I declare and declaim my feelings towards many Romanian film events, with a strong inclination towards Transilvania IFF and those emerging from it (this preference is justified by the 13 years I spent in Cluj Napoca, not to mention the 6 years when, day after day, for more than a week, I would discover and recognize each corner of the cinemas where the festivals were held – and after, the”Full Moon Adventure” began), but there are also some events happening in the capital that go on top of a most objective and justified personal ranking. Docuart documentary film festival is among them; between November 6th and 11th, its latest edition took place in Bucharest, and its story, which began in 2012, has evolved each year as others in ten.
It also happens that I’ve worked at Docuart before: I was a volunteer on the previous edition and I had the opportunity to see how things happen in backstage, too, away from the comfort of cinema seats. As for the seats, do you know how long it takes to put the wonderful festival bags on all the seats of the Peasant Museum Cinema? And do you know something else? Each bag crease that needed to be leveled was compensated by the moments I spent with all the fantastic, dedicated and full of energy people who organize the festival from start to end: team, volunteers, guests.
The self-portrait on the Docuart page (festival.docuart.ro) presents the festival as “(…) a phenomenon that aims to bring documentary films to the audience attention, as a proof of their authenticity and the real unwritten life stories, caught by cameras“. However, the festival programme did not include exclusively films, whether short or feature. On November 8th, at Veranda Mall, Dorin Moldoveanu shared in a VR workshop his vast experience with the participants, and on November 9th, historian Alin Ciupală held a masterclass at Ştirbei Center, where he tried to understand and shed light on the implications and the effect the documentary may have on the Romanian individual and collective memory. This second event was followed by one of the top moments of the festival: a debate titled “Therapy through Documentary”, moderated by director Mirona Radu, where it has been analyzed the potential healing role of this genre. If you are interested in documentaries, you have certainly noticed that the therapeutic perspective often plays a crucial role in the director’s / screenwriter’s approach.
The Awards Ceremony has come with surprises
Being a competitive festival which includes a jury and awards, Docuart has chosen its winners on this edition, too. The surprise of the evening was the main award, won by Wedding of the Year – a film made in 2017 by Ban Jozsef, the director, screenwriter and editor of the film. It was the first time when a student film stepped on the highest level of the podium to receive the main award.
I met the young director one night when we both lost ourselves in the Bucharest traffic and we struggled for another 15 minutes to find some free seats in a crowded McDonald’s (note: do not try to take interviews in a similar location, you will have many obstacles to overcome). Born in Sf. Gheorghe, Joszef showed his film, Wedding of the Year, on his graduation at “Sapientia” University (Cluj Napoca).
Did you work with a crew to make the film?
I spent about a month and a half in the Oaș Country where it was done, and I worked alone, and in the last two weeks a colleague came to help me, more on the organizing stuff, and then we worked together on post-production, too.
Wasn’t it hard to work just by yourself?
You know very well that a graduate film doesn’t have a very big budget, so I had to manage on my own.
The film premiered at Astra Film Festival in Sibiu (October 15th-21st 2018). It was well received. Here, you won the main award – were you expecting that?
Not at all. I shot with my phone in difficult conditions, and I didn’t think it would get awards in festivals.
Ban Joszef is interested by the migration issue; hence, his documentation. He has done research in Vaslui and Harghita as well, but he stopped in Oaș Country. In the 18 villages he has passed through, most people work abroad, and the director has been impressed by the “big and empty homes” of those who have left.
How did you manage to integrate yourself into the lives of people there?
Hard. The community is close; although its members like to show their wealth, they are not communicative. Apart from that, everything is like an “open secret”: everyone knows what’s happening, but nobody talks openly. I finally managed to make friends with some people, and they told me how things are.
You chose to shoot in Romanian, although your mother tongue is Hungarian. How was the experience for you?
If we talk like this, face to face, it’s not that hard, we understand each other. The harder part was for me to make friends with them.
The young director has tried to convince the protagonists of the documentary, explaining to them that he didn’t want to present their life in a mocking way, but to raise the real problems of the community. He talks kindly about one of the characters – Remus, the photographer – who has been greatly impressed by the final product and follows what happens next with Wedding of the Year.
What are your plans for the future?
I have some ideas, but I have to see how I will put them into practice.
Do you also have a job related to the film industry?
Yes, I’m working in editing. I like it, but you know how it is: sometimes you get good materials, sometimes not that much … so there are many challenges.
What do you make out of the Romanian audience fond of documentary film?
Documentary films are well received everywhere, but there are still few viewers. I don’t think they have the same impact as fiction films, and although my film was also in the opening of „Culese din Balkani” festival, there were quite a few people who came to watch it.
He doesn’t necessarily have a favorite documentary filmmaker, but he speaks fondly about the 60s-70s French school. When asked if he is thinking about making Hungarian films as well, he says that one of his projects has a Hungarian protagonist, but this is not something he focuses on. The protagonist may be Hungarian, but he’s also a Romanian citizen, and the director believes that the addressed issues and the problems are the same all over the country, regardless of ethnicity and native language. Although, during his university studies, he had also the opportunity to work with professors in Budapest, he says that “Hungary is another world, and here (in Romania) I feel at home“.
Ban Jozsef found himself in a fine company: the Best Director award went to Alexandru Mavrodineanu (for Caisă), Best Cinematography to Marius Iacob (for I’m Hercules), and Best Editing to Joszef Laszlo (for Abandoned Places). In the TV documentary section, Brașov 1987. Two Years too Early has received the award for Best TV Documentary, and Dinesz Dite‘s Life is a Path received the Special Jury award. Finally, in the student section, the best documentary was My Father, Imre (made by Andreea Ştiliuc), and the Special Mention went to Christmas Story (for cinematography – Andrei Olănescu).
The documentary remains the most intimate film genre
Caisă is a very personal, intimate documentary, where one of the characters, initially in a supporting role, becomes the protagonist. It’s about a boxing coach, abandoned by one of his best athletes, who seems to slip in a downward spiral: in conflict with other great boxers, accused of stealing a pair of gloves from the Bucharest club where he was working on, he ends up training teenagers coming mostly from disadvantaged Roma families. The film follows closely the relationship between coach and student, with its ups and downs, and the emotional intensity increases with the support of an impressive score.
The film was edited by Eugen Kelemen, Gabriel Basalici and by the director himself – who has also been a co-producer, alongside Tudor Giurgiu. I tried to understand how Alexandru Mavrodineanu navigates the stormy seas of the Romanian documentary world and how he manages to play the role of “orchestra man”, a role also taken by Ban Joszef previously. Because of our busy schedules, we had a very animated email exchange, from which I extracted some essential answers.
You have traveled a lot and have had various experiences. What made you come back to Romania and have your directing debut here?
In 2003, I met a group of Romanian filmmakers, who inspired me greatly. It was easier to decide to return. Back then, directing was still just a dream for me, but here I learned to recognize a story worthy of being told, and how to tell it.
How do the editing experience, being a production assistant – anyway, all the technical stuff you’ve done before, help you when you’re directing?
It was of great help going through all of these jobs before taking the responsibility of a director. I know what every job entails and I can focus on the more important parts: working with actors, mise-en-scène. Especially for the observational documentary, where I often go alone on shootings, it’s an advantage if I can shoot and handle the sound as well, on my own.
We are talking about Caisă, which premiered this year at Transilvania IFF, and about the audience attending the festivals. Mavrodineanu is pleased by the quality of these events, saying he appreciated the empathy in the viewers’ reactions, which fulfilled him personally and professionally. However, he regrets the fact that documentaries are a lot harder to come by in Romania, especially for the large public, since it is difficult to distribute them in cinemas, and television channels, whether private or public, seem not to care about this genre.
Is there a difference in approach between film festivals in Cluj and those in Bucharest?
All film festival organizers in Romania, whom I know, make great efforts to create the best conditions for their audience. TIFF has managed to become a festival of international significance, being supported by dedicated viewers. We also had two screenings at Astra Film Festival in Sibiu – also touching. Practically, in this field, we are all doing our best: us, filmmakers, to make good films, and the organizers, to provide the necessary support for showing them to the public. Neither of us gives up on this struggle with the lack of infrastructure and the public’s tendency to wait for the online release of the films.
The director admits that he, himself, started boxing after he made The Boxing Lesson, a short film made after Cătălin Mitulescu’s idea for a script. This way, he got to know master Dobre and Caisă in the boxing room of “Steaua” Club. However, he points out that neither The Boxing Lesson, nor Caisă are movies about pugilism, but mainly human stories that unravel themselves incidentally on this competitive background.
Can you reveal some of your plans in film directing?
I’m working on my fiction debut, but also on a new documentary. Both are in the screenplay stage.
Do you travel, or have you settled in Romania?
I don’t have the same desire to leave. Back then, I was lucky enough to travel a lot by working as a cameraman. But I feel I’ve seen what I had to see and now I prefer to stay still and develop film projects. Actually, it’s still a kind of journey, just that it takes place between the coffee shop and the office – while I am with my head in the clouds, of course.
Instead of an end, let’s count the days until the 2019 edition
The festival has ended, and I am already looking forward to the next edition. I would like people from Cluj to get the chance to enjoy Docuart Festival again, as it happened in 2015 and 2016, but it is not possible for now. Until then, the homonymous organization which promotes and supports the Romanian documentary film, developing this way the cultural potential of the local cinema, has a wonderful project in progress.
Launched on October 15th this year, the #ForgottenHeroes project will include 50 videos available online on http://www.docuart.ro/, aiming to bring once again to the public attention a number of outstanding personalities in our history. People who have changed something, have brought something new, and have become examples to follow, but whose names have been slowly forgotten. “At the moment, we have 25 episodes ready to be posted, made with the AFCN support, and another series of 25 episodes is waiting to come into being with the MCIN support“, said Daniela Apostol, President of Docuart Association, during the launch event.
An article by Iulia Dromereschi
Translated by Andreea Toader