Interview: Art Film Fest's Artistic Director On The Current Creative State Of European Filmmaking

The biggest Slovak film festival, Art Film Fest, will soon open its gates (21-27 June) in the scenic spa town of Trenčianske Teplice. The films from prestigious festivals such as Venice, Sundance and Cannes will be concentrated on screens in Trenčianske Teplice and the nearby city of Trenčín. 

The festival will boast 132 offerings from world cinema. A batch of films from Cannes comprises the allegedly last film of British legend Ken Loach, Jimmy´s Hall, which will be opening the festival on Saturday, 21 June. Loach offers a portrait of radical and free thinker, Jimmy Gralton, in 30s Ireland in a clash of church and community. 

The lauded unconventional canine allegory by Hungarian filmmaker Kornel Mundruczo, The White God, will drag viewers among a pack of dogs revolting against mankind. The praises for Leviathan were heard from Côte d´Azur to faraway corners of the world. No surprises that Art Film Fest´s programmers snatched Andrei Zvyagintsev´s masterpiece, which was a hot candidate for Palme d´Or, for their programme. The striking revision of the myth of Job being moulded by recent political events in Russia defines extraordinary viewing experience.

The cineastes will have several opportunities to fill their starving eyes, such as the documentary Mr. leos caraX, on one of cinema´s most enigmatic filmmaker, Leos Carax. The debuting documentarian Tessa Louise-Salome spent some time observing the director during his work on the unforgettable Holy Motors.  There is similar cinephile appeal in Kim Ki-Duk's Moebious, where dialogue is replaced by vivid keywords from a dictionary of psychopathologies, castration, incest and rape, to begin with. Moebius definitely puts the dysfunctional-family formula in a completely new perspective in an oeuvre Freud would been drooling over. 

The section Around the World shelters James Franco's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Child of God, David Gordon Green's Joe, John Krokidas' Kill Your Darlings, Kelly Reichardt's Night Moves and Peter Landesman's Parkland. Also, The Raid 2 made it onto Art Film Fest's slate.

The complete list of films is available here

Twitch: Art Film Fest is the biggest film festival in Slovakia and in 2011 you have also labelled it as the most "spectator-oriented." Did you stick to this conception since then or were there some modifications in the festival´s dramaturgy? 

No, there were no reasons to change it so far. We try to fulfill this asset in both senses - in number of admissions and in overall number of aficionados visiting Art Film Fest each year. Naturally, the most important is the first indicator. As one of a few festivals in Slovakia, we have thorough system monitoring precise number of admissions for each screening. No rough or qualified estimations. 

After the last screening, the system will give us precise daily admission rates for a particular day. As numbers are unusually significant under Slovak terms, we try to continue in our conception. Videlicet, we want to at least defend the admission numbers in upcoming edition. And that is also a reliable success-indicator of the programming dramaturgy and also overall conception of the festival. 

What was the programming of the competition for the 22th edition like?

I was choosing films from 150 titles for this year´s competition. In the end, 11 films made it to final selection. The features´ competition belongs to the most visited sections in the programme of Art Film Fest, that´s why the selection is always difficult. Compared to others, on first sight more attractive sections, the competition films have an "advantage" in that only a few of them will make it to regular Slovak distribution. 

Cinemagoers preferring the collection of offerings in the competition know that these films are exceptional, frequently awarded in prestigious festivals, even though the films are made by filmmakers at the dawn of their professional careers. In the upcoming edition, the following titles will be competing for the award of Blue Angel: Fishing without Nets, To Kill a Man and 52 Tuesdays, awarded at Sundance, Still Life and The White Shadow, decorated in Venice or the fresh new film, Tribe that won a top prize in Critics´ Week in Cannes. Although, we do not have Slovak film in the competition, I am looking forward to The Way Out by Petr Václav that captured attention in Cannes and will be also competing at Art Film Fest. 

One of the festival´s sidebar is European Corners. What do these films tell us about the current state of Europe? 

They speak maybe more about problems, distress, sometimes suffering than more positive aspects of human life. In spite of that, European cinema experiences one of its better creative periods because the films from the old continent are gathering deserved attention at festivals and exhibitions, maybe because they succeed in reflecting the mundane reality of the European everyman through artistically original and authentic stories, while doing it emotionally more effectively. 

In most cases, not exactly delightful images are not caused by the selection of theme or by filmmaker's intention. The problems of partners' life, twisted dominance of the white race, religious conflicts, exploitation of youth, unemployment, migration, vanishing of life and social certitudes -- these are the most common themes playing a key role in films forming the European Corners. 

Art Film Fest traditionally screens titles from Cannes before Karlovy Vary. Which of this year´s "catches" are you most proud of? 

I use to compare the situation of the selection of acquiring films from the Cannes´ festival to a lottery. You must be aware that after the end of Cannes, we have six to seven days when things can be negotiated for our programme. While those are exclusively world premieres waiting for domestic release, it's very complicated to acquire such a title. 

I am happy that we did not come home empty-handed from France this year and eight hot new films will be screened in our programme, three of them even in the main competition (including the above-mentioned Ukrainian Tribe). The festival will open with a new film by British classic Ken Loach, Jimmy´s Hall, and I am equally excited about the Russian "catch" Leviathan from Andrey Zvyagintsev, who recently has become a very significant director. And last but not least, we will screen Hungarian-German-Swedish film The White God by Kornel Mundruczo that won in the sidebar Un Certain Regard. In the world´s cinema selection, the visitors can get excited about David Michod´s action thriller, The Rover

What about Slovak cinema from the point of view of a festival programmer? 

It´s a special category for me to judge Slovak cinema. After a couple of successes, firstly of Slovak documentarians than feature filmmakers, suddenly everybody who has a project in development wants to go to international festivals, ideally right to Cannes, Berlin or Venice. That is naturally a legitimate ambition, although frequently wrong and unreasonably estimated. 

Let's help us with a sports example. Which respectable athlete or tennis player does not dream of playing in the finals of the Olympic Games or Wimbledon or another grand slam? Nowadays, an ambition to make a film at all costs is not enough. It is necessary to pursue and participate in respected workshops and seminars where reputable professionals can judge the expected qualities of a work in development. 

But that is not just the case of festivals. Slovak films, even though their number grows, are still "unwanted" children in domestic cinemas. It is one thing is to win some recognition beyond borders; a completely different category is to get any attention at home. The phenomenon of a film appealing to domestic audience is still unknown in Slovakia. And I am afraid that this won´t change so soon. 

Anything new prepared for the 22th edition of Art Film Fest? 

We have two new sections in the programme. One is a profile of almost forgotten filmmaker Alan Clarke, who in the 70s was co-creating values of British cinema with luminaries such as Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Stephen Frears. Clarke influenced other filmmakers from the Islands, for example Danny Boyle, Paul Greengrass or Shane Meadows, and helped the world to discover famous actors, such as Tim Roth for instance. 

We have also prepared a voluminous section, War and Film, as a tribute to famous films and their creators that made unforgettable oeuvres inspired by World War I and World War II as well as the Slovak National Uprising. Besides cinematic programme, several events will take place in a spa town, allowing for both professional activity and relaxation. The important novelty of 22th edition will be an on-line reservation system for the first time.
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