Relaxed, but Problematic

in 14th Oslo International Film Festival

by Kjetil Røed

With many small festivals you get a sense of warmth and generosity – the organisation of the festival staff is easy to understand, and during your stay you’ll get to know most of them. The atmosphere is relaxed, in contrast to the professional stress hovering over some of the largest festivals. At least, this is the case with the Films from the South Festival taking place in Oslo in the middle of October, for the last thirteen years. The festival is unique in its focus on Third World cinema and should be – and is – held in high regard for this. But although this year’s festival had all of the above-mentioned characteristics, and the staff worked very hard, its success was somewhat disturbed by constant changes to the programme, many delayed film prints, as well as prints having subtitles in the wrong language. These changes sometimes made it difficult for festival-goers to get an overview and navigate successfully through the films they had planned to watch. And despite the fact that these problems chiefly were due to logistical problems outside of the festival’s control, it is hard to avoid the impression that this year’s festival – more than the previous ones – was somewhat badly organised.

The selection of films in the programme – which contained 91 films – is also worth reflecting on. First of all, it seems to me that the people responsible for the selection wanted to play safe, to a larger extent than what is healthy for the festival’s credibility and profile. Films central to the programme – like Kim Ki-duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring Again (Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom) and Fatih Akin’s Head On (Gegen die Wand) – are well-known, having received due attention and ditto prizes already, and it is a bit puzzling to me why these films are in competition instead of lesser-known titles that might be just as good. Still, these more established films obviously are important and marvellous works, and deserve to be seen by as many as possible – but maybe they should have been screened in another section of the programme, and not in the competition? Anyway, in the end, in a festival like this, with little commercial interest present, ideally the selection of films should reflect this relative independence.

Another somewhat puzzling aspect of the programme is that the quality of some of the films was well below average. Films like Luis Orjuela’s The Car (El Carro), Dani Koyote’s Ouaga Saga and Manda Kunitoshi’s The Tunnel (Ano tonneru) – the latter not in competition, but in the Panorama Asia section – are both artistically and thematically of minor interest. Why are such films screened? Due to this I’m slightly sceptical of the programmers, having to ask myself: What are their criteria? Maybe the Festival Director and the programmers should think more thoroughly about the aesthetic criteria forming the basis of their selection.

Nevertheless, this year’s Films from the South Festival was a pleasurable experience as well. With films like Hirokazu Kore-Eda Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai) and Atiq Rahimis’s Earth and Ashes (Khakestar-o-khak) in the programme, on top of a marvellous and passionate festival crew, I tend to forget the bad films and the organising problems.

Kjetil Røed