To the Old Walls for Young Films...

in 17th OFF Camera International Festival of Independent Cinema, Kraków

by Ladislav Volko

Krakow is one of the cities that hosts a wide variety of festivals every year, and film is no exception. This time, the XVII. Mastercard OFF Camera Independent Cinematography film festival took place in exceptionally sunny weather, which pleased especially those who, in addition to normal cinemas, watched films in three outdoor spaces.

Already 280 points of the programme indicate that Krakow lives art to the fullest, and the cinema included almost 100 films from all over the world across 183 projections. The fact that the venues are full and the tickets are sold out is proof of the interest of the young audience in particular.

The centre of old Kraków was dressed up with a festival, the decoration drew attention to an extraordinary event. The most important were the films and their participation in individual competitions. In the main competition Routing the Road, the Andrzej Wajda Krakow Film Award for creators of the first or of other films  and $25,000, went to Power Alley (2023). Its Brazilian director, Lillah Halla, present at the festival, sparked the interest of the audience with her speech, concerning similar problems with abortion also being solved in her home country. The story of a 17-year-old basketball player who does not feel like a mother yet is also a sociological problem for contemporary Brazilian society, it points to the importance of friendship and the power of the collective.

Ten debuts of the so-called second films in the Main Competition are well known in the world of film, because they were already part of such festivals as Toronto, Locarno, Rotterdam, Karlovy Vary, Sundance and Cannes, and some of them also received prizes.

They included 78 Days (Serbia, 2024, dir: Emilija Gašić), a formally an original story of three sisters growing up during the mass bombing of Serbia by NATO troops in 1999. Empty Nets (Germany, Iran, 2023, dir: Behrooz Karamizade) – the love of two young people from different social worlds is not allowed in contemporary Iranian society. Also screened was Forever-Forever (Ukraine, Holland, 2023, dir.: Anna Buryačkova), which sees, in the 90s of the last century, the primitiveness of the post-communist era reflected in the lives of a girl and her two classmates. A love triangle is a dangerous game…The most used term in the 21st century “project”, this time it is supposed to improve the situation of women and their reproductive abilities in less developed countries. Unless it all goes a bit wrong… and the movie The Hypnosis (Sweden, Norway, France, 2023, dir: Ernst De Geer) decently talks about that. Paradise is Burning (Sweden, Italy, Denmark, Finland, 2023, dir.: Mika Gustafson) charts the holiday frolics of three sisters without the presence of their mother in the house, in which a social worker becomes interested. Her intervention would mean separating the sisters and placing them in surrogate families, which the oldest 16-year-old Laura and her younger sisters, 12-year-old Mira and 7-year-old Steffi, do not want to allow at any cost, rather they feel that they have to stick together. The Quiet Maid (Spain, 2023, dir: Miguel Faus) sees Ana arrive from Colombia to work as a domestic helper in a luxury villa on the Spanish Costa Brava. From a humble maid, she gradually becomes a warrior who wants more for herself. She Came at Night (Czech Republic, 2023, dir.: Jan Vejnár,  Tomás Pavlíček), known in our region, depicts the peaceful life of a young marriage until the husband’s mother appears one night and is not about to leave.

The young surfer Dondo’s search for certainties after the death of his father in a confrontation with a small company where his girlfriend Sas also lives is the psychologically elaborate story of the film Silent Roar (Great Britain, 2023, dir.: Johnny Barrington). I was a member of the FIPRESCI jury with Malik Berkati, from Germany, and Lukasz Muszyński, from Poland. We found Next to Nothing (Poland, 2023, dir.: Grzegorz Dębowski), the Polish story of Jarek, a peasant accustomed to hard work, whose circumstances put him at the head of the villagers in a confrontation with power, has a universal narrative value.  The film caught the attention of the FIPRESCI jury, which awarded it with a prize “for the universal message and empathetic portrayal of the issue of the Polish countryside, with which viewers around the world can relate, for the skillful blending of genres in the film and finally, the excellent multidimensional role of the actor Artur Paczesný, which would supposedly serve as his gateway to a great film career”.

This time the jury of the Main Competition was led by Andrzej Seweryn, a well-known actor and director, and together with him, winner of two screenplay Oscars, Christopher Hampton, and producer Alise Gelze. In the competition of Polish feature films, among the 10 films that competed for the Dominika Kulczyk&dFligft Award and 100,000 zlotys, the film Imago (Poland, Holland, Bohemia, 2023, director: Olga Chajdas) became the laureate. The jury consisted of foreign filmmakers, a prominent casting director, e.g. Ridley Scott’s Kate Rhodes James, Lenka Tyrpáková, artistic director of FF Finale in Plzeň and Oscar winner for costume design Michael O’Connor.

The festival was visited by many exceptional guests from Poland and abroad, including Patrick Wilson, who received the Against the Current Award, which has been awarded since 2010 to personalities who have made an outstanding contribution to the development of independent film. In addition to many other events, open conversations with Polish people in the Film Town near Galeria Krakowska received a lot of attention.

The final gala at the XVII. edition of this extraordinary festival in Krakow began with a comprehensive on-stage interview with Andrzej Seweryn, in which, among other things, he recalled not only his film and theater roles, but especially his collaboration with Andrzej Wajd. Let’s add that Seweryn stayed in France after the declaration of martial law in 1980 and was a member of the prestigious Comédie-Française scene in Paris for almost 30 years. He returned to Poland in 2010 and has been the director of the Polish Theater in Warsaw since 2011. He holds another record in another sphere, he was happily married five times.

The final film was Andrzej Wajda’s film Conductor (1979), which has lost none of its artistic message, with the participation of the Wajda’s wife Krystyna Zachwatowicz-Wajda. The films of the main competition of the Festival were professionally well managed. “…in most films they represent a mirror image of reality ー evil in various forms”. The desire for authenticity and identity of universal values seems to have disappeared. There is a lack of poetics and sometimes even a ‘higher principle’. Searching for young filmmakers, thinking about reality is the hope of these, Baumanian speaking, “liquid times”. When evaluating the filmmaking  of this festival I am forced to repeat my old statement,  the same as at the 10th edition of the same festival in Krakow in 2017. Is it little, enough or a lot? Nevertheless, I remain an optimist.

Ladislav Volko
Edited by Amber Wilkinson