. The general impression is that the young moviemakers tend to tell stories of the madness that has come over the world in the new millennium, often through a subjective, unusual and authentic prism. Some of the authors want to present that same madness through comedy, often interweaving love as a leitmotiv.
Contact by Samir Syriani from Lebanon is an excellent cinematic experience that deals with a very serious issue – the consequences of civil war. The author of the film captures the loneliness of a marksman, who after the personal tragedy finds his place in the world in a desert, in an area in which no one is allowed to enter and everyone can be a potential victim. This beautifully shot film also presents the opportunity for its protagonist’s rehabilitation through the sad stories of his fellow citizens who share the same fate, exiled from their homes. Tatoo by Farhad Delaram, in the best tradition of the Iranian cinema known for its minimalist film language, unveils the social situation in Iran through the story of a young woman who decides to have a tatoo. Effective, painful and memorable!
Family Unit by Titas Laucius from Lithuania presents the micro-world of one family, in which the relations between the family members have deteriorated for a long time. Filmed mostly in hand-held camera, with actors that excellently depict the family’s impatience, this short work (21 minutes) depicts a whole world determined by previous events, in which the final culprit is always the Other, the Stranger. Elena by Jesus Reyes from Columbia takes us to the cornfields of divided Columbia, in which old Elena, saving a young boy from the hands of the guerillas, actually saves the killer of her son. Forgiveness is the Christian way of living, and consolation is the map for the location of the grave of her dearly departed. Windowless (Fensterlos) by Samuel Fluckiger from Switzerland deals with the theme of mother’s loss in a superior way. With excellent acting and a professional approach to the theme, this short film feels like a feature film with great and developed script and this is due to its density, rhythm and dynamics.
Ficus by Andrey Volkashin from North Macedonia presents a fragment of the life of a homosexual man, who facing the early death of his friend, discovers that there are a few possible truths to this world: that beauty is in simplicity, that life is short and it should be lived authentically, and to the fullest. Way back home (A Volta para Casa) by Diego Freitas from Brazil also reminds us of the transience of life through the story of an old man, who sits tirelessly in his home, waiting for someone from his family to come and take him home for the holidays. Unfortunately, this does not happen, but there is a good man with a good soul, the janitor in the retirement home, who, on the one hand, makes his holiday sad because of the realization of his loneliness, but, on the other hand, makes the day unforgettable because of his humanity and the new friendship.
Lake of happiness by Aliaksei Paluyan from Belarus tells us of little Jasja who is not satisfied with her father’s decision to remarry and to bring her to an orphanage, where most other kids do not know their parents at all. Through a superior cinematography and the use of all the film elements that function impeccably, this movie astounded us. River (Reka) by Dmitrii Davydov from Russia displayed the mystical power of the river, and of the fearless teenager who wants to help his brother walk after the recent tragic car crash that left him paralyzed in an unusual way. This is a very successful fairytale from the new Russian cinema.
Brotherhood by Meryam Joobeur from Tunisia presents a fresh take on the Jihad and the decision to enter and then leave the “holy war”. Focusing on one Tunisian patriarchal family in which the eldest son does not get his father’s support for his decision to leave the war and come back home with his pregnant veiled wife, the film tries to explain the decisions and consequences that every individual has to face, through an emotional charge. The excellence of this film is due to the director’s courage to delve deep into the family psychology of the protagonists and face the delicate subject of which nothing will ever remain the same. Applying all the rules of film language to the making of a great short film, Meryam Joobeur does so in a unique and authentic way.
Besides these fantastic achievements, going back to the general concept of the festival in Drama, I should mention that the accompanying program was also significantly rich: the fifth Balkan panorama gave us a review of student films from this region as well as a program focusing on Slovenia, then, there was the exciting selection called “Short matters” that showcased the candidates for the European awards for short films, the European Union presented seven short films thematically connected to the Old Continent as part of the program “EU and Me”, and for the youngest of the attendees “cinema morning” from 11am to 1 pm showed selected educational film titles. Of course, we should not forget that it was a pleasure to attend the press conferences every morning, during which the authors talked about their movies that were showcased the previous day, and afterwards the promotions of the books, which may one day inspire future movie scripts. There were pitches and workshops on various themes that are supported by big names in the film industry.
In conclusion, the short film festival in Drama with its concept shows how one national cinematography should take care of its young talents, uniting them under one roof at least in these seven September days, even though there will be one more opportunity to gather from the 10th to the 16th of October, when, traditionally, the caravan of the best films travels to be projected in Athens. Enlivening the event with international films and guests to exchange experiences between the authors that are hungry for film, the festival in Drama is a winning formula that should be nurtured and awarded in the next decade.
© FIPRESCI 2019
Edited by Yael Shuv