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#intothespotlight: Shortsup, an interview with Alexandra Safriuc

We're getting for Shorts Up's "Big Picnic" that will be held in the Botanical Gardens this weekend. And to do it in style, we have interviewed Alexandra Safriuc, founder of Shorts Up and artistic director

How did ShortsUP start? Tell me whose idea was, how did the team get together and what were the first steps?

The idea belonged to Răzvan Crișan, Alina Chirvase, Mugur Crângașu and Cristian Vasile. When I joined the team the project existed only as an idea. Firstly, I met Mugur and through Mugur I met Răzvan. He told me about ShortsUP and asked me if I wanted to get involved as a film selectioner.

So, you were part of the team since the beginning and you took part in the development of the first ShortsUP events.

Yes. For the first event, I didn’t have to do a film selection. It was called “The Golden Age” and both Cristian Mungiu’s films were screened in the same night at the National Museum of Contemporary Art (MNAC). It was my first event based on a script and we tried as much as we could to recreate the communist period: Cristian Mungiu was announced using a speaking-tube, the crowd was stopped when he arrived and everyone followed the “script” naturally. It was a very nice event.

And a confirmation that you can continue.

On one side, yes. On the other side, at that time we already had contracts with various sponsors and had to organize monthly events. It was a very good period for Shorts UP. The first years were the best, the most sustainable. We could pay the screening fees for almost all the films and we felt that we really contribute to the short film industry.

Over the years you had a lot of events, from monthly screenings such as “Contemporary Heroes”, “Capital Sins” to “Erotic Shorts” or “Musicology”. Many of them have disappeared. Why?

When I joined the project, we were all young and the financial stability wasn’t so important. As time went on, we grew old and unfortunately some of us went to work for other projects. For the past years it was difficult to find sponsors and create a permanent relationship, or to access funding that could really help. In the last few years we also tried the public funds, and last year we’ve received CNC finance for “The long night of short films”. But with the amount we got, we couldn’t afford to pay not even the rent for the screening location. So we’ve decided to take a break and organize ourselves a bit, find new solutions and change the structure.

But you’re still the same team, or a few of you left?

From the initial team, it’s just myself and lately the project manager, Daniela Ștefănescu, has an important role as well. Most of the time she does much more than she’s supposed to and mainly because of her, Shorts UP still exists.

What is the most demanding ShortsUP project?

From my perspective, the challenge was with “The long night of short films”. We were in debt for many years (laughs) due to this one. This summer it won’t happen. It was supposed to be the ninth edition, but last year we made some wrong decisions and we still pay for them. Maybe later this year, who knows? We plan to rethink the logistics, ‘cause it’s so difficult to find in Bucharest a suitable place for a screening where you could get 3-4.000 people. Most of the time we have to improvise and it can be a burden for only one night.

But The Big Picnic exists. The 4th edition will take place this weekend at the Botanical Gardens. How did you come up with the idea ?

Yes, the event we’re organising this year is The Big Picnic and the idea came from the location. We wanted to bring the short films in an open air space and we researched a lot. The Botanical Gardens was a good idea. It wasn’t only an outdoor space, but also one full of nature and in the middle of the city. Răzvan had a project with the University and this is how we’ve found out that the Botanical Gardens are part of the University’s administration. We realised “that’s the place”, so we’ve started the negotiations and in the end succeeded. They had second thoughts regarding the public, if they respect the nature and the place and understand that it’s an unconventional location for such events.

Having an event in such a place can be a way to educate the public.

We hadn’t had any kind of surprises or trouble. We’ve added signs everywhere, including on the screen to remind people that we are in a protected environment and we need to be careful. The public paid attention and if we’d ever find trash it was stored in small bags. It was actually funny and we laughed that it was so easy to clean after them.

Any adventures to be shared?

We have a new syndrome we’ve developed within the team and it’s called “cloudphoby”. Before the event we call every time we see a cloud on the sky: “what’s this about, is it going to rain, is it not going to rain”? After the rain we had this week we called the Meteorology Institute to make sure that we’ll have a warm sunny weekend. It’s a lottery when buying the ticket. You wish for the event to happen but there are some uncontrollable facts that may change the situation. When you organise such an event you invest money and if it rain, you don’t get those money back, even if you move the date.

We feel you. Sometimes we freak out when we realise our event in August will be outdoors and it’s a bit early to call the Meteorology. But this weekend the weather will be amazing and we really want some insights. What’s not to miss at the 4th edition of the Big Picnic?

Even if it’s a film event, there will be lots of activities: workshops for kids, guided tours through the garden, starting with 6PM. Personally, I can’t wait to listen to Ana Dubyk. I met her at Piatra Film Festival a few years ago. She’s a new voice, a very good jazz singer. She’s not that well-known but will definitely be a nice surprise for the public.

Nine years after the first edition, how did ShortsUp grow? Does it have a future?

I think it had a big influence in developing the short film public. I remember the first editions, when we were bringing public to our events based on the stories. Now the situation is different: people are more selective about the films, they are curious about the content, about which festivals selected the films. We don’t get questions like “why do they finish so quickly?” anymore.

Our plan is to develop our brand industry wise and to sustain the Romanian short film production. Another plan would be to use short films as a communication tool for social problems: we already started working on a project that has an “emotional state and mental health” theme. We wish to screen themed films in order to bring the public closer to these sensitive subjects.

What’s your connection with ShortsUP? You were part of the project since it started, you grew up together and you’re the last one standing from the founding team.

To be honest I wanted to quit the project in January. I’ve discussed this issue with different people and friends and they gave me some confirmations that I probably didn’t hear until then and I needed them. Then I’ve started other activities and realised how much I miss this project. Short film is a niche. A two hours short film screening is more difficult to digest than a feature film. What keeps me here is the attention for the public. A public I need to take into consideration when I select the films. The films should be alternated to receive their needed attention. For me it is a beautiful experience when I see that unappreciated films are enjoyed when they are put together in the right context. After I see a bunch of films and I go through the selection phase which can ne so tough sometimes, I observe the public so I can evaluate my work. When you see how well they receive all the films you selected, even the experimental ones, that’s a great moment.

And it’s a confirmation that “you’re doing something right”

Yes, that’s true. I believe a film selectioner needs a lot of patience in order to get to the mainstream public. We are all accustomed with Hollywood films. This is not a bad thing but it makes us cautious regarding film diversity and I believe that this exercise – to accept the differences in film can develop empathy, adaptability and tolerance.

What do you think short films need?

Filmmakers need a place to more trust and support – maybe a place where they could try as much as they want without the pressure of the final result. And short films need programming which is totally different that feature film programming. I sometimes feel isolated having this job, selecting and programming the short films. We are only a few in Bucharest, you can count us on the fingers of one hand. If we we could meet more, we could discover what the challenges are. In short film we copy a lot from the feature film industry and we don’t analyse the environment’s specifications, from creation to distribution. I think short films could gain much more if treated as an independent cinematic form of expression.

Tell me nine favourite shorts from the past nine years at Shorts UP

O noapte în Tokoriki, Roxana Stroe

Pude ver un puma, Eduardo Williams

The missing scarf, Eoin Duffy

World of tomorrow, Don Hertzfeldt

Love, Reka Bucsi

Goodbye Mandima, Robert-Jan Lacombe

Estate (Summer), Ronny Trocker

Beauty, Rino Stefano Tagliafierro

Grand Hotel Italia, Rodi Cotenescu

Interview by Laura Mușat
English translation by Andreea Andrei

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