The Crossing Europe Film Festival was launched in September 2003, the brainchild of Christine Dollhofer together with Wolfgang Steininger. In nine short years the festival has become a firm fixture in Central Europe. This success is evident in the astute programming with the aim of the festival being to raise interest in unconventional and socially conscious cinema, derived from European and artistic marginal areas. Crossing Europe also gives festival attendees further opportunities to see films which might not find wider distribution, despite international festival success. Highlights include films from recent A-festivals in Berlin, Cannes, Locarno, Venice or San Sebastián, as well as selected local filmmaking.
In its 10th edition, Crossing Europe’s opening day screened five outstanding films which exemplified the variety of its programme. The World Premiere of the documentary Innere Blutungen (‘Internal Bleeding’, pictured), directed and edited by Anatol Bogendorfer and Florian Sedmak (based on his book), is a documentary collage which looks at the rural population of the Salzkammergut area of Upper Austria (where Linz is the capital) during the 1960s and 1970s. Much of the film is digitally transferred from Super-8 and stock photographs, using voice-overs quoting from the regional newspapers of the time. The images show a society that is seemingly content and enjoying freedom and leisure. However, the disparate commentary suggests a certain tension, an undercurrent of insecurity and unrest; the directors using the assemblage to challenge the audience to make inferences. Footage of family life and people of all ages cavorting are juxtaposed uncomfortably with reports of violence against women and images of campaign posters for Friedrich Peter, an Austrian politician who served as the chairman of the Freedom Party of Austria from 1958 to 1978. Despite their different subjects, Innere Blutungen draws similarities to the recent award-winning Brazilian documentary Helio Oiticica for its manipulation of footage, images and soundscapes into a unique cohesive revisionist document of an era and place.
Layla Fourie, directed and co-written by Pia Marais, recently received a Special Mention at the Berlinale. Marais has twice already won the main prize at Linz (for The Unpolished in 2007 and At Ellen’s Age in 2010) and is also serving on the jury this time. Layla Fourie (a compelling performance by Rayna Campbell) tells the story of a single mother who has never left her native Johannesburg and struggles along, taking disparate jobs to pay the way. After an opportunity for a better position as a polygraph operator and with it the promise of a brighter future, she is caught up in an accident when driving at night to her new employment. With her young son Kane witness to the event, Layla suddenly finds a problematic situation dangerously encroaching through her involuntary complicity in lies and deception, which ultimately threatens her own and her son’s security. Enter Eugene Pienaar (a prevalently played role by German actor August Diehl) who is ‘interviewed’ by Layla for the job of a driver at the Casino where she is based on her first assignment, but who is too closely connected to her secret for comfort. Part suspense-drama and part thriller mystery, Layla Fourie encapsulates the nervousness and mistrust of post-Apartheid South Africa and shows a director further consolidating an already original and compelling body of work. Mention should also go to Bachar Khalife’s excellent musical score.
Most film festival program tributes choose subjects either deceased, old or at the very least mid-stage in their career, but the Austrian premiere of Secret was screened as part of Crossing Europe’s homage to the young Polish film and theater director Przemysław Wojcieszek. A unique director who represents the independent Polish cinema scene with roots in a DIY punk ethic; his low-budget films with small ensemble cast reflect the attitude and formula of theatrical direction. However, Wojcieszek uses the possibilities of film art manipulation in post-production to create an original formal effect which, in this case, juxtaposes a serious story about the attempt of a young performance artist – together with his Jewish agent girlfriend – to finally uncover the truth about his grandfather’s suspected involvement with a murder in World War Two. Cultural references (the film’s six chapters use a title representative of a Madonna song), stop-motion photography, dance performances and comedy elements create a playful montage which stays the right side of form not interfering with the story.
Another director returning to Crossing Europe is Ursula Meier, with her French-Swiss drama Sister. Her first feature film Strong Shoulders screened here in 2004 in the Competition European Cinema. Then in 2009 the festival devoted the Tribute section to Meier and her Swiss director colleague Lionel Baier. Sister has also been bestowed with accolades and critical appraisal at recent film festivals, notably the Berlinale in 2012, the Swiss Film Awards and the 2013 Oscar shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film. The story details a struggling boy who wants to provide for himself and his sister. Leaving his economically depressed home in the shadow of the Swiss Alps he habitually relieves tourists of their skiing equipment in the picturesque mountains so that he can sell them on. Sister focuses on the complex relationship between the child thief and his adult sister against a backdrop of poor living conditions – paradoxically – within a leisure paradise. The director particularly illustrates the precarious living conditions and the desperate yearning for love, security and family happiness but does this whilst avoiding sentimentality.
Other first day highlights included curator Markus Keuschnigg’s multi-nation co-production from 2012, The ABC’S of Death, the opening episode film from the section Night Sight, dedicated to European genre cinema. In reference to the film title, renowned horror specialists created a total of 26 shorts, including directors already familiar to Crossing Europe such as Nacho Vigalondo, Xavier Gens, and Bruno Forzani & Héléne Cattet. The ABC’S of Death is a journey through all the imaginable and unimaginable forms of death, each of them representing a letter from the alphabet, from A as in Apocalypse to Z as in ‘Zetsumetsu’, the Japanese word for ‘obliteration’.
The festival runs from the 23rd – 28th April 2013.