“Things you don’t see everyday”: A report from the 38th Göteborg International Film Festival
During the 38th Göteborg International Film Festival, which took place in the second largest city of Sweden between 23 January and 2 February 2015, we saw things that one does not see every day. This blog post is a brief report from the leading film festival in the Nordic countries: The first section is dedicated to some of this year’s highlights, whereas the sections that follow focus on more specific aspects of the event, including the special focus on European Cinema, the presence of films from Greece and films related to Greece, as well a mention of this year’s award winners.
The Festival’s highlights
One of this year’s festival’s highlights undoubtedly was the presence of legendary Swedish filmmaker and actress Liv Ullmann. Ullmann attended this year’s event and received the Nordic Honorary Dragon Award, while she also held a Master Class where she discussed her relationship with the art of filmmaking and her 2014 film Miss Julie.
Japan was found in the festival’s focus this year. “Japan is a very fascinating and interesting film country that never ceases to surprise and that really deserves more attention. Japanese film has a proud tradition and is currently in an exciting situation. The discussion about the nationalist and militarist sentiments that have grown in Japan in later years have even influenced local film culture, at the same time as female directors are becoming more common in what has been one of the world’s most male-dominated film industries” commented Jonas Holmberg, artistic director at the Göteborg Film Festival. The festival screened new films by Japanese masters such as Naomi Kawase and Takashi Miike as well as younger directors like the new rising star Kiki Sugino.
For three years in a row, Norwegian films have won the Dragon Award for Best Nordic Film. This year’s festival saw it as an excellent opportunity to finally meet the Norwegians. Visitors of the 38th Göteborg International Film Festival had the opportunity to see Liv Ullmann’s Miss Julie, Bent Hamer’s 1001 Grams (2014), Eskil Vogt’s Blind (2014), Nefise Özkal Lorentzen’s ManIslam - Islam and Masculinity (2014), Hans Petter Moland’s In Order of Disappearance (2014), Dag Johan Haugerud’s I’m the One You Want (2014), and Hallvard Bræin’s Burning (2014).
The tradition of Master Classes as part of Göteborg’s Film Festival continued this year in a successful manner, since apart from Ullmann’s sold out Master Class, the festival’s visitors had the opportunity to meet Naomi Kawase, director of Suzaku (1997), The Mourning Forest (2007) and Hanezu (2011), animation artist Michaela Pavlátová, as well as Joshua Oppenheimer, director of critically acclaimed The Act of Killing (2012). Michaela Pavlátová was also Göteborg Film Festival's animator in focus for 2015; a key figure of the feminist animation movement whose films have received numerous awards at international film festivals, including an Oscar nomination, the Grand Prix at the International Animation Festival Hiroshima and a Golden Bear in Berlin.
From a different point of view, a festival brings to its audience things that they may have already experienced in their everyday lives; things that one does see everyday. It is therefore expected from a festival, as a platform for negotiation of topical socio-political issues, to engage with and reflect on the reality of the contemporary world. That was GIFF’s aspiration with the special section ‘Europe Europe’ which was incorporated in this year’s programme with the aim to highlight the festival’s social role. According to artistic director, Jonas Holmberg, ‘Europe Europe’ was meant as a challenge to the European ideals taken for granted, such as the “freedom of movement: “[…] we take a closer look at the state of the European Project in a time when overloaded boats of refugees capsize along Europe’s borders while nationalist movements thrive within the Union and masses of people called ‘illegal’ live in urban shadow worlds” .
Apart from a number of interesting and insightful films, including Panos Koutras’s Xenia (2014), the special section ‘Europe Europe’ was complemented by a seminar addressing questions of a common European identity and the identity of European cinema today, by focusing on the types of stories and cultural encounters that we as Europeans are offered through European cinema. The discussion was led by Eva Novrup Redvall, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, and the participants included directors who participated with their films in the ‘Europe Europe’ section, as well as Marit Kapla, Head of Programming, and Ib Bondebjerg, professor at the University of Copenhagen. The latter also presented parts of the MeCETES (Mediating Cultural Encounters Through European Screens) research project, in an attempt to draw the picture of film and television drama consumption in the European continent. Overall, the discussion revealed a shared sentiment of anxiety concerning the future of unified Europe as a vision and as a reality. Eva Novrup Redvall’s speculation concerning the possibility of characterizing European cinema today as depressing was met with a hesitant yet unanimous affirmative reply from all the participants. Teodora Ana Mihai, director of documentary Waiting for August (2014), as well as Marta Dauliūtė and Elisabeth Marjanović Cronvall, directors of Crisis Document: A Survival Guide (2015), agreed that thematically their work reflects the difficult conditions for people living in Europe in times of crisis. At the same time, the problematic processes of production and distribution were voiced both by Marit Kapla and Ib Bondebjerg, with the latter expressing the opinion that European film does not travel well among European countries, whereas US films have a certain advantage when it comes to issues of distribution.
Greece at GIFF
Panos Koutras’s Xenia was screened as part of the special section ‘Europe Europe’ bringing to the Scandinavian audiences a number of multifaceted insights of the current reality of Southern Europe. A coming-of-age story focusing on two brothers’ efforts to locate their biological father set against the background of a hostile world where difference, be that on the basis of nationality, sexual orientation or plain quirkiness, is not an acceptable quality. Koutras’s sensitized, yet humorous, perspective on the world constitutes a comment on the emotional intensity of adolescence, with all actions seemingly motivated by events of chance. By touching upon a number of topical issues characterizing contemporary Greek society but without centralizing any of them, Koutras delivers a playful film where the imaginary is taken more seriously than the real.
The screening of Xenia was preceded by a screening of Marta Dauliūtė’s and Elisabeth Marjanović Cronvall’s Crisis Document: A Survival Guide. According to the directors, their short film constitutes a condensed account of the Greek experience of the economic crisis, meant as a survival guide for countries and people of North Europe who, they believe, will not remain unaffected by the social and political turbulence in the continent, and the rise of extreme right movements.
This year, as previously mentioned, the Nordic Honorary Dragon Award went to Liv Ullmann, who accepted it at the opening ceremony on January 23. It was the Danish director, Samanou Acheche Sahlstrøm, who took home the Dragon Award Best Nordic Film for the film In Your Arms / I dine hænder (2015). This year’s Dragon Award for best documentary was awarded to Joshua Oppenheimer for The Look of Silence (2014). The Look of Silence is the follow-up to the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing, in which Joshua Oppenheimer continues recounting the genocide of suspected communists in Indonesia in the 1960s.
This year’s Ingmar Bergman award for best debut was awarded to The Lesson / Urok (2014) by Petar Valchanov and Kristina Grozeva. The director Ingmar Bergman was the honorary president of the Göteborg Film Festival until his death in 2007. In cooperation with him, the festival established an international film award for “a debutant who in their film treats an existential theme with a dynamic or experimental approach to the cinematic means of expression”. This year’s committee chose The Lesson on the basis of “how this film depicts elaborately the human psychology and emotional flows of the main character, who was put in the difficult situations of life that possibly anyone could face”. The Lesson tells the story of a small town teacher in Bulgaria, whose moral beliefs are challenged when she comes face to face with financial hardship and the risk of losing her own home because of a debt. At the backdrop of a Europe in crisis and the public discourses of austerity, The Lesson discusses the matter in humanistic terms, focusing on the idea of desperation and the struggle to hang on to personal ethical values against the humiliation caused by financial problems. Without resorting to emotional language, Valchanov and Grozeva delivered an honest account of a personal crisis, or –to use their own words: “…the quiet rebellion of the little person against the mercantile, soulless and cynical world we live in”.
Finally, the Sven Nykvist Cinematography Award has been awarded to Pietari Peltola for They Have Escaped / He ovat paenneet (2014), while this year’s FIPRESCI award went to Samanou Acheche Sahlstrøm for In Your Arms. The prize is handed out by the International Federation of Film Critics and goes to one of the films in the competition Dragon Award Best Nordic Film. My Skinny Sister / Min lillasyster (2015), directed by Sanna Lenken, won this year’s Dragon Award Best Nordic Film Audience Choice. Last but not least, In the Crosswind Risttuules (2014) by Martti Helde, won the public choice award for this year’s best feature film.