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    29th “Manaki Brothers” ICFF in Skopje/Bitola 2008

    By Ron Holloway | October 21, 2008

    The 29th “Manaki Brothers” International Cinematographers Film Festival (ICFF) in Skopje/Bitola (27 September to 4 October) was one for the books. Just a few days before the Madedonian festival opened in Bitola, a decision was embarked on a new image by shifting the entire festival to the capital in Skopje. The decision, though painful, was a wise one. Manaki Brothers 2008 established itself as a leading international film festival devoted entirely to the creative artistry of the cinematographer. As proposed by director-cinematographer Tomi Salkovski and seconded by selector critic Blagoja “Dore” Kunovski, the festival committee opted to piggyback the 13 competition entries for the Film Camera 300 Awards in the capital of Skopje as well as in the traditional site of Bitola – with the opening ceremonies held in Bitola, where the Manaki Brothers, Yanaki and Milton, had introduced cinema to the Balkans under Ottoman rule at the turn of the last century. The reason for the shift to the capital, they said, was as plain as the nose on your face: Skopje’s population is over 500,000, Bitola’s barely 100,000. Festivals, to survive, need audiences.

    But there was another salient reason for shifting the Manaki Brothers festival from Bitola to Skopje. With the European Union offering MEDIA support to the Camerimage Festival in Lodz, Poland, the Manaki Brothers team saw the writing on the wall – either boost international interest and attendance by switching to Skopje, or fall by the wayside as the dominant cinematographers film festival. For some festival insiders, however, the decision was painful. Over the past 28 years, since 1979, this specialized film festival had been based in a picturesque city just ten miles from the Greek border. Up to 1992, during “Yugoslav” days, Bitola had welcomed film professionals principally from the neighboring republics to the country’s national cameraman’s festival. Then, in 1993, when the Republic of Macedonia declared its independence, Manaki Brothers went international by sponsoring a cross-European workshop on the theme of the cinematic image, inviting guests from the European Union and neighboring Balkan countries. French critic Dominique Villain served as president of a three member jury.

    Strategically located on the ancient Via Egnatia, linking the Aegean with the Adriatic, Bitola was known in Greek times as Heraclea (City of Hercules), in Ottoman times as Monastir (Turkish for “monastery”), and in Serbian times (after the First Balkan War 1913) as Bitola (Slavic for “monastery”). Under Ottoman rule it was known as the “city of consuls” – so nicknamed because its 70 consulates helped to link the Turkish sultans with the rest of Europe and beyond. For this reason too, the Manaki Brothers ran a thriving film-and photography business from their office on Main Street. Further, since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, had been educated in the military academy at Bitola, festival guests made it a point to visit the Ataturk Museum to view the dozens of historical photographs housed there. Whether guests in Skopje will now make it a point to accept an invitation to visit Bitola, two hours driving distance away, is an open question. A lot will depend on how the local Bitola populace will react in the future to the partial loss of a prestige attraction.

    This year’s festival opened with an out-of-competition screening of Justin Chadwick’s The Other Boleyn Girl (UK) (cinematographer: Kieran McGuigan) – amid a raucous demonstration! Before public officials from Skopje could even file into their seats in the Cultural Center, a crowd of movie fans waved signs of protest at the entrance to the center – smack in front of the Milton Manaki memorial statue. Their disappointment was echoed in a speech given at the gala opening by the Mayor of Bitola that was anything but an official festival greeting. Later, back in Skopje, Elizabeta Kanceska-Milevska, the newly appointed Minister of Culture, stated that the future status and site of the Manaki Brothers festival would be discussed at a forthcoming board meeting. One option would be to continue holding the opening festivities in Bitola, backed by reruns there of top festival attractions. Taking the Cultural Minister at her word, the planned demonstration by the Bitola faithful at the closing night gala fell by the wayside. Instead, the protesters joined the masses trying to wrangle a ticket to see Martin Scorsese’s Shine a Light (USA) and rock with the Rolling Stones.

    Sidebars and Specials

    Manaki Brothers 2008 was more than just a cinematographers’ competition of 13 feature films screened in the Skopje Army Hall. The work of the cinematographers was supplemented by a documentary program (“Verite Nuovo”), a program of shorts (“Some Like It Short”), films from South East Europe (“Balkanika”), Special Screenings in the Macedonian Cinematheque (“Kinoteka”), and the annual Student Film Competition. In addition, three Master Classes were held in the Army Hall, each a special event in itself. Brazilian cinematographer Walter Carvalho, awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award, could take additional pride in the festival screening of Jose Padilha’s Tropa de elita (The Elite Squad), the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale lensed by his son Lula Carvalho. Veteran Croatian director Veljko Bulajic received a Special Award at the sidebar screening of his Skopje 63 (Yugoslavia, 1963), a multi-award-winning documentary about the tragic earthquake that shook the city 45 years ago.

    Another Special Award was given to Russian film director Karen Shakhnazarov, who also heads Mosfilm Studios and annually sponsors a Special Award of Mosfilm at the Manaki Brothers festival. Shakhnazarov brought with him a restored copy of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (USSR, 1966/71) and two productions under his own direction. One of these was his Ischeznuvshaya imperiya (The Vanished Empire) (Russia, 2008), the story of a love triangle among young Moscow University students. Photographed by Shandor Berkeshi, Shakhnazarov’s The Vanished Empire catches the atmosphere of the mid-1970s from minute prop details to known cultural events – like the reference to a Hamlet stage performance by poet-balladeer Vladimir Vysotsky at the Taganka. That legendary production under Yury Lyubimov’s direction ran nonstop for 217 performances, from 1971 to 1980, and was halted only by Vysotsky’s premature and unexpected death.

    Last, but not least, Golden Camera 300 Awards honored Israeli producer/director Menahem Golan, Austrian cinematographer Christian Berger (who also served as jury president), and Macedonian cinematographer Blagoja Drnkov (“the doyen of Macedonian photography”). A particularly moving moment occurred when film pioneer Blagoja Drnkov (born in 1914) was honored in person by Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski for this invaluable service to the country as cameraman/cinematographer dating from the end of the Second World War. In 1945, shortly after the liberation of Macedonia from German occupation, Drnkov shot A Parade on May First in Skopje, along with other short films. Then, when the Committee for Cinematography of the Federal Peoples Republic of Yugoslavia was formed in 1946 in Belgrade, Drnkov was officially engaged as a director cinematographer to make government-sponsored newsreels and documentaries in the Macedonian Republic. His For Elections and New Victories (1947) caught the spirit of a new Yugoslavia, as did his documentaries Before the October Festivals (1948), The Eleventh of October (1949), Mavrovo under Construction (1951), White Storks (1959), and The Tired Traveller (1961). At 94, Blagoja Drnkov appears to be as spry as ever.

    Day by day, the crowds increased in size and enthusiasm at the three festival venues. The all-purpose Skopje Army Hall, comfortably accommodating 700 spectators, hosted daily luncheons for festival guests and offered journalists a video bar and computer facilities. Backup venues at the Macedonian Cinematheque (conscientious guardian of the Manaki Brothers and Macedonian film heritage) and the Millennium Cinema (located in a popular shopping mall with the same name) may be supplemented next year by the new duplex in the Ramstorama Mall, a short walking distance from the Army Hall. Further, film production in Macedonia is on the rise as well. Considering that the re-energized Macedonian Film Fund under Darko Baseski currently has circa 4 million euros to divide among 16 projects (6 features, 5 documentaries, 4 shorts, 1 animation film), the only question is how these films will fare later at international film festivals. But at least the working titles of the feature projects attract attention: Stole Popov’s The Wild East Story, Vladimir Blazevski’s Punk’s Not Dead, Saso Pavlovski’s This Is Not an American Movie, Mitko Panov’s The War Is Over, Gerg Diovani’s East-West-East, and Arban Kastrati’s Land Between Borders. Enough to underscore Skopje as a SEE (South East Europe) film capital to keep an eye on in the future. Click www.filmfund.gov.mk for updated information.

    Film Camera 300 Competition

    The International Jury, headed by Austrian cinematographer Christian Berger, awarded the Golden Film Camera 300 to Italian cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto for lensing Ang Lee’s Se, Jie (Lust, Caution) (China/Taiwan). An erotic espionage thriller set during WW2 about the underground resistance in Shanghai to Japanese rule, Lust, Caution had previously won the Golden Lion at the 2007 Venice festival.

    The Silver Film Camera 300 went to Polish cinematographer Jolanta Dylewska for shooting Sergei Dvortsevoy’s Tulpan (Kazakhstan). This delightful tale of unrequited love, set in the steppes of Central Asia, had previously received the Un Certain Regard Prize at Cannes.

    The Bronze Film Camera 300 was awarded to Russian cinematographer Yury Klimenko for lensing Alexei Uchitel’s Lenij (Captive) (Russia). A praiseworthy humanistic view of both sides of the Chechnyan Conflict, Captive had previously been awarded Best Director at the Karlovy Vary festival.

    And a Special Mention, together with the Special Award of Mosfilm, went to Turkish cinematographer Gokhan Tiryaki for shooting Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Üç Maymun (Three Monkeys) (Turkey). Previously awarded the FIPRESCI Critics Prize at Cannes, Three Monkeys explores the consequences of family members hiding the truth of their moral failures from each other.

    The Best Student Film Award went to Pelle Hybbinette’s directed and photographed Dreamscape (Sweden), an imaginative sketch of a figure-skater on an isolated skating rink that changes perspective as she practices her moves.

    Unfortunately overlooked for Film Camera 300 citations, yet equally deserving, was Alain Marcoen’s cinematography on Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s La Silence de Lorna (Lorna’s Silence) (Belgium/France), a poignant story of an illegal Albanian immigrant caught in the throes of a Belgian mafia scam. Also, Marco Onorato’s exceptional cinematography on Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah (Italy), awarded the runnerup Special Jury Prize at Cannes, impressed both critics and audiences alike at Skopje and Bitola. These, in addition to the aforementioned Berlinale Golden Bear winner: The Elite Squad (Brazil), directed Jose Padilha and photographed by Lula Carvalho. Another audience sellout was the Bob Dylan biopic, Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There (USA), with Ed Lachman behind the camera. Pity that more citations could not be handed out at Skopje. One film in the “Balkanika” section was a standout: Aida Begic’s Snijec (Snow) (Bosnia Herzegovina). Previously awarded Best Film in the International Week of the Critics section at Cannes, Snow tenderly chronicles how elderly women and young girls cherish the memories of the men in their families killed in the Bosnian War.

    The “Verite Nuovo” section also screened two fine documentaries. Cristina Leal’s Iluminados (Brazil) pays tribute to Brazil’s great cinematographers, featuring interviews with Edgar Moura, Fernando Duarte, Pedro Farkas, Dib Lutfi, Mario Carmeiro, and Walter Carvalho on the intricacy and sophistication of each cinematographer’s artistic vision. And Alexis Krasilovsky’s Women Behind the Camera (USA) features interviews with women cinematographers in their struggles to prove themselves within the film industries in Hollywood and Bollywood, Iran and Afghanistan, India and Japan, and elsewhere around the globe. Also,  Behrooz Karamizade’s 10-minute documentary To Be a Child in Iran (Iran) charms with the disarming immediacy of shooting life on the streets of Tehran with a small camrecorder. The 29th ICFF Manaki Brothers – click www.manaki.com.mk for more information – was truly a great film festival!

    Cinematography Awards

    Golden Film Camera 300
    Rodrigo Prieto, Se, Jie (Lust, Caution) (China/Taiwan), dir Ang Lee
    Silver Film Camera 300
    Jolanta Dylewska, Tulpan (Kazakhstan), dir Sergei Dvortsevoy
    Bronze Film Camera 300
    Yury Klimenko, Lenij (Captive) (Russia), dir Alexei Uchitel
    Special Mention
    Gokhan Tiryaki, Üç Maymun (Three Monkeys) (Turkey), dir Nuri Bilge Ceylan
    Special Award of Mosfilm
    Gokhan Tiryaki, Üç Maymun (Three Monkeys) (Turkey), dir Nuri Bilge Ceylan
    Best Student Film
    Pelle Hybbinette, Dreamscape (Sweden), dir Pelle Hybbinette


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