More Than a Festival

in 18th Fribourg International Film Festival

by Ramiro Cristobal Muñoz

Showing films at a specialised Festival is always a worthy social and cultural act. Adding an information element increases its relevance; and showing the more dramatic aspects of life in places to which daily newspapers dedicate no more than a few lines in their inner pages, is even more important.

There are a few festivals in Western Europe that are able to combine these rare conditions, for instance Toulouse and Nantes in France, Huelva in Spain or Fribourg in Switzerland. The latter, in its eighteenth annual edition, has accomplished a first-rate job, bringing to the very heart of Europe such diverse cinematographies as those from Korea (way before it became a major-festival trend), Sri Lanka, Peru or Singapore.

Thanks to this, the spectator is able to grasp fragments of otherwise overlooked moments of history. One example is the civil war that tore Sri Lanka (former Ceylon) apart in the mid-nineties, killing thousands and causing almost a hundred thousand displaced persons; or the human drama of the young Peruvians who joined the army’s special forces in the struggle against Sendero Luminoso guerrilla; or the daily life of Chinese immigrants in the heart of Manhattan in New York, people caught up in the hands of the mafia and of a life that isn’t theirs; or the political engagement of certain Spanish soldiers in the former Spanish Sahara colony.

These and many other topics were dealt with during the last edition of the Fribourg Festival, through films programmed with particular accuracy and professionalism. An interesting “puzzle” of films in competition from Argentina, Peru, the United States, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Brazil, China, Korea, India, Spain, Taiwan, Japan and Burkina Faso; a retrospective on Argentina, and a number of documentaries from different origins constituted the “open window” — a term applied to the cinema that in this case is more than a meaningless metaphor.

The documentary that opened the Festival was Fernando “Pino” Solanas’ “Memoria del saqueo” (Memory of the Sack), a straightforward, documented and open denunciation of the political and economic authors of the spoliation suffered by Argentina over the last twenty years. This cinematographic accusation coming from Argentina was thus the ideal prologue of what was to come later during the Festival. The chronicle of the plundering of a developing country was the most clear example of the policy of globalisation and domination implemented by certain multinationals, corporations and nations, corroborated by the films that were to follow, coming from the four corners of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Cinema as a form of art and art as an expression of life – in this fertile amalgam of knowledge, engagement, solidarity and aesthetic expression lies the fundament of good cinema that can, moreover, be achieved with dexterity, drama or sense of humour. Such a synthesis of cultural work, at times revoked by purists and suspicious defenders of art in itself, has its natural habitat in events such as Fribourg, which has succeeded in putting together much more than a festival, through consistency and insight. The facts are the evidence.