Grand Temoin – a critical assessment of the 24th (2018) International Competition By Manuela Cernat, cinema historian, professor, writer, journalist. - Short Film Festival in Drama

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Grand Temoin – a critical assessment of the 24th (2018) International Competition By Manuela Cernat, cinema historian, professor, writer, journalist.

24th International

International competition

Dear colleagues, dear friends of the Drama Film Festival, dear all,
I have again the honor to present the Grand Temoin Report on the International Competition. Thank you for your presence in this last sunny morning spent under the spell of Aghia Varvara magic springs.
This 41st edition is a very special one. It started under the sign of HOPE. Two years ago, I was closing my Report wishing that the stunning results of turning an old Tobacco factory into the luxurious Hydrama Grand Hotel might encourage this city to get a new and bigger cinema house for the Festival. Faster than we could imagine, that wish is on the way to turn into reality. The old Portokaloglou Tobacco Warehouse on Perdika Street will become a bright new Cinema center, running round the year. The stubborn determination of the Festival Artistic Director, who cleverly managed to get full support from the national and the Macedonian authorities, the financial aid gen erouslyprovided by the Ministry of Culture, the enthusiasm of a Mayor in love with culture and cinema, were stronger than the crisis and all kind of side criticism, stronger than any skepticism.
Even more, in a near future, a joint venture between the Festival and the Hellenic Open University will inaugurate here, in Drama, a Film University with programs for Cinema Studies.
Thus, according to the modern concept of margins becoming a center, Drama is on its way to host one of the strongest Balkan Film Schools.  In a few years, the secret dream of Adonis Papadopoulos will take shape. Will it be a miracle? No, it will be the result of vision and team hard work.
Now let’s focus on the International Competition. 62 shorts from 49 countries and five continents. In his opening speech, Adonis Papadopoulos referred to a ’’revolutionary return to forgotten values’’, wondering whether we are ’’in front of a postmodern neo-romanticism ? ’’. In my opinion he is right. We are at such a turning point. A necessary one. Maybe it is the reason for which, this year, in explicit or suggested ways, in so many shorts there were references to God, to divinity. And in most of the films, the heroes had to choose between a road of light or darkness. Starting with the Chinese entry, purposefully entitled In sunlight or in shadow.
This necessary return to faith and to the basic moral values which keep together a community, on the small scale of the family, or on the larger scale of a country, comes as a response or as a natural reaction of defense against a long term and persistent attempt of demolishing the very basic moral and social structures of our civilization.
At the beginning of the 19th century, French philosopher Count Joseph de Maistre, great admirer of Plutarchos, warned: ’’Up to now, nations were annihilated by occupation or by conquerors coming from outside. Nowadays we face a new and no less harsh threat: a nation can disappear from its own territory not by mass relocation or by invasion, but simply because it allows the germs of decay to corrupt the very essence of the fundamental principles it was built on ’’.
The visionary Joseph De Maistre anticipated by two centuries the destructive effects of a tendency furiously raging across Europe since the fall of the Berlin wall: the denial and the mocking of history, of the established values and of the ethical patterns  ​​on which our judeo-christian culture was built.
As we all know, the seeds of this trend were spread in the aftermath of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution by the reformers of the Marxist philosophy, gathered within the Frankfurt School. They were the ones to launch the principles of political correctness, quickly turned into dogmas. Among these, fundamental was the deconstruction of national identity in the name of proletarian internationalism.   I took the liberty to recall this historical fact since some primitive forms of Neo-Marxism are conquering with alarming speed the young generation of intellectuals and artists. Even if this new old ideology totally contradicts the very essence of the initial goals of the European Union construct: a harmonious chorus of national identities. National, not nationalistic. It is important to point out the difference, since the semantic confusion opens the gates either to the disturbing scorn of patriotic feelings, either to dangerous chauvinistic assaults.
Therefore it is so encouraging to be confronted here, in Drama, with the love of Greeks for their own cinema, for their own culture. It is encouraging to find out that, despite the economic, political and diplomatic crisis of the world, here, most of the time, the Olympia cinema screen irradiated its audience with optimism, hope and positive feelings. 
Maybe, after so many years of images full of horror, despair and blood, it is time for solidarity, comprehension and love. Let us remember that on this apostolic soil, in the nearby city of Philippi, Apostle Pavlos christened the first human being, a woman - Lydia. ..And in his Epistle to the Corinthians, he wrote If I do not have Love, nothing I have
Yes, I know , I have already mentioned  this in a previous  Grand Temoin Report  , but maybe not all of you were present then…To those who were, I aplogise…
The selection was a rich one. Some shorts had great stories; some others boasted a refined cinematic language. The point is what matters more nowadays, the content or the form? Do we expect from an artist to express just his creative ego or to be a prosecutor of the society ´s misbehaviors? Too often, those in search of formal beauty are severely accused of the sin of calophilia, word deprived of its original meaning by the proletcult criticism. And too often, a strong subject is ruined by its lack of esthetic concern. The right balance would be the correct answer to the problem. But it is so rarely achieved…
From Cyprus came, over the years, masterpieces such as Anna or The Immortalizer. This time they sent a nice, well written story about a modern Ikaros giving up his dream of flying to the stars for the woman he loves.  
It was proved through the years that each edition of this Festival has its own major themes and protagonists, as if across the planet, script writers had been following a unique command.  This year, the main theme and main character was WOMAN. Frail as in Skipper , or strong, as in Matria, vulnerable as in Maria, or invincible as in My name is Julieta, pillar of the family as in Eric, or victim of family abuse as in Like a good kid, loving mother as in Timmy, or witness of the moral suicide of their children as in Last day of school.
Above all, women were depicted in their heroic battle with a terminal illness Poignant yet poetical, French The Escape is a gem. The original script and its delicate approach to such terrifying topic are enhanced by the absolutely amazing performance of the protagonist. In my opinion, the same epithets match the Greek short Incidentally, scheduled only within the national competition. Both movies are precious courage lessons dealt with in an optimistic, tonic tone, not deprived of humor.  
In the Greek language, mother language of European culture, there is an extraordinary word, so strong in its meaning, so symbolic for one of the main values of the Greek spirit: Eleftheromania. It was given to one of the very few historical recollections. It seems that the new generation of film directors is less interested in the past. Even if cinema provides an ideal tool for revealing to the world significant yet little known moments of the national history. We should not forget. This is the intent of Eleftheromania in recalling the heroic solidarity gesture of the group of 446 Greek Jews executed in a Nazi death camp, in the spring of 1944.
Since Eleftheromania is a Canadian short, it is worth noticing the concern of nowadays artists for political issues of other countries or parts of the world. Australian If I were you, recalls the secret presence of Russian agents in Fallujah during the Iraq war. Swiss Black Line cares for women condition in a faraway Muslim land. Greek The Penal Colony advocates the inhuman treatment of prisoners in a nowadays Russian jail for women. If we wouldn’t know that the main character is Nadia Tollokinova, sentenced to prison for her anti-Putin protests,  we might think that it is a story set in a Siberian Gulag of the Stalin time.
While too many script writers and directors focus on minor subjects or themes, making us sorry for the waste of money and effort, it is rewarding to come across artists strongly concerned by the fate of their community and, subsequently,  of the entire world. South Korean Downfall warns poignantly against the catastrophic effects of the nuclear industry, disclosing the horrendous hidden secrets of the non-accessible, forbidden areas with nuclear waste disposal. Subsidiary, it depicts an oppressive society where human beings are turned into disposable working tools. A similar protest is developed by the Brazil-Portugal production Exterminator seed.
Compared to previous years, only a few directors dealt with the refugees topic. Italian Je ne veux pas mourir is highly impressive in its sudden switch from the real boat people inferno to metaphor and back to reality on a theater stage. With a more elaborated plot, You are welcomed is a warning against the growing intolerant feelings of people unaware of the tragic fate of the child refugees. In a way, the The smell of petroleum, where a western woman is earning money from the illegal trespass of borders, discloses the same traumatic reality.
We all know that Adonis Papadopoulos is blessed with the gift of discovering into the ocean of shorts submitted to his selection, small jewels from faraway unexpected places. Columbian En la carretera is the perfect example. Almost no dialogue, just deep feelings and strong portrayal skills. Malaysian Kampung Tapir remarkably depicts the turmoil of a family facing a too rapidly changing surrounding. The last shot of Singapore in twilight is a memorable one. 
Coming from Mexico, Franco reminds us of the golden times of Italian political cinema. Perfect as pace and local authenticity, it boldly attacks demagogy and political violence. Similar shots dominated by the blood like red color of flags, caps and T- shirts flooding an electoral meeting,  and the brutality of the repression against mass media people were recently seen in a country belonging to the European Community. In my country, Romania, where 27 years after the fall of communism, the temptation of dictatorship is still present.
The terrifying topicality of the Mexican short was tragically confirmed this morning by the shocking news that another Mexican journalist was assassinated - the ninth, since the beginning of the year.
From Iran came an unexpected strong rebellious plea against the inhuman rules of fanatic religious traditions. Manicure is a desperate cry against the monstrosities perpetrated in the name of invented, outdated taboos.
In a total different key, the stylish Egyptian parable Black and White stands up in the defense of diversity. Seen through kids’ innocent eyes, the intolerant and segregating rules of the adult world lose their meaning.
In fact, the child was the second main character of the 2018 International selection. In most of the shorts he is a silent witness to the errors and sins of the adults.  Recurrent topic, the concern about to whom we entrust our children, was at the core of the Chilean short, provocatively entitled Un cortometrajesobre education. But the most surprising approach of the subject came from Israel. In an unbelievably revolutionary way, The Rabbi brings forward the issue of homosexuality temptation.
This Festival is also the place to discover industries we had no idea about. Have you ever seen a Ferroe Islands movie ? Well, you have seen now. And 111 Good Days was quite revealing. 
We should definitely be thankful to the Artistic Director for having selected some irresistiblecomedies as well. It was hard time to laugh a little,after watching so many gloomy stories about the disastrous world we are forced to live in. Black humored Narcis and Fifi, from Romania, tackles the issue of money lenders through a hilarious avalanche of absurd situations. Alas, the acting is overdone. Deliciously funny and utterly stylish, Norwegian The Culture warns against loneliness and frustration in a super-competitive world. In a surrealistic key, Belgian VIHTA offers the irresistible hyperbolic portrait of individuals crushed by the companies they work for, down to the level of super obedient slaves.
Yet, my heart was totally conquered by the Georgian He said Mummy. So real, so wonderfully shot in authentic locations, so incredibly well acted. Tribute to Serghei Paradjanov, idol of Georgian cinema, this crazy slice of life of the post-communist era, in a social environment where little has changed, exhales a contagious exuberance, an overwhelming vital energy.
This year, the selection included less than a handful of cartoons, but scarcity was fully compensated by brilliance. So stylistically different, from gentle classic drawing in the Russian Tweet-Tweet, to violent post-modernism in Slovenian The Box, or minimalist drawing in Fruits of clouds, this three enchanting cartoons have in common the symbolic search for light as unique way of salvation from the universe of darkness and horror. All three can be read in a Messianic key. Fruits of clouds is my favorite one. Not only because I am a professor and this is a Master graduation work from a Film Academy.
From its very beginnings, Drama Festival proved to be an important trampoline for gifted Greek filmmakers as well as for young directors from around the world. Two years ago Bulgarian Lyubo Yoncev got here the EFA award for Shooting star, screened afterwards in over sixty film festivals. This year he came back with Timmy. The failed attempt of an emigrant mother to recuperate her son bring to the screen one of the most disturbing problems of the former communist countries where, pushed by poverty and lack of horizon, millions of citizens, men and women, go to work abroad, leaving behind millions of children deprived of their parental love and care.  
Last but not least, I must say that out of the series of shorts commissioned by the Greek European Commission under the label EU and ME, the most touching was the Greek one, a delicate and funny portrayal of eternal youth and of the an unusual way in which an adolescent follows the Christian commandment of loving the feeble ones.
The 41th was the title of a famous soviet movie which in 1956 seemed to announce the beginning the spring of a post-Stalinist political and cultural era. Alas,  in that confined system, nothing could really change. The city of Drama had the chance to belong to a free world. Therefore, in the history of its Film Festival, this 41 st edition will be remembered as the truly beginning of a new destiny. It will be remembered as the founder edition of the great Macedonian project of a Cinema Center for the people of Drama and for the Balkans.
How should I conclude this Grand Temoin Report ? How else than by a deep reverence to the entire Festival team. I hope you will all agree that we owe enthusiastic thanks to Adonis, Sophia, Ritsa, Vassilis, Manolis, Rania and to all their fellows whose name we shamefully did not had time to memorize but whose energy, devotion and smile accompanied us through this rewarding Festival week.
Thank you for your kind attention,
Manuela Cernat

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