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Interview with the High School Jury at One World Romania 2019

The High School Jury is the only jury of One World Romania Film Festival and it is no more, no less than its what it’s called - a brilliant group of 5 teenagers who decide what was the most inspirational documentary film in the festival program (yes, it sounds like an impossible task, we know).

I am 23 years old and sometimes I think that I have a decent CV, that I’m involved in meaningful projects, that I invest my energy in the right places. Then I happen to look at what “adolescents today” do, and I inevitably get to wonder what it is that I do with my life.

Let me explain a little about the High School Jury. Of One World Romania we all know – a long-awaited, much-loved, and mind-opening film festival about human rights (and rightly so – take it from a former volunteer). And who would be better to decide the best documentary film of the entire One World Romania program, if not a brilliant gang of 5 adolescents involved and concerned with human rights?

Students from all over the country in the 9th to the 11th grade have applied to be part of the High School Jury, the only festival jury of this kind in Romania. They had to send an essay on a certain topic, after which the jury selection took place, and the things that happened after we find out from them!

More about the concept of the High School Jury, how it works, what films they liked this year, and why many teenagers should be included in this initiative, down below:

What made you want to join the High School Jury?

Mihnea Popescu: The reason I chose to apply for being a jury member was my interest in promoting and defending human rights. At the same time, I thought that I could broaden my horizon of knowledge on film, a field which I had not had much contact with until then. And the theme of the essay for the preselection was important, because I always had a lot of ideas in that regard, and I felt it was time to use them.

Ancuța Daria: I first saw the call for applying on the Super Festival Facebook page. The challenge launched by One World Romania this year was to write an essay on how we imagine a Utopian Society. At first, it seemed impossible for me to cover such a complex topic in a relatively short essay, but I decided to try and the whole experience turned out to be an adventure. I wanted for a long time to participate in a film festival, and One World Romania is certainly the perfect first experience for any young person.

Anca Radu: Being passionate about film, the idea of a week with a daily trip to the cinemas in Bucharest captivated me. I wrote and re-wrote the essay on the Utopian Society theme in three to four days and proved to myself how important it is to discover yourself through what you think and feel.

Alexandra Mocanu: I was determined to enter the High School Jury to gain experience. The idea of being a jury member in an international film festival has captured my attention from the beginning, precisely because I was not only going to watch a series of films and tell my personal opinion about them but, it was going to matter for some people, too. I wanted to take on a risk, a responsibility to the public, to look for the right decision, and not to disappoint anyone with my choice.

Vlad Dragne: I heard it was a beautiful experience and I was very curious about it. I wanted to get involved and contribute as much as I could because I believe in the power and educational potential (and not only) of documentary films.

How did the judging process take place? Was it hard to choose a single winner of all the films?

Mihnea Popescu: Although we were all in favor of the winning film, I think it was hard for each of us to make the choice. All of the films presented have addressed themes of utmost importance, gave us unique perspectives and had a great documentary value. I honestly think that the judging process would be much easier if we can grant more than one award, or at least mentions or nominations to the other films.
When I chose the film A Woman Captured, I considered the complexity of the documentary, its impact on the viewer at a personal level, and its social impact, and the potential to draw attention to the issue it addresses and to make a change.

Ancuța Daria: The documentaries in the competition have put us face to face with stories from all corners of the world. We decided from the very beginning to look at each film as a unique experience and to enjoy the new perspectives it offers us. By the end of each film I was anxious to find out what the others thought about what we had just watched, to see if we agree or not. Discussions were mostly held between screenings, and the final decision was, surprisingly, unanimous.

Anca Radu: We gathered as five passionate adolescents and we’ve let ourselves exposed in front of a dozen challenging films. No matter how frightening it was, the debate at the end of the screenings was followed by inner satisfaction. Our voices were heard and respected, and that proved to us that we are not as small as we think.
Certainly, each film gave us an uncensored civic lesson, but A Woman Captured left me vulnerable in the chair. When the film was over, my legs were shaking and I looked at my colleagues in search of support. To my right, Alexandra’s eyes were full of tears. I buried my face in my hands and I took a deep breath, while Daria’s slow voice announced, “I think we have a winner.”

Alexandra Mocanu: Along with my fellow jury, we talked after every film we watched. I can say that the final decision was made by mutual agreement, without disagreeing at all. It was an easy, unanimous process. The end of the film moment marked everyone’s decision to give the film the only festival award. Our attention has been drawn to the subject and the way in which the main character evolves, and also the relationship between her and the director.

Vlad Dragne: First we discussed each film, compared the pluses and minuses, the way it was shot and the approach, the relevance of the subject. I kept a diary during the festival, diary in which I wrote my thoughts during each of the 10 screenings of the competition. The decision was unanimous and almost immediate although we were sorry we could not award two films. But looking back, I think it was the best option.

In addition to the winning film, was there any film that had an impact on you? If so, why?

Mihnea Popescu: One of the films with a message worth hearing about is Coby, which portrays the whole transition process of a transgender boy and how this change influences the lives of those around him. I consider it important because, in addition to documenting the stages of transformation itself, it reflects how society sees this category of people and highlights some of the problems faced by members of this community.
Another film I recommend is Srbenka because it presents the dehumanization that nationalism condemns its followers at and the devastating consequences of radicalization in this direction on society.

Ancuța Daria: Besides the profoundly moving experience the winning film, A Woman Captured, gave me, interesting for me was the encounter with Coby, Christian Sonderegger’s film. I think the documentary does not intend to make a statement about the difficulties a trans person is experiencing, but rather it captures the effects of the transition on both the individual and the family. Another unusual meeting was with the documentary by Nora Agapi, Time Box, a film that was not in the competition, but which made a strong impression on me through the sincerity and the commitment of the director’s incursion in her father’s past.

Anca Radu: Another film we all need to see is Jamilia. It presents a series of interviews with several kirghize women, which reveals through an intimate sincerity the issue of arranged marriages. It is a visual speech that opens discussions about freedom and the power to choose, pulsating doses of empowerment at the same time.

Alexandra Mocanu: The film I would have ranked second is Coby, which describes the gender transition of a young woman. It’s a film that, from my point of view, needs to make a strong statement in today’s world. A film that convinces us to do what we feel and cross the opinions of some, when talking about the changes made to feel comfortable in our skin.

Vlad Dragne: The second favorite mentioned above was Coby, because it made me understand the trans people and I thought it managed to present the sensitive subject in a very intimate and easy to digest way.

This year’s main OWR theme was the 30 years since the 1989 revolution. How does the theme relate to someone born after the fall of communism?

Mihnea Popescu: Without having lived during the Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime, I am aware, from both studying the recent history (I refer in particular to the individual study), and the stories of some people who have lived in those times, of its brutality and negative influence on the Romanian society. Although I am disappointed of certain aspects of the direction in which post-communist Romania evolved, I still consider that the fall of the dictatorship was one of the most important steps made forward by the people. And I also think that the younger generation needs to be better informed about that period, as providing relevant information and developing a civic spirit are essential in preventing the emergence of another authoritarian regime.

Ancuța Daria: I think that a major political event in the history of Romania, which took place 30 years ago, has implications, both in the present and in the future of the country and the people. As someone born after 89, I can say that the effects of the revolution influence the society I live in, therefore me, too. This year’s festival program included the After Revolutions section, the films in this section presenting the effect that revolutions have on people and the state. I believe that all these contexts are relevant to us, and perhaps, by comparing the situation of Romania with the situation of other societies, we will better understand the phenomenon our country has been confronting with.

Anca Radu: The impact of the revolution on society is still felt today. However, even after 30 years since the event, I think it is difficult to determine to what extent the ideals shouted then in the streets have been considered in the further actions. It is for us a lesson of mobilization and courage, a reason to demand our rights to be respected in a divided Romania.

Alexandra Mocanu: I have never known communism in person, I only learned of it from stories of people I know. I can say that I have formed my opinion exclusively on the opinions of others. I think Romania has evolved greatly since the fall of communism, developing and entering the Western countries level. It has a much greater openness on the idea of new, innovative, being receptive to changes in society.

Vlad Dragne: Even though I didn’t lived during it, I interact with the consequences and remnants of communism everywhere, almost in every field, from education, politics and economy. It’s a ghost that still haunts us and will haunt us for a long time in the future.

What topics do you think should be addressed more often in documentaries than it has been so far?

Mihnea Popescu: The range of themes approached in this edition was quite diverse. However, a subject of major importance to which I would pay more attention is that of economical inequality and how it influences society, as well as the way in which employees are treated by certain private companies both in developing countries, where the problem is more acute, as well as in Western countries, where the phenomenon is far from nonexistent, as we would be tempted to believe.

Ancuța Daria: I like to think that universal history is written with the help of personal histories and, therefore, I would like to see more documentaries that address relevant issues for society referring to individual experiences. Numbers and statistics are necessary for understanding entirely an issue, but I think documentaries should also reveal the less quantifiable part of it.

Anca Radu: With all the variety of themes approached in the festival, I discovered that I am not fully aware of all the things that are happening today. I believe the minority issues should be brought more to the public’s attention so they can be supported through visibility and validation.

Alexandra Mocanu: I think the theme of self-discovery fits a lot in the international context we live in. Young people, people in general, need to be encouraged to seek their purpose in life without worrying about what others are saying. Generally, we are afraid to get out of patterns because of those harsh looks we feel analyzing each of our movement, thought and unsuccessful attempt to make our own way in life.

Vlad Dragne: LGBT themes deserve more promotion, especially in the Romanian space, where there is little talk about it and the general mentality is rather outdated.

Would you recommend other people to be part of the High School Jury?

Mihnea Popescu: Undoubtedly, yes! I encourage any high school student who wants to understand the society in which he / she lives and who wants to be a decision-maker, to apply for being a member in this jury.

Ancuța Daria: Yes, yes and again yes! I recommend the jury experience at One World Romania to any young person, not just to those who are passionate about cinema or to human rights issues. For me, One World Romania meant a week of research and discoveries. This year, the trailer of the competition represented a series of stills from all ten participating films. Initially, I watched the trailer as a puzzle that had to be solved, and while watching the films, we began step-by-step to identify parts of the puzzle. I remember the last screening and the moment when we were whispering to each other the name of the film the sequence was part of. I think this jigsaw puzzle is the perfect metaphor for the festival, and as a jury member you are the one who puts all the pieces together.

Anca Radu: Definitely! It’s an experience of self-knowledge, and irrevocable a beginning towards change. For better, of course.

Alexandra Mocanu: I recommend to all people, regardless of their age, to be part of this project, because it offers a series of new perspectives and ideas about the world we live in. Of course, I encourage as many high school students to be part of the festival jury and take advantage of a unique chance to get in contact with various film topics and to find out the directors’ personal opinions. They will get in contact with the film world and with professionals who will answer their questions. Most importantly, they will be part of a jury and will be able to express their opinion on those views.

Vlad Dragne: Of course, as long as there are opportunities of this kind, I think it is our duty to get involved.

An interview by Romina Banu

Translation by AndreeaToader

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