Games Of Cinephilia At The 33rd LIFFE

in 33rd Ljubljana International Film Festival

by Ivana Novak

The Ljubljana International Film Festival, abbreviated as ‘LIFFE’, has long been considered as the “celebration of cinema” in Slovenia. What began as a modest boutique festival of local film enthusiasts in the early 1990s, developed into the country’s largest one, as well as one of the most iconic national cultural events at the turn of the century. In the year 2022, around 100 films were shown in various cinemas around the city of Ljubljana, and the festival welcomed over 33,000 visitors. The number is smaller than in the years before the pandemic, but still good enough for a city of 300,000 inhabitants and a country of only two million people.

The pivotal place of the Ljubljana film festival within Slovenian film culture cannot be exaggerated. Back in the 1990s, every city and town across Slovenia, big or small, had their own local cinema halls. The rise of the multiplex cinemas at the turn of the century had a tragic impact on the vast majority of these local cinemas. The small venues closed one after another in Ljubljana as well, and soon gave way to the multiplexes situated in the commercial-industrial zones at the outskirts of Slovenian cities. The situation has improved in other Slovenian cities in recent years, but in 2022, there was only one arthouse cinema within Ljubljana’s city center.

Enter LIFFE: the festival that, according to the words of its director Simon Popek in a recent interview, filled that sudden lack in film culture around the year 2000. It is not difficult to see why LIFFE is one of the pivotal cinematic institutions in the country, as it takes place in various venues across the center of Ljubljana, creating a vibrant cinephiliac atmosphere that otherwise lacks throughout the year. The season is perfect for it, too. Ljubljana turns cold, dark and foggy in the month of November, leaving its people depressed, and LIFFE, therefore, is one of the precious celebrations in which the whole city can partake at the start of the dark season. There are crowds of people from all generations in front of the venues. People take time off work to attend projections, and some even return from abroad just for the film festival. Since some screenings are sold-out well in advance, the fight for tickets begins in October. Suddenly, every inhabitant of Ljubljana becomes an avid film-goer and partakes in the game of cinephilia.

It is no wonder that, since the year 2000, the festival has constantly grown with ever-expanding new sections that include feature films, documentaries, short films, and retrospectives, ensuring a wide range of cinematic experiences for the attendees. Apart from film screenings, the festival also organizes panel discussions, workshops, and masterclasses, providing opportunities for industry professionals and aspiring filmmakers to learn from more experienced ones. This year, screenwriter and director Dalibor Matanić, author of award-winning films, such as The High Sun (Zvizdan, 2015), and television series The Paper (Novine), The Last Socialist Artefact (Područje bez signala), and The Silence (Šutnja), spoke about his work. This year’s ‘LIFFE Focus’ programme was dedicated to the most successful Kosovar films in recent years—all of them made by women filmmakers—and there was a vibrant discussion on Kosovar cinema which evolved from scratch after the war and without the requisite infrastructure or film experts. The new generation took the helm, changing everything and giving the opportunity to young filmmakers. Fifty per cent of the funds are now being allocated to female directors, which is a particularly exciting figure, considering the fact that Kosovo’s patriarchal society.

The festival’s 33rd edition truly ensured a wide range of cinematic experiences for the attendees. One of the festival’s highlights is its international competition section, which features a selection of films that have competed for prestigious awards in Cannes, Venice, and Berlin. In addition to the competition section, the Ljubljana Film Festival hosts numerous retrospectives that explore specific genres, national cinemas, film history or emerging trends in filmmaking. These programs allow festival-goers to delve deeper into specific areas of cinema and discover hidden gems from around the globe. One of this year’s captivating focuses was on Kosovar cinema. The other focus was on the “Prague school”, the group of Yugoslav directors who graduated at FAMU, the film academy in Prague, and created what is now considered the new wave of Yugoslav cinema. One of its most iconic authors, Rajko Grlić, was present at the festival, and a discussion was dedicated to the Slovenian translation of Grlić’s autobiography. The festival’s growing reputation has contributed to Ljubljana’s status as a vibrant cultural hub in the post-Yugoslav region as well. One should not forget to mention the “Extravagance” section, which is officially reserved for provocative and subversive cinema, and where one goes to be scared, surprised and entertained.

The festival has become a vibrant brand, spreading into cities other than Ljubljana as well. Each year, there are multiple projections in the cities of Maribor, Celje, and Novo Mesto. It also lends its name for the traditional programme “LIFFE after LIFFE” organized by Television Slovenia, the public television, each autumn.

LIFFE still offers potential when it comes to networking opportunities, mingling and, not the least, night life. Socializing opportunities are undoubtedly vast, and industry professionals can indeed meet during several industry events. There are two official ceremonies at the start and the end of the festival, but between them, social meetings are left to chance. Coincidences naturally have its charm, but perhaps this is precisely why a festival of this proportion shouldn’t leave them entirely to chance. Simply organizing informal get-togethers each evening would go a long way.


Ivana Novak
Edited by Savina Petkova