ROMAS ARE FOCUS OF FIRST-EVER FILMFEST

Tiny village of Klenovec plays host to heart-wrenching film "Marian" and other Roma films and documentaries

KLENOVEC - Europe's first-ever International Gypsy Film Festival was held September 15-19 in a perplexing place. Approximately 500 visitors from at least five different countries flocked to the tiny village of Klenovec in south-central Slovakia for the event, substantially swelling the village's population of 3,370. But for Gizela Miháliková, the idea to spotlight Gypsy films in this location made perfect sense. About one year ago, the retired adviser at the Ministry of Culture had been contemplating how to commemorate the second full-length film produced in Slovakia, "The Little Witch from below the Grove" (Strídža spod hája). The film was shot in Klenovec in 1922, from which fact grew Miháliková's inspiration to hold the International Gypsy Film Festival there.


The Czech-produced film "Marian" is based on the life of a young Romany, also named Marian, who struggles in the violent, uncaring world of correctional facilities.
Courtesy of Cinematheque Prague

KLENOVEC - Europe's first-ever International Gypsy Film Festival was held September 15-19 in a perplexing place.

Approximately 500 visitors from at least five different countries flocked to the tiny village of Klenovec in south-central Slovakia for the event, substantially swelling the village's population of 3,370. But for Gizela Miháliková, the idea to spotlight Gypsy films in this location made perfect sense.

About one year ago, the retired adviser at the Ministry of Culture had been contemplating how to commemorate the second full-length film produced in Slovakia, "The Little Witch from below the Grove" (Strídža spod hája). The film was shot in Klenovec in 1922, from which fact grew Miháliková's inspiration to hold the International Gypsy Film Festival there.

She had been to a Roma (as Gypsies prefer to be called) cultural exhibtion at the Gemer regional museum in nearby Rimavská Sobota on September 5, 1995.

"I was so struck by what I saw," Miháliková recalled, "that I conceived the idea for the festival. The first planning meeting for it occurred the day after the exhibit."

Roots

While not directly related to the historic film produced in Klenovec, Miháliková's ethnic theme aptly recognized the village's long-establshed Roma community, which makes up 20 percent of the local population. It also brought back memories of an incident two years ago in which a village policeman killed two Romas, which inflamed the community.

Igor Dužda, the producer of a Roma program on Slovak Radio, remembered the incident well, but thought the festival dissipated, rather than revived, tensions between Klenovec's Slovak andRoma groups. "Thanks to this festival, Romany culture was shown to the majority population from a different point of view," Dužda said.

A few Romas, however, were not impressed. "The festival doesn't give us anything," griped Radič Gajza, pointing out that it doesn't alleviate the pain Romas feel from being hopelessly unemployed and discriminated against.

Dužda said he was disappointed by the lack of films by Romany directors. Surprisingly, no Roma organizations were solicited for film. Miháliková chose to rely almost exclusively on her personal contacts.

"The festival needed to be done with more Roma participation," said Alena Horváthová, a Roma juror at the festival. "Many intelligent Romas were not invited." Dužda agreed. "If more Romas had been involved, it would have been richer."

Marian

Despite the complaints and the small number of competing films - only 11 from three countries - one fine feature legitimized the whole affair. The award-winning Czech film "Marian" was powerful enough to move even the most cynical viewer. This stark, gritty movie paints a stirring portrait of a Gypsy youth who grows up in a hostile and indifferent world of orphanages and correctional facilities.

Based on an actual person, the film attempts to recreate the life of the "real" Marian who director Peter Václav met at a correctional facility ten years before. "'Marian' made a deep impression on me - as a mother and as a Roma," Horváthová said. "Only 'Marian' succeeded in showing the Romanies as people," said Jud Nirenberg, an American Romany who attended the festival.

Films were judged on their sociological as well as cinematographic merits. Besides "Marian," the Slovak documentary "Innocent Kids" and the Hungarian documentary "Where There Are Gypsies, There Are Problems" captured prizes. Both for financial reasons and to allow sufficient time to ensure quality films, Miháliková hopes to make the festival a biennial event.

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