The 43rd Cracow Short Film Festival shows that it is a festival that is both bold, yet still unsure of its identity. Its International Competition highlighted a strong choice of films in documentary, fiction and animation but there were many choices that seemed strange and out of place for a film festival. Hour long made-for-TV documentaries, that would try the most patient of audiences, were placed next to short and snappy animations. Programming decisions such as these did often leave one scratching one’s head.
However, this should not be seen as a condemnation of the festival – more of a comment on how it may be worthwhile to slightly streamline its programming. For when the festival was good, it was very good indeed. Highlights included Poltora Kota / A Cat and a Half (Russia, 2002) is a stunning documentary that makes excellent use of both live action and animation to tell the story of Russian poet Josif Brodski. Rubina Ei Enaa Ela Taalla / Rubina Doesn’t Live Here Any More (Finland, 2002) was a more conventional use of the documentary form, but no less powerful for it. The story of Afghans, who wish to flee their war-torn country, and face an agonising wait from the Finnish authorities as to whether they can move to Finland, the film is both moving and, at times, funny.
Animation was also strongly represented with films such as The Stone of Folly (Canada, 2002) which takes as its inspiration the Hieronymous Bosch painting “Healing Folly”. A strong narrative combined with a grand sense of style make this one of the best short animations that I’ve seen for a while. Treevil (Finland, 2002) was a deserved audience award winner, a short and snappy animation that made sure never to outstay its welcome.
From the fiction side, Kenneth Branagh’s Listening (UK, 2003) new film was awaited with a great sense of anticipation (and more than a few local newspapers were unhappy that Branagh was not going to put in a personal appearance). However, whilst undoubtedly well shot, the film veered towards the pretentious and failed to affect. More successful was De Chinese Muur / The Chinese Wall (Netherlands 2002), an excellent use of the short film format that is not only funny, but has a sobering message about how we can judge things and people. The Last Time (Ireland, 2002), about a woman who – after finding out that she has a terminal illness – decides that she will have one last wild fling, is a film that is typified by excellent acting and a strong story.
Of course one of the ironies of a festival that sometimes seem confused about what a short film is, is that the best film was Wzgliady Fenomenologija / The Stares of Phenomeneology (Russia, 2002) clocks in at 52 minutes. However, it is a fascinating and illuminating rumination on the which in which film can affect us and is a startling mix of both documentary and fiction.
There were points when the 43rd Cracow Film Festival seemed to drag, but the good films more than made up for it. A little more control over next year’s programme will undoubtedly see the festival more of the international reputation it so richly deserves.
© FIPRESCI 2003