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    Cluj’s Transilvania International Film Festival (TIFF) celebrates a record edition

    By Martin Blaney | June 9, 2010

    Anocha Suwichakornpong, the winner of this year’s Transilvania Trophy for her debut Mundane History, with European Film Academy President Wim Wenders who was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award  presented to an outstanding personality of European cinema. Courtesy TIFF

    Anocha Suwichakornpong, the winner of this year’s Transilvania Trophy for her debut Mundane History, with European Film Academy President Wim Wenders who was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award presented to an outstanding personality of European cinema. Courtesy TIFF

    Thai filmmaker Anocha Suwichakornpong receiving the Transilvania Trophy from veteran German director Wim Wenders for her debut feature Mundane History and the gathering of the Romanian film community young and old on the stage of Cluj’s National Theatre at the awards ceremony – these are images which will stay etched in the mind from this year’s Transilvania International Film Festival which was held from May 28 to June 6.

    TIFF’s ninth edition boasted 240 feature and short films from 47 countries, with more than 600 foreign and Romanian guests coming to attend the festival and the Romanian Days’ programme of events.

    Speaking to the festival Aperitiff at the beginning of the festival, artistic director Mihai Chirilov pointed that there were 40 more films than in 2009 despite “the unsafe conditions of financial parameters.” “The paradox of this edition is that it’s the biggest and most ambitious so far,” he said.

    And commenting on his selection, Chirilov said that “a truly relevant film is one that manages to brutalise its spectator to some extent, one that gets you out of your comfort zone and reactivates your memory (although you sometimes prefer to bury your experiences), one that calls for your attention, one that puzzles and provokes. You don’t go to the cinema wanting it to be a sort of spa or sanatorium.”

    The festival kicked off with one of many innovations this year on Friday, May 28 with its open-air programme on the Piata Unirii in the town centre with seating for over 1,000 people (not counting the people who could peer over the barriers while standing during the presentation!).

    The first screening was of Fatih Akin’s comedy Soul Kitchen which was attended by many VIPs including the Minister of Culture Kelemen Hunor and Cluj Mayor Sorin Apostu.

    Before Akin’s film unspooled, festival president Tudor Giurgiu took time to remember “two great friends who are now no longer with us”.

    A selection of film clips were shown from the career of the veteran Romanian actor Jean Constantin who had died at the age of 81 just a couple of days before the festival began, and this was followed by a photo montage in memory of KINO – German Film’s Ron Holloway who had been a member of the TIFF main competition at its first edition in 2002 and had actively supported Giurgiu and his team by spreading the good word abroad about this fledgling festival.

    Later in the week, a special screening was staged at the TIFF Lounge of Larissa Shepitko’s film The Ascent which Ron had been instrumental in winning for the Berlinale competition. The film went on to win the Golden Bear at the 1977 Berlinale.

    Cineastes both young and old came to the screening which was packed out in the Museum of Art’s exhibition space – despite the fact that Cristi Puiu’s Cannes film Aurora was the hot ticket with TIFF audiences that evening in the Cinema Republica.

    When the awards ceremony were held on the last Saturday evening (June 5), Romanian filmmakers were at the fore among the winners in the Main Competition: Calin Peter Netzer’s Medal of Honor, which was co-produced by Karl “Baumi” Baumgartner’s  Pandora Filmproduktion, picked up the prize for best directing and best actor for the main actor, veteran thespian Victor Rebenguic.

    The jury explained that it had been unable to decide on only one prizewinner in the Best Actor/Best Actress category “after witnessing two such compelling acting performances.”

    “First of all, we have the pleasure of recognizing the impressive achievement of Ozana Oancea with the Best Actress Award for her first main acting role in a feature film as the brow-beaten Felicia in First Of All, Felicia by Razvan Radulescu and Melissa de Raaf.”

    And, another memorable performance was Rebenguic’s “touching and nuanced portrayal of a man forced to reconsider his whole life” in Netzer’s film.

    First Of All, Felicia was also awarded the prize for Best Script to the screenwriting-directing duo Radulescu/de Raaf  “in recognition of their keen ear for dialogue and carefully observed characters”, while the Romanian Days jury – which included FIPRESCI General Secretary Klaus Eder and the German freelance film consultant Sirkka Möller – gave their Best Debut award to Ozana Oancea (who, by the way, is responsible for International Relations at TIFF in addition to being an accomplished actress).

    German cinema was in abundance at this year’s TIFF – whether it was the restored version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis with a new musical score by Antonio Bras, the family film The Crocodiles, David Sieveking’s quirky documentary David Wants to Fly, or Marian Kiss’ Space Tourists – and crowned with the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to a Personality of European Cinema to Wim Wenders at the final awards ceremony.

    (In addition, Wenders’ wife Donata had been in town with a photo exhibition entitled Absent Presence presented in the Museum of Art above the TIFF Meeting Point in collaboration with the painter Robert Bosisio.)

    The German director joined Romania’s Minister of Culture Kelemen Hunor to present the festival’s Grand Prix, the Transilvania Trophy, at the end of the evening to Mundane History. In fact, this jury decision took the winning director, Thailand’s Anocha Suwichakornpong, completely by surprise as she revealed to the press afterwards.

    The jury declared that it had been “particularly impressed” by this debut feature “due to its unconventional structure and eclectic use of images in this moving story, showing the underlying themes of how painful life can be and the fact that people need one another despite being on different social levels. Moreover, we salute the director of the winning film for being her own producer as well as screenwriter and director.”

    Euphoria at the TIFF’s closing ceremony about the awards presented to local films including First Of All, Felicia and If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle, gave way to a more somber tone when veteran actor Victor Rebengiuc then came on stage to read out the Cluj Declaration calling for the rejection of proposed changes to Romania’s Cinema Law as initiated by Senator Sergiu Nicolaescu of the ruling Party of Social Democracy.

    According to the protest document, the former filmmaker-turned- politician Nicolaescu who is known in some quarters as the “Menachem Golan of Romania” had obtained a majority vote in the Romanian Senate on May 17 for his new law initiative.

    “This fact, among with other measures, in total disagreement with the current European legislation , aims to make Romanian cinema go back to a centralised and outdated system, without any objective criteria for the evaluation of the projects,” stated the signatories who include such internationally respected directors as Cristi Puiu, Radu Muntean, Catalin Mitulescu, Corneliu Poremboiu, Calin Peter Netzer, producers like Ada Solomon and Tudor Giurgiu, and actresses Maria Popistasu and Monica Birladeanu.

    “Instead of a selection based on quantifiable elements – such as the quality of the script, the producer and the director, the audience and box office success – , this new proposal aims [for] a discretionary evaluation of the projects.”

    “We are facing the risk that Romanian cinema will go back in time, [to] 15 years ago, instead of moving ahead,” the document concluded.

    Many of the signatories joined Giurgiu and Rebengiuc who encouraged others from the auditorium to show their spontaneous support for the declaration by coming up on to the stage as a sign of solidarity. Germany’s Wim Wenders who was waiting backstage with the Minister of Culture Kelemen Hunor for his cue to present the Transilvania Trophy, also joined the dozens of Romanian colleagues both young and old who had by now assembled on stage to a rapturous reception from the audience.

    Festival president Tudor Giurgiu added that Palme d’Or winner Cristian Mungiu had also called to lend his support to the petition, noting that “this protest is not only coming from the industry but is also supported by the National Centre for Cinematography (CNC) and the Ministry of Culture.”

    Many of the international guests attending the closing ceremony readily added their signatures to the protest since, as Giurgiu remarked, the politicians in Bucharest tended to listen to Europe rather than its own people.

    The proposed new law will be discussed by the Culture Commission of the Chamber of Deputies this week before the final vote is taken.

    Meanwhile, ahead of announcing the winner of the Transilvania Trophy, Minister of Culture Hunor promised to ensure that TIFF would receive financial support from his authority in future on a similar level to the funds granted to the International Theatre Festival in Sibiu and the Shakespeare Festival in Craiova.

    At the opening ceremony on May 28 before the screening of Soul Kitchen, Giurgiu had been openly critical of the official authorities on a local, regional and national level  for their apparent lack of proper enthusiasm and commitment to what is Romania’s leading film festival with a growing international reputation.

    In an interview during the festival with the local daily newspaper Ziua de Cluj, which was entitled “TIFF: La revedere Cluj! Szia, Budapest!” (“TIFF: Goodbye, Cluj! Hello, Budapest!”), the festival president suggested that TIFF “may look for a new location because of the uncertitude of support from Cluj” and remarked tongue in cheek that a city like Budapest – currently without an international film festival – would welcome the chance to draw on the knowhow and experience of people like the organizers of TIFF.

    He added that he had been “tired about having the same discussions every year to the last minute and last second before the festival starts” about the local financial support.

    However, the words of encouragement from the Minister of Culture may now help to effect a wind change among the officials in Transilvania and Cluj as well.

    In addition, Giurgiu revealed that he was “in advanced discussions” with the FIAPF’s director general Benoit Ginisty about the possibility of TIFF joining the hallowed circle of A-category film festivals. This might happen in time for next year’s tenth jubilee edition at the end of May 2011.

    More information about the festival and full list of prize-winners at www.tiff.ro.

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