Split Screens

in 8th Split International Festival of New Film

by Günter Jekubzik

There are worlds lying between mainstream features, experimental shorts and multi-media installations, which redefine film. In the Croatian coastal town of Split the “International Festival of New Film” offers all this within a short distance from the old town. While strolling through the horizontal layers of the Diocletian Roman palace, the Venetian fortress and the Central European shopping area, one moves vertically through different mediums.

In Yugoslav times, the Croatian capital Zagreb was world-famous for its animated films and Split renowned as a center of experimental film. Festival Director Branko Karabatic recalls German director Werner Nekes with his “Uliisses” and wants to reignite the spirit of that time. So far there is only the AV department at the academy of arts. Before the civil wars, which started in 1989, Split had the second largest production industry in Croatia. Today there is no financing to develop this sector again; most money goes to tourism.

A director himself, Branko Karabatic took over the job of festival director: “Someone had to do it”. He allows himself the liberty of complete independent programming with which he keeps events to a large extent free from politicians, as he says with a mixture of pride and sarcasm. The city of Split only gives a small part of its budget to the festival; the remaining money comes from the national ministry of culture and the sponsor HT Telekom.

The small festival of Split counts about 50 international guests and some thousand visitors. They are offered movies with English translations only; Croatian sub-titles would be too expensive. But the surprisingly little interest in a young city has other reasons: Tomislav Kurelec, Croatian correspondent for Variety, reports that the statistics show each inhabitant of Croatia attends the cinema only once a year. Even the Hollywood Mainstream rarely lures people into cinemas.

Among other Croatian festivals (Motovun, Zagreb and Pula) the small Split must convince with its wide range of cinematic representations: The conventional feature, shorts, experimental works, engaging documentaries, installations and new media. This very modern variety of “pictures” resembles the program of Rotterdam.

The films of the section Forum (features) and Focus (documentaries) offered excellent films some of which were winners of awards at other festivals. They showed the programmer’s preference for a special point of view or exceptional styles. The FIPRESCI jury awarded its prize to Fruit Chan’s “Public Toilet”, a great vision, a search for meaning and healing by young Chinese and Koreans. The digital voyages round the world show again Fruit Chan’s masterly ability, but not in the perfect brilliance of his earlier films “Made in Hong Kong” or “Little Cheung”. A perfect realization would have taken a blockbuster budget. Four other films of the Forum section were in discussion for the FIPRESCI award, but had already received the prize at other festivals.

But it is not only the quality of selection which makes Split worthwhile. It is possible to go from frequently awarded movies like the Polish “Edi” directly to an interactive installation, which creates emotional movies with the input of the viewer’s body heat. Or stroll to the group installation “Layers of Waters”, a concept about water variations of the Adriatic coast. However the real sea was only a few steps away, perhaps the main attraction of the Split-festival.