Masters of Independent Cinema

in 16th OFF CAMERA International Festival of Independent Cinema, Kraków

by Sebastiaan Khouw

The Mastercard OFF Camera International Festival of Independent Cinema celebrated its 16th edition this year. This film festival continues to undergo developments and changes, but one point remains a certainty: it remains the best one of its kind, where masters of the independent film come together.

The 16th edition of the Mastercard OFF Camera International Festival of Independent Cinema—also known as the Mastercard OFF Camera Festival—took place again in Krakow, Poland. I was present as a FIPRESCI juror—along with my colleagues David Katz from the United Kingdom and Wieslaw Godzic from Poland— from May 2 to 7, 2023. This year’s film festival selections again had films that provided information on the current states of the world and depicted unheard stories.

One of these unheard stories was cinematically portrayed in the powerful Spanish film Motherhood (La maternal, 2022). With her film, director Pilar Palomero indirectly poses the question of whether a violent subject is enough to make a good film. The filmmaker shows that it certainly can be if a fierce subject is well incorporated into a powerful screenplay. It also certainly helps Motherhood, that the film contains important representational and educational factors.

Motherhood is, additionally, an important film. Not because it normalizes the problems represented in the film, but because it makes these unsaid stories and issues discussable. Palomero’s film creates understanding for the young people and parents going through these difficult situations – and understanding is the least we as outsiders can give these people! Another film that addressed an important issue is the Danish film The Great Silence (Den store stilhed, 2022) by director Katrine Brocks. With a great acting performance by the still-still-awesome Kristine Kujath Thorp, Brocks manages to show how religion can be used (or rather abused) in order to sidestep grief and guilt.

The Norwegian film Storm (2022) also deals with grieving and its accompanying guilt. Like director Katrine Brocks in The Great Silence, director Erika Calmeyer plays with the concept of responsibility in grieving in Storm. After all, who is responsible for a great loss? Or can anyone at all be assigned direct responsibility in an accident? The filmmakers seem to explore these questions in their feature films. Whereas The Great Silence capitalizes on religious themes full of reformation and resurrection, Storm plays out these questions more as a psychological struggle between mother and daughter.

Other themes discussed in some of the masterful feature films at the 2023 Mastercard OFF Camera Festival deal with issues of immigration, inequality, oppression, and discrimination. For example, both Delegation (Ha’Mishlahat, 2023) and Do You Love Me? (2023) play on issues of inequality and oppression. Delegation depicts a school trip to Shoah monuments, where young Israelis are confronted with the oppression, persecution, and inequality of part of their identity.

In Do You Love Me?, director Tonya Noyabrova confronts film viewers with the oppression of Ukraine during the fall of the Soviet Union, with the young protagonist Kira’s life simultaneously exploding with the discovery that her father had a mistress.

At the end of this film festival, unfortunately, we could only pick one winner. We saw many great independent films, but our choice for the winner fell on Bread and Salt (Chleb i sól, 2022). In Bread and Salt, a student at the Warsaw Music Conservatory returns to his hometown for the summer vacation. There, he becomes involved in the conflict between a local youth and a group of foreigners. At the same time, themes such as brotherhood, talent, and homosexuality are discussed in a subtle and realistic way.

Therefore, for the intriguing and subtle cinematography, the constructive analysis of social themes and the impressive acting of the protagonists, we as the FIPRESCI jury of the 16th Mastercard OFF Camera International Festival of Independent Cinema awarded the prize to Bread and Salt.

Sebastiaan Khouw
Edited by Savina Petkova