New horizons at international film festival in Wroclaw

The 7th Era New Horizons International Film Festival includes over 350 films, 100 movie premieres and about 600 shows in 13 cinema auditoriums. Wroclaw has become a film Mecca for thousands of people coming to see films from all over the world. Even the heat can’t discourage them as the screenings are held in air-conditioned theaters. The first seven days of the festival are over, but everyone is waiting for Sunday’s deciding New Horizons International Competition when the audience will become the jury. “From the very beginning we wanted to create an opportunity to watch the latest and most recent movies which are the great events of international festivals or win in Cannes or Venice,” says Roman Gutek, the festival director. “Sometimes these are films that didn’t gain recognition of the jury but we admire these pictures.” The festival is also famed for introducing Polish audiences to new films from Bollywood (India) and Asia. Last year, critics objected that too much minimalist cinema was presented at the festival, especially in the competition. This year, one such film is the Japanese “The Mourning Forest” by Naomi Kawase, who won the Grand Prize of the Cannes Festival. The film is a calm, philosophic and beautifully photographed story about how a man must finally find peace after the death of his child and wife. The audience either fell in love with it or fell asleep in it. Yet, such films also characterize a good festival as they awaken lively discussions.The Cannes Golden Palm winner – “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” from Romania – opened the festival last Thursday. Cristian Mungiu, the director of the film, confessed that he keeps the Golden Palm in hiding because of his child’s tendency of throwing any object that gets near his hands. The film “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” is certainly one of the best features of the 7th ENH. It’s a shocking minimalist film that tells a story of two students in 1980s Communist Romania while abortion was strictly forbidden. When one girl decides to have an abortion done, she undergoes the terror of the surgery at a dirty hotel performed by a brutal “doctor.” The motionless camera concentrates on faces and reactions giving audiences a sense of being in the middle of the events and making the emotions more present. The film forces one to focus entirely on the screen, as any movement could destroy the atmosphere that Mungiu?s movie creates. It becomes less about abortion problems or difficult communism times. “I wanted to tell a story about events that I know well. For me it is a film about the relationship between people, about decisions that we have to take and about consequences of these decisions,” says Mungiu.  Festival participants unable to get into Mungiu’s sold-out film had the opportunity to watch Sam Garbarski’s “Irina Palm,” co-produced by Great Britain, Belgium and France. After the screening the audience saw a live concert by Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger?s famous muse and the leading star in the film. This was Faithfull’s second concert in Wroclaw. Wroclaw is considered her unlucky city, with the poor turnout at her first concert here a few years ago. Such poor luck is unfortunate as the concert-goers admitted that the hour was magical. “She was fantastic, she is a volcano of energy,” was one spectator’s reaction. The 60-year-old artist enchanted the audience both in the cinema and during the concert. Faithful gives a fantastic performance as Irina Palm, an old woman who decides to work in a sex shop to earn money for her sick grandson. The warm and funny story raised the enthusiasm of the festival’s audience, who applauded and laughed throughout the two-hour screening. As always, the festival provided audiences with the opportunity to meet with the film festival actors and directors. This year Hal Hartley, who has a retrospective during the festival, is one of the most exciting guests. This American film director is a leader of independent cinema in the U.S. In Poland he is deemed the most famous unknown legend; while the director himself is very popular here, his films are virtually unknown being practically inaccessible. Big crowds and a full cinema auditorium should be of little surprise at Hartley’s film screening. For dessert, the festival has a few Australian films. These movies from the 1970s and 80s were the Australian New Wave films that won audiences’ hearts all over the world during the country’s film renaissance. All the films being shown were chosen by David Stratton, a well-known Australian film critic who writes for the newspaper “The Australian” and the U.S. magazine “Variety.” Apart from the new movies there was a one-time chance to see the silent film “The Kelly’s Gang” from 1906. Rumor has it that this Australian movie was actually the first feature film ever made. Unfortunately, as only 17 minutes of the film have survived, it is impossible to view the original film in its full length. Stratton admits that after the great New Wave film era ended, Australian cinema went into a crisis. “In the 1980s we were winning [the film market] with artistic films. Now because of the Hollywood invasion young people want to make films like “Matrix,” he says. “I think that they should recall their origins, their culture. This is what I think can interest an audience all over the world.” The last Australian films that were popular both in Australia and in other countries were stories like Rolf de Heer’s “Ten Canoes,” which explores the Aboriginal legend and made completely by using an Aboriginal language and actors. Or Sue Brooks’ “Japanese story,” a warm love story with Tony Collete (featured actress in the popular romantic comedy “Muriel?s Wedding”) and beautiful Australian landscapes. These are not genre films with large budgets but rather intimate portraits of relationships and feelings, with magical Australian lights that lure Wroclaw?s foreign audiences, too.For many years the festival took part in Cieszyn, a small, picturesque city bordering the Czech Republic. When the festival became too big and Cieszyn too small, the festival’s move to Wroclaw became necessary. The growing popularity of the festival can also be seen in the age of its participants. A few years ago this was primarily a festival for youth. Now an increasing number of older filmgoers come to the festival. Among the oldest guests are the Kalinowskis at nearly 70 years old. They have watched many movies in their lives. Bogdan Kalinowski takes notes during all the screenings, “not to forget” he says. His wife, Maria, admits that she often relies on her husband’s opinion but this year she wants to see the Hal Hartley films for herself. They don?t have any problem with seats as there is always a pair booked for them in advance. Most festival participants spent the first day in feverish planning of individual screening schedules. This was a real undertaking with so many fantastic films and only 10 days to see them. Now the city is filled with feverish running from one cinema to another and from one meeting to another. The evenings are filled with concerts, beer in the festival club and all-night discussions about the films watched with other people passionate about moving pictures. The festival lasts until Sunday leaving a few more days to get to Wroclaw. The town is only three hours from Krakow by train. There will still be a chance to see Australian movies such as the new “Japanese story” or “The Magician” and the older and perhaps most famous of the Australian New Wave films ? “Newsfront.” However, this weekend belongs to Mexican film “Silent Light” of Carlos Reygadas. Fans fortunate to have seen it say the film has a real chance of winning the competition, though it is still too early to say. Also playing will be retrospectives of Hal Hartley’s dance films and documentaries. Because the nation mourned the death of 27 Polish pilgrims in France, all planned pre-screening concerts and commercial activities were suspended until Wednesday. Complete information and a screening schedule are available on the web site in English: All non-English films have English subtitles.

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