Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Focus on Romania

The third annual Romanian Film Festival takes place this week, with screenings of feature films, shorts and documentaries held at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Organized by the Romanian Cultural Institute and UW–Madison’s Center for Russia, East Europe and Central Asia, or CREECA, the festival showcases films in Romanian with English subtitles—and admission is free.

Festival coordinator Elena Richard recently shared insights into the event, as well as the fascinating history of Romanian filmmaking.

How did the Romanian Film Festival come about in Madison?

Through a series of fortunate events that started when the Romanian Cultural Institute was looking for partners at the UW. CREECA was the department that entered that partnership. The idea of starting the festival was born then. We received incredible support from the organizers of the Wisconsin Film Festival, who also showed some of the most acclaimed Romanian films, like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 12:08 East of Bucharest. The small Romanian community in Madison and the large number of non-Romanian citizens of Madison who love film embraced us from the very beginning.

What is the background of Romanian filmmaking? And what’s going on today?

Last year we had an epic movie The Rest of Silence that told the story of the making of the first Romanian long feature film made in 1912. After 1912, filmmaking in Romania went through decades of creating mostly forgettable films with a few very memorable productions. After the late 1940s, the Romanian film industry was coerced into integrating communist ideology in its films, which resulted in producing hundreds of unremarkable propagandistic films reflecting a false reality. The refuge for many directors was to dramatize literary classics or illustrate historical events by bringing epic battles several hundred years old to the big screen. There are titles that are still remarkable and passed the test of time. One of them, Reenactment, which was banned for twenty-two years after its release, unmasks a political system that claimed to put people first, but in actuality destroyed them in an instant in the name of moral re-education. It was one the films we showed last year. Yet another example, Sequences, is part of our program this year and it’s a classic that illustrates the behind the scenes of moviemaking. One of the scenes shows that the conflict between the extras at the shoot—former victim and persecutor—is far more intense than the conflict between the characters of the film.

How has the film festival been received the past two years?

From its inception and first showings, it was received very well, and last year we had the pleasant surprise of having a much larger audience than the previous year. I think the interest for international—and in particular, for Romanian film—in Madison is quite remarkable. The first two editions of our festival brought to Madison a series of very new and well-received films. Romanian film is going through a revival that started approximately ten years ago and which has generated a lot of interest from international critics and audiences.

Tell me about this year’s festival. What films will you be showing and what’s new this time around?

Most of the films are full-length feature debuts: Crossing Dates, Tache, Elevator. Anca Damian (of Crossing Dates) had previously directed documentaries, Igor Cobileanski (Tache) is a well-known director of short films and George Dorobantu (Elevator) is at his very first film. Exchange is the most recent premiere of Nicolae Margineanu, a director that belongs to a different generation. Day Bar and Other Stories is a beautifully filmed documentary made during the year when the city of Sibiu was the cultural capital of Europe. We also showcase a selection of shorts. In 2008 the Romanian short films were the ones that attracted international awards at festivals all over the globe. The program includes A Good Day for a Swim, the recipient of 2008 Palme d'Or for Best Short, and Megatron, the winner of the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival. Waves, Alexandra and The Fear of Mr. G also created a buzz at numerous festivals. I already mentioned Sequences, a film that is still as modern today as it was in 1982.

What are you most excited about in this year’s festival?

I think it’s the overall selection of films. I am very happy with the mosaic of subjects. I am very excited we can show the documentary Day Bar and Other Stories, a very poetic and profound film that uses no script, just actual confessions of ordinary people in a brilliant way.

What are your goals for the film festival, this year as well as in the future?

I hope it grows to become a familiar presence on Madison’s cultural scene, that it will attract more viewers each year and that we’ll be able to continue to bring intriguing and interesting films.

What do you hope people get from attending the festival and seeing the films?

I hope they gain an appreciation for and an understanding of Romanian culture.

Images top to bottom are from Elevator, Day Bar and Other Stories and Sequences, and courtesy of the Romanian Film Festival.

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