(07/09/07) – When searching the world film festival calendar, one would find there are a number taking place simultaneously each week. Otherwise, how many festivals could people reel off, if they were not to include the following: Cannes, Berlin, Venice, San Sebastian, Rotterdam, London, Edinburgh, Sundance (and Raindance)? Chances are that most would take a while to get into double figures unless they were aware of these independent festivals that do their utmost on the resources available to present a film festival to the world. Now in its ninth year, Motovun is part of this independent spirit and for five days it is a film wonderland. This small town in the Istrian region of Croatia has the atmosphere of Sundance visited by a young Glastonbury crowd in a place that looks like it could have been the set of the film Cinema Paradiso(1988).
The main competition programme consisted of films from around the world, mainly from Europe but also from Japan and North and South America. The opening night film Sweet Mud (Adama Meshuga’at) was a strong entry to the competition and a worthy opener for any festival. It is a personal film, set in the 1970s on a kibbutz in Kissufim, Israel in the desert of Negev where its director Dror Shaul was born and grew up.
Recounting an era through the eyes of 12-year-old Dvir, it shows the experience of an Israeli collective farm movement, at times harsh and even brutal. This was followed by a total change of atmosphere in Day Night Day Night, Julia Loktev’s first fiction film after making documentaries. The film still retains a documentary atmosphere and the subject matter is nothing if not controversial. A 19-year-old girl is preparing to become a suicide bomber in New York’s Times Square. We do not know her motivation and who she represents, only that she is fully committed to carrying out this deed.
Interestingly, there were four films in competition from Austria including the haunting Dead in Three Days (In 3 Tagen bist du tot). Apart from a co-production with Serbia for the Macedonian film Upside Down (Prevrteno), the only Croatian entry in the main programme this year was Sing a Love Song (Pjevajte nešto ljubavno); a young maverick singer and his new rock ‘n’ roll band are forced to play weddings in order to raise money for an album. This comedy has a funny script and many twists and turns that delighted its home crowd, enough for it to win the audience award based on cell phone votes although it was not enough to find favour with the other juries.
Dry Season (Daratt) is Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s film about 15-year old Atim who sets out looking for a man named Abdallah Nassara, who killed Atim’s father two months before he was born. Arriving in hostile N’djamena, the capital of Chad, Atim starts his search for Nassara, a former war criminal now in his sixties. He tracks him down to his bakery and starts as an apprentice there. Nassara knows nothing about Atim and a strange relationship develops. For a film with long takes and little dialogue, director Haroun manages to create atmosphere and tension while keeping us in suspense over the two protagonists. In Motovun, Dry Season was rewarded with the Amnesty International Award from a special jury which recognises a film that best promotes and addresses the issue of human rights.
A film that caused a stir at the event was The Cats of Mirikitani, Linda Hattendorf’s first film as director after a decade working as an editor. Jimmy Mirikitani was discovered painting by Hattendorf on the streets of SoHo in New York. He gradually trusted her enough to tell his life story; from his birth in California to his move to Hiroshima as a young boy where he witnessed the atom bomb. The film is therefore the memoirs of a sad but interesting life and a criticism of war and imperialism. Linda says "For me, this is a film about how war tears families apart and how friendship and art have a miraculous power of healing." Taking place around the turn of the millennium, the effects of war would take a new ironic twist as both Hattendorf and Mirikitani would get caught up in the events of 9/11. Afterwards, Linda found him, still creating his paintings but inhaling all the toxic that was spreading throughout the streets. The film, already a festival winner elsewhere, certainly deserved its special mention from the main jury.
The British entry Hallam Foe won the Silver Berlin Bear Award for Music in Berlin this year and the strength of its contention for an award here was not harmed by the presence of producer Gillian Berrie, director David Mackenzie and star Jamie Bell (his third visit to Motovun). This entertaining film concerns the life of young Hallam Foe (played by Bell) who, after the mysterious death of his mother, is driven out from the family estate in Scotland by his step-mother and heads for Edinburgh with no contacts or job. Here begins an adventure taking in the rooftops of the town while Hallam spies on his work colleague whom he believes looks like his late mother and has fallen in love with. Hallam Foe was awarded with the FIPRESCI Prize at Motovun. The other British entry in the main competition, Andrea Arnold’s Red Road, received a special mention from the main jury in Motovun to follow its award in Cannes.
When asked to summarise the nine years of the Motovun Film Festival, Programme Selector Rajko Grlic said "The environment has changed, the years have piled up, but the joy has remained the same." Indeed, in an atmosphere which was open and friendly with no VIP treatment but with everyone available, the overall impression was of a film community. Everything was carefully planned and there was no such thing as free time in the very full and memorable five days.