Set between the Taunus Mountains and the Rhine, the German town of Wiesbaden hosted the 5th goEast Festival of East European Films between the 6th-12th April, presenting 118 films from 23 countries. The main competition of this year’s festival featured 16 films (ten feature films and six documentaries) that portray the current evolving state of filmmaking in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly with the recent addition of eight Central and North-Eastern European countries to the EU last year.

goEast 2005 began with Emir Kusturica’s Zivot je Cudo (Life is a Miracle). Set at the start of the Bosnian war, the highly regarded film is the story of a train engineer who escapes from Belgrade with his wife and son to work on a remote railway line. Though the film played Cannes in 2004 and has recently been released in the U.K, it was no longer ‘new’ enough to be in competition at Wiesbaden.

As well as discovering exciting new films and directors, the festival offers a unique opportunity to look beyond the new borders of the EU, and to learn a little more about film production from countries such as the Ukraine, Kazakhstan or Macedonia. It’s often easy to believe that with such a small output of film production each year, some countries’ cinemas must somehow be less developed and less interesting. However, this is not only untrue, but paradoxically makes these countries more intriguing when their rarely seen films become the central focus in a film festival.

Kaladan Kelgen Kyz (Rebirth Island), for example, is from the little-known filmmaking region of Kazakhstan. Director Rustem Abdrasov’s film is set in the early 1960s and depicts a young boy growing up in USSR-controlled Kazakhstan, a place that has no place for inappropriate feelings. When the boy falls in love with the daughter of a city functionary, he faces the disapproval of everyone in the village. Colour is used here to depict the boy’s physical longings, while the sepia stock lends a certain mood to the period setting and validates the sense of "otherworldliness" that pervades the whole film. This coming of age tale is based on the writings of the director’s own father, the poet Zaraskan Abdrasov. Although famous in Kazakhstan, his writings were censored and he was little known elsewhere.

Set at the other end of the 1960s, Champions (Mistri) , directed by Marek Najbrt, is something of a departure for Czech cinema. Although portrayed as a black comedy, the film borders on the darker side of life in the Sudetan outpost near Germany, an area that once had territorial issues for Hitler and ultimately played a crucial role in the outbreak of the Second World War. The film is set against the backdrop of a run-down bar that has gone bankrupt. Its characters are as isolated as the location, watching the Czech Ice Hockey team on an old black and white TV in their quest to be world champions again. None of the individuals portrayed here are particularly likeable or sympathetic; collectively violent, self-pitying, faithless and drunk, with the only humour coming from their repetitive failings. Pavel, for instance, believes he can predict the winner of the next match only when he is drunk, so invests his money and effort and loses on all fronts. Only Karel the bar-owner seems positive, longing for the day his bar will be a success again. It is hard to imagine anyone believes the bar to be in existence apart from the five and a half (the man in the wheelchair is cruelly referred to as a ‘half’) who still frequent it. Karel also fails to notice that his wife Zdena is having an affair with Milan, a vain bus-driver who sometimes visits the bar. The film’s subtle allusions to nationalism (as in the tormenting of the ‘Gypsy descendant’ Josef) are especially poignant in a part of the country that has become almost forgotten after its brief and infamous elevation to the world stage in the 1930s.

Nastrojscik (The Tuner), a Russian-Ukrainian co-production, is certainly more enjoyable and accessible, despite being over two and a half hours long. Director Kira Muratova has come up with a fast-paced, funny, often camp, but ultimately human tale of a piano tuner called Andrej who helps the lives of the financially comfortable but frustrated women he comes into contact with in his poorly-paid work. In return they help him out of his financial troubles. The black and white film-stock is not the only reason for the film’s timeless look, as the costumes and décor don’t appear to belong to a particular era either. The laughs are as constant as the twists and turns in the storyline, as our hero overcomes prejudices to charm and help all those around him.

Two new sections in this year’s festival have taken a closer look at the approach to filmmaking in these countries. The "Signature" section focuses on the East European films which may elude our general interpretation, challenging conventional approaches to narrative with their (in)difference to commercial cinema. The "Portrait" section, however, focuses on the development of individual filmmakers whose careers have often been shaped by the changing political situation. goEast has dedicated this first "Portrait" to the Slovakian director Martin Sulik who, in a career now spanning 20 years, has won prizes in Karlovy Vary, Rotterdam, and Mannheim among others. His film The Key for Determining Dwarfs, or the Last Travel of Lemuel Gulliver, was awarded the prize for Best Film at the goEast film festival in 2003.