The 45th Cracow International Film Festival – 31st May – 5th June 2005

For the uninitiated, the Cracow International Film Festival is primarily a showcase for new talent in shorts, animations, documentary shorts and features. Now in its 45th year, the festival has consistently kept a low profile away from the commercial spotlight and is quietly going about business as usual. Set in a beautiful old city, the festival has a modest profile and community atmosphere because the main screenings are in one Cinema, the Kijow, which is also the social epicentre, and most of the guests are resident in the hotel next door.

This year’s program contained a total of 56 films in the International Competition and 39 films in the National Competition, underlining the focus on home as much as abroad. The National Competition is of particular interest here for the proud program of host films that the current wave of young Polish talent are making. However, the festival still shows feature films out of competition so there is more to get excited about than new filmmakers. In fact there were a total of 440 films being shown in just six days at this year’s festival so surely there was something for all cineastes here.

Every year the festival begins by honouring a filmmaker for their life’s work with a Golden Dragon, the symbol of the city, at the opening ceremony. They also screen a retrospective of the director’s work during the festival. Last year’s honorary guest was 80 year-old Albert Maysles, director of documentaries including John F Kennedy, The Beatles, and Bible Salesmen. This year the festival have turned their attention to the lesser known Russian animator Yuri Norstein. Although his oeuvre is modest in terms of films made since his debut in 1968, the quality of the films certainly isn’t. Norstein’s Tale of Tales (1979) was acclaimed by a panel of international animation experts in 1984 as the best animated film of all time. His unique style involves the use of cardboard cut-outs simultaneously moving on several geometric planes. He has been working on his latest animation based on Gogol’s short story The Overcoat (Szynel) since 1979 but it has been delayed by the artist’s own perfectionism. However, a twenty minute taster of this ‘latest work’ was shown to accompany the acceptance of his award at the ceremony on May 31st.

Other sections of the festival include; Films for Kids, Portraits of unusual or famous people; Short Films of the Masters taken from the Warsaw Archives, as well as all kinds of Retrospectives, various Special Screenings, selections from other festivals, and even a couple of free midnight screenings termed For Adults Only. One of these was Inside Deep Throat (directed by Gerard Damiano). This is of interest as it is just being released in the U.K. It employs the use of cut and paste technique of editing old footage alongside recent interviews with the main players. Directors Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey have managed to portray the success of the film, the controversy it caused, and depicts how the response to its revolutionary graphic pornography was split. The stars, Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems, are naturally the film’s main focus, and also the attempt to prosecute Deep Throat and send Harry Reems to jail for his part. Jimmy Carter’s 1976 Democratic Presidential Election victory spared Reems this fate. Overall, this is fascinating and highly compelling stuff for fans of the legendary midnight movie and its neophytes.

Dig, also out of competition, is an excellent ride for fans of rock ‘n’ roll and the art documentary. Filmed over a seven year period from 1996-2003, it traces the parallel careers and topsy-turvy friendship of Dandy Warhol’s front man Courtney Taylor and Anton Newcombe, the leader of cult band the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Director Ondi Timoner edited 1,500 hours of tape down to 107 minutes. It’s certainly an energetic film high on adrenalin and won the main prize at Sundance this year. Ultimately, the only difference between these two stars was that one was independent but self destructive – Newcombe refused to release records on major labels and would fall out with either a member of his own band and/or the audience at practically every gig they played – and the other had a pragmatic sense of how to achieve fame without compromising their sound or their beliefs, which is why we are more familiar with The Dandy Warhols today.

My favourite film in the festival, though, was another out of competition film. Three Rooms of Melancholia (Melancholian 3 Huonetta) by Finnish director Pirjo Honkasalo was included in the World Documentary Premieres section. The three rooms represent three separate stories of children caught up in the Caucasus conflict against their will. One is in a Russian Cadets’ Academy training camp on Kronstadt Island near St Petersburg where the young kids are trained to fight an unknown ‘enemy’ (Chechens). A sense of sadness pervades throughout this sequence as we are introduced to the various children, some of whom are either orphaned or from broken homes. Even this does nothing to compare with the sadness of the next two sequences though. In Gronzo, three children are forced to leave their ill and bed-ridden mother in her virtually empty flat. The tears and the helplessness are too much at times, but still compelling in its sadness as the reality of a land and situation we cannot ignore becomes all too clear. The final sequence is in Ingushetia, just outside war-torn Chechnya, where one woman takes care of Grozno orphans. At first they seem content, playing in a nursery style atmosphere. Then we hear planes flying overhead, and a young girl starts screaming, a familiar noise that often immediately precedes bombing, destruction and death, the very sounds that were to have orphaned her in the first place.

Indeed, many of the films in the program addressed global problems, particularly in Iran. In the International Competition, the Iranian films The Other Side of Burka by Mehrdad Oskouei and Prostitution behind the Veil (Prostitution bag sloret) both won the highest accolade of the Golden Dragon Award for best film. Nahid Persson’s Prostitution Behind the Veil was chosen, ‘..for a strong and convincing approach that can make the difference.’ Andrea Arnold wasn’t present to pick up her Golden Dragon for Wasp last year but she made up for it this time by chairing the International Competition Jury and spoke of the ‘provocative’ nature of the entries which added to their quality and made it hard for the Jury to reach a decision in their awards. Ultimately, the Jury appreciated the inside look at the intimate world of Iranian women.

The Verdict of the National Competition Jury awarded three main prizes: The Grand Prix – The Golden Hobby-Horse to Hercules (Herkules) directed by Lidia Duda, a fascinating documentary about a nine-year-old boy who cares for his grandmother and unemployed parents by selling scrap metal. The Silver Hobby-Horse went to Olter by Krystian Matysek, and The Bronze Hobby-Horse to Old Books Store (Antykwariat), by Maciej Cuske. Special Merits went to Filip Marczewski for Melodrama (Melodramat) and Marek Skrobecki for Ichthys. There were about eight other very prestigious awards in the National Competition.

Other notable awards were the FIPRESCI International Federation of Film Critics Award which went to Dust by Turkish director H. Fatih Kiziglok. In their decision to award this film, FIPRESCI said, ‘We have given this award to this film because style is very important today. The film is very artistic, full of poetry and invention about everyday life’. The Verdict of the Jury of FICC (The Federation of Film Discussion Clubs) awarded director Andrey Paounov for the film Georgy and the Butterflies (Georgi i peperudite) for its positive outlook on life and the search for something better. The Jury also commended the ‘beautiful’ Cinematography of the film. The jury decided to give (not obligatory) a special mention to Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda for the extremely thought provoking documentary Czech Dream (Cesky sen) and to Gil Alkabetz for the excellent animated short Morir de amor.

Festival director Krzystow Gierat, although pleased with the audience turnouts, acknowledged that this ‘small’ film festival is getting too big for its present schedule and an extra day may well be needed next year to accommodate its increasing program. After 45 years, the modest festival, one of Europe’s oldest and most important, is proving more popular than ever.