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Bratislava film festival hits ground running December 1

In only its second year, International Film Festival Bratislava has already become a monumental event. Starting December 1 and running nine days, five theatres at Bratislava's Istropolis, and one theatre at the newly-opened Polus City Center cinema, will show films almost non-stop from morning till late at night.
"It will be a marathon. The first movies will begin at nine and the last will finish around midnight," said programme director Peter Nágel, whose team travelled the globe searching out movies and bringing back catches from countries as far away as Argentina, India, Iran and the Philippines. "We have an excellent mix of large and unknown films. And I am personally very proud of the quality we have in this year's festival."


The film Hannah a jej Bratia was completed only after the Culture Ministry intervened and paid for a final print.
photo: Courtesy Miro Ulman

In only its second year, International Film Festival Bratislava has already become a monumental event. Starting December 1 and running nine days, five theatres at Bratislava's Istropolis, and one theatre at the newly-opened Polus City Center cinema, will show films almost non-stop from morning till late at night.

"It will be a marathon. The first movies will begin at nine and the last will finish around midnight," said programme director Peter Nágel, whose team travelled the globe searching out movies and bringing back catches from countries as far away as Argentina, India, Iran and the Philippines. "We have an excellent mix of large and unknown films. And I am personally very proud of the quality we have in this year's festival."

Only weeks before opening day, offers from filmmakers who wanted their cuts to appear at the festival were still coming in. "Our deadline was October 15, but we have still been receiving requests from directors who want to participate in the festival," said Nágel on November 17. "But it's already way past deadline."

The festival will show 123 films - up from 89 last year.

Despite its quick growth, the Bratislava film festival is still no Cannes, Berlin, or Sundance, nor, say its creators, is it intended to be. "Our key goal is to attract viewers. We wanted to bring guests from political, diplomatic, media, legal, and business spheres together with filmmakers and students, but especially the ordinary viewer," said Vladimír Krajniak, festival managing director. "We've tried to make it an experience for all viewers."

With its limited budget, making the festival attractive to all viewers meant shelling out cash for films rather than visiting personalities. "We didn't want to focus on celebrity appearances," Krajniak said. "We wanted to save for films, high quality films."

Krajniak said that after securing the films, organisers focused on attracting as many directors as possible to the festival. Since they couldn't afford to bring every director, they invited only filmmakers from the festival's competition section, pitting debut or second films made by the respective director against each other. Twelve of the 19 directors have agreed to personally introduce their films and take part in discussions with viewers.

One of those directors will be Slovak Vladimír Adasek, a first time representative of Slovakia with his debut film, Hannah a jej Bratia (Hannah and her Brothers). Organisers had to wait till the last minute to find out if the film would be ready; although shooting wrapped up earlier this year, Adásek had no money to make a print. When the Ministry of Culture learned of the situation, it intervened and paid for a copy to be made.

The lone competition is the most anticipated event of the festival, yet it will still vie for audience attention with seven other categories, including 'free-zone', offering a peek at erotic film, and 'zoom', which offers a look at the Philippine film industry.

"The Philippines is not some exotic country; it has, in recent years, developed a very progressive and prolific film industry. In the Philippines, 100-200 movies are made a year," said Nágel, noting that the Oscar-nominated Anak, a Phillipine film about a family break-up, would be screened at the festival. "The industry in the Philippines is so big that actors there have become idols. In fact, I've heard of them behaving worse than spoiled American movie-stars, demanding Rolls Royces and private suites."

Other categories include European film, premiers, and cinema from the countries of the Visegrad Four states (Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary), a selection which organisers hope will one day become a category exclusively Slovak.

"Domestic production should be a part of any film festival," said Krajniak. "Unfortunately, despite the high quality of our work, Slovak film is handicapped as the country goes through this transition period. We would like the V4 category to be paired down to just Czech and Slovak, and then eventually only Slovak."

Krajniak added that promoting Slovak film was a main aim of the film festival. "Slovakia has a rich history of cinematography, but it never had a classic film festival on a scale with other large festivals. Such a festival belongs in this country, and can help our filmmakers develop world-wide contacts."

The festival's two remaining categories are independent films, or 'Off the Mainstream', and a series of films by Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki, as well as a profile on his storied career.

When asked what movies he had particularly enjoyed, Nágel mentioned the Indian film Djomeh and the American film Downtown 81, both from the competition section. The latter chronicles a day in the life of a real artist, starring the artist himself just before he became famous.

"Downtown 81 struck a chord with me. It is about one of the first serious graffiti artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat," said Nagel. "He died before the movie could be finished, so it was his first and last film."

Of course, there won't be time to catch all 123 films at the festival, not even by a long shot. But making tough decisions is part of the fun. "We're glad that every viewer will be in the pleasantly difficult position of having to choose from the schedule we've put together, and will be forced to regret that two movies he'd like to see start only 30 minutes apart," Krajniak said.

To help make those tough decisions, organisers of the festival have created a catalogue over 200 pages long with capsules on each film and their directors in both Slovak and English, which can be purchased at Istropolis cinema. In hopes of attracting international viewers, every film presented at the festival will have English subtitles.

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