Director of the LET’S CEE Film Festival (October 2–11, 2014) Magdalena Żelasko about filmmaking in Eastern Europe and highlights of the festival for people interested in contemporary art.
Kristina Kulakova: Why did you set your focus on Eastern Europe?
Magdalena Żelasko: It was in 2010 when I first had thought of establishing an international film festival that deals with the best of what cinema from Central and Eastern Europe is offering. They still have great films there, and I realized that here in Vienna we have the perfect audience for these films. To illustrate: In the meanwhile, more than half of the inhabitants of this city have a so-called migration background, and many of these immigrants are originally from CEE countries. In the greater Vienna area live, for example, tens of thousands people from Romania or Poland and a few hundred thousand people from Turkey and former Yugoslavia. So far, all these people rarely had the possibility to see good films in their mother tongue or from the countries of their origin – and I wanted to change that.
Is there a trend that filmmakers in CEE follow at the moment?
We observe that films from the CEE region are thematically becoming wider and wider and also satisfying in terms of quality and ever increasing demands. If that is true, why are 99 percent of them still not shown in our cinemas? Because nowadays it costs really a lot of money to promote a film internationally. And most Eastern and Central European productions simply do not have that money.
What are the highlights of your festival this year?
Well, we have three very strong competitions: one for feature films, one for documentaries, and one for short films. There we will show the best new productions from all over the CEE region. From the very first day – our opening film “White God” from Hungary recently won the Un Certain Regard prize in Cannes – to the very last day – our closing film “Redirected” was the best-selling blockbuster of all times in Lithuania – we show a selection of the best of what cinema from Central and Eastern Europe is offering today.
2014 is a major anniversary year…
Yes, and we will elaborate particularly not just on one or two but on four commemorative years: 100 years after the begin of World War I and 75 years after the outbreak of World War II; it is also about time to take stock of the European Union’s eastward enlargement in 2004 and naturally also of the last quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We have, for example, an Anti-War Retrospective, curated by Branko Lustig himself. We have a focus on films dealing in one way or another with Communism. And a really very special thing is 25 – The Retrospective. In the framework of this series, this year we will show a selection of ten of the respectively greatest feature film from altogether 25 Central and Eastern European countries, produced since the fall of the Iron Curtain 25 years ago and according to the judgment of more than 40 of the best film critics from all over the world. The rest will be shown next year.
Is there something in the program for a person who is interested in contemporary art?
Well, there are a few and quite loose point of contacts. For example, we show the documentary “PMR – In the State of Limbo”, which is directed by Meelis Muhu and Kristina Norman. Norman is not just an Estonian filmmaker but also a well-known artist, who represented Estonia at the 53rd International Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, for example. But besides these hidden pearls we will show, also in documentary competition, the film “Ulay – Project Cancer”, together with VIENNAFAIR and as an Austrian premiere. The camera follows the protagonist for a whole year. Ulay was one of pioneers of body, performance, and Polaroid art and is best known for his long collaboration with Marina Abramović. Their joint performances have achieved iconic status. Originally Damjan Kozole and Ulay planned to just make a portrait. But when the preparations for the film were already underway, Ulay was diagnosed with cancer, and all plans were changed. Ulay was determined to visit some of his friends around the world, and the camera followed him on this trip, which was meant to be a farewell journey. It’s a really impressive film, and Ulay as well as the director Damjan Kozole will be our guests here in Vienna and answer questions from the audience. Ulay will also deliver a master class in the framework of his visit. A rare opportunity, for sure.
Magdalena Żelasko, originally from Poland, has been living in Vienna for over 20 years now. The certified marketing and advertising expert with a diploma from the Business School in Cracow studied Slavic studies, journalism, and communication sciences at the University of Vienna, which she soon after rounded up with a Ph.D. in 2005. She has worked as a manager for several international companies and as a journalist for various Austrian and Polish media. The university lecturer with a focus on culture and communication is also involved in a number of associations and supports several non-profit organizations.
At VIENNAFAIR, LET’S CEE will hold the first public screening in Austria of the fascinating full-length documentary “Ulay. Project Cancer” (Slovenia, 2013). The film follows the radical conceptual artist Ulay, renowned for his performances with Marina Abramović, for a whole year, starting with the protagonist’s first chemotherapy treatment after a cancer diagnosis. The illness becomes the most important project of Ulay’s life. www.ulay.si
After the screening, director Damjan Kozole and Ulay himself will take part in a public talk. With the support of the Slovenian Culture and Information Centre, Vienna (SKICA).