Modest Ambitions and Big Successes By Ivan Karl

in 9th Motovun International Film Festival

by Ivan Karl

Along with Sarajevo, Motovun is now the only relevant international film festival from the territory of ex-Yugoslavia. Initiated in 1999 as a mutual undertake of two friends — the film directors Rajko Grlic and Igor Mirkovic — lacking a huge budget, vanity, fanfares and red carpets, Motovun has been and since remains a spontaneous and charming improvisation of moviegoers and film lovers of all generations. The informality of Motovun and the smart business concept of Sarajevo, as well as the thought behind the original program concept which they carried out on time, have left far behind the golden ages of the Pula film festival and FEST, in the past the best known festivals in the former Yugoslavia.

How did Motovun, with rather small ambitions, outdo even the most optimistic expectations? Let us begin with an unusual and above all picturesque setting. A medieval place with 500 residents, on the top of a hill reaching 227 meters of altitude, in the center of Istria not so close to the Adriatic coast. One hotel, one shop, a few improvised cafés and restaurants, some private accommodation. Everything else is improvised and temporary. Four theaters, two of them in the open air, a press center, video room, entire power installations, even pens. During the festival, with professional staff and numerous volunteers, Motovun is a busy place where thousands of people mingle, so the small number of residents rent their rooms, and go to stay at the nearby down the hill villages. The privileged are at the top, but all are equal guests. There is no VIP treatment, everyone is available and it all gives the impression of a film community which enjoys the film carnival and other known (or unknown) forms of entertainment. As they say in Motovun, formal dressing is short pants and long speeches are forbidden. Dedication to work is honest, almost fanatical and working conditions are sometimes very hard. Still, young people, mostly students, find this as an excellent opportunity to gain experience, carrying out the festival. They do it with a smile on their faces and without any oversights.

When Motovun was first set up, there where no other film festivals of international character in Croatia, while the movies shown at theaters were only Hollywood productions. Logically the attention was referred to the rest of the world, small cinematographers and independent productions, movies and authors with bright new ideas and powerful stories. On a yearly basis, they select about 70 accomplishments in that range, and projections of those movies are constant, starting at 10am until 4am the next day. The loyal Motovun audience is literally watching everything and the tickets even for, say, unpopular projections considering the location and the timetable, are sold by the end of the festival’s first day. The average number of viewers with bought tickets goes over 20 thousand people.

This year the movies where split into four groups. Besides the main program section there was: Special Screenings, Even less Kino and Made in Vojvodina. The unofficial hits were Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo Del Toro, After the Wedding (Efter brylluppet) by Susan Bier and an excellent retrospective choice of Japanese horror movies. There were no usual press conferences, but the main stars of the festival; István Sabó, Jamie Bell, Zelimir Zilnik and Mira Banjac were available to all interested reporters and curious individuals at the afternoon events, the so-called film school, which was located on the terrace of the Kastel hotel. They were talking about everything, without clutching or looking at their watches, in an atmosphere which was open and friendly.

Mrs. Mira Banjac, one of the greatest stars in former Yugoslavian cinematography, was a guest star of the partner country Vojvodina. Vojvodina is, as you may know, a province inside of Serbia so this could have looked like a thorn in the eye, but the organization officially mentioned several times that there was no intention to provoke. Within that new teamwork, a concert of a tambourine band from Vojvodina was organized, a flag exhibition of artists from Novi Sad presented, decorating all the entrances to Motovun, and above all showing films under the label Made in Vojvodina, which undertook the classical works of Soja Jovanovic, Karola Vicek, Zelimir Zilnik, Branko Bauer and a cocktail of new student works from young artists. Also, there was a program from the recently finished Palic film festival.

The kind and friendly hosts made a maximum effort to please the guests, so they organized a number of concerts, workshops and exotic gastronomic fieldtrips, as well as official cocktail parties and presentations. Every day was carefully planned, and the good atmosphere often threatened to take your mind off the movies and take you in a different direction, giving you a sweet dilemma, between several attractive events. There was certainly no such thing as free time in the very full five days.

The FIPRESCI jury, whose recognition is not main, gives you a certain ease of watching and decision making. This is almost a luxury, giving you an even nicer job at such a hedonistic festival like Motovun. There was no doubting when we chose the British film Hallam Foe by David McKenzie, which stood out for its unusual but brilliant directorial work and flawlessly preformed story of childhood, facing life’s challenges and unavoidably growing up, with a happy end of sorts. The main jury award went to the Israeli-German co-production Sweet Mud (Adama Meshuga’at) by Dror Shaul. This was a hard decision, because the jury led by István Sabó individually named a further four special mentions; a plus for the selection. There was also the “From A to A” award, which was presented to the movies in the region from Austria to Albania. The best, according to this jury, was The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories (Problemat s komarite i drugi istorii) by the Bulgarian director Andrej Paunov.

Next year the partner country of Istria and Motovun is Russia. As they say in Russia, “Dosvidania” till 2008.