Motovun's Fifth Birthday

in 6th Motovun International Film Festival

by Deborah Young

A fifth birthday may not seem like much, but in just five years the Motovun Film Festival, held in a medieval mountaintop village in the middle of Istria (Croatia), has achieved an enviable international reputation. The fact that festival director Rajko Grlic teaches in Athens, Ohio and his chief advisor Mike Downey is a well-connected British producer and former journalist certainly have something to do with this. Among the happy guests this year were Paul Thomas Anderson (who came with “Punch-Drunk Love”) and Stephen Daldry (with “The Hours”.) The illustrious directors even collaborated on a five-minute instant movie directed by Anderson and featuring Daldry’s wife and child, which cheered Motovun’s closing ceremony.

An international jury chaired by Anderson’s friend Nik Powell, the British producer, awarded “Punch-Drunk Love” the main prize. (At the press conference, Powell said he had abstained from voting and jury discussion of the film.) The same jury awarded the Croatian film “Witnesses” (“Svjedoci”) a prize in the regional section, where five titles competed. Directed by Vinko Bresan, previously known for his wildly popular (in Croatia) festival-grade comedies “How the War Came to My Island” and “The Marshall”, “Witnesses” is a thoughful, beautifully shot drama set in 1992 during the Serbo-Croatian war. It tries very hard to address the question of war crimes in an impartial way without taking sides. Nonetheless, it caused a great deal of heated debate among Croatian and “regional” viewers, whose opinions about the film were strongly divided. At the Pula festival the week before, however, it won a number of prizes.

Our Fipresci jury, judging roughly the same films, chose to bypass the famous titles with world-wide distribution and selected the small Brazilian film “Margarette’s Feast” (“A Festa de Margarette”) for our prize, a choice warmly appreciated by the festival director.

The festival is not small. Some 3,000 young people camp around the base of the mountain and invade the tiny town at night, filling the narrow streets to bursting and making excellent, attentive audiences at the two outdoor and one closed cinemas. (Example: they applauded loudly for the “Margarette’s Feast” prize.) The selection of films was strictly festival-of-festivals and not particularly new, with the exception of two Croatian films and one Serbia and Montenegro title.