The Other Side of Hope
by Roxana Tohaneanu-Shields, originally published in The Spark, Reading, 15 January 2013.
Some obsessions are worth indulging, contrary to what the doctors or the critics say, and other are not. In recent years one of my obsessions has been world cinema and I think this is one of the most rewarding and healthy obsessions I have. In November, last term, I had an interesting discussion with a Polish friend about films. To my surprise when I mentioned my admiration for the Polish Film School and the golden age of Polish cinema – for directors like Wajda, Munk, Zanussi, Polanski or Kieslowski, she told me that Poland is nowadays more interested in contemporary Romanian cinema. I said: ‘Really? How extraordinary!’ but, immediately I realised that I should not be so surprised because in the last eight years starting with the astonishing film The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Romanian film is one of the most inspiring forces in cinematic storytelling.
At the end of last November I went to the 9th edition of the Romanian Film Festival in London, entitled The Other Side of Hope (www.rofilmfest.com). The four new Romanian films screened at the festival were: Beyond the Hills directed by C. Mungiu (a film that won two awards at the Cannes Festival in May last year for Best Screenplay and Best Actress), Principles of Life directed by C. Popescu, Everybody in Our Family by R. Jude and Periferic directed by B. G. Apetri. For me the festival offered moments of intense aesthetic pleasure, it displayed new creative cinematic talent of an international standard and it had a friendly cultural atmosphere. The festival is usually hosted by an art cinema – this edition took place at the Curzon Renoir in Russell Square, which is a real bonus for film buffs. My favourite film was Periferic (which was also translated and is probably going to be released as Outbound) a film about the human condition, alienation, the margins of society, failed relationships and resilience.
The director of the Romanian Film Festival is Ramona Mitrică who was able to fit an interview with me into her busy schedule.
Interview with Ramona Mitrică, Director of the Romanian Film Festival in London:
1) What was the significance of this year’s festival title The Other Side of Hope?
I think this year’s title – The Other Side of Hope – managed to capture the essence of the films presented in the programme. When working on the selection for the screenings for each edition of the Festival, we have to see a good number of films, and we have to see them many times. Although we are sorry not to include the majority of them in the final programme, all these viewings create a complete picture of the contemporary Romanian film scene. We noticed there was a strong vein coursing through the greater part of all the films we saw: a certain concern to explore the limits of hope, a desire to search for what lies beyond hope. This is how we chose the title The Other Side of Hope, believing it to be a good short description of the entire programme. All the characters in the films shown in the Festival have their hopes – if these hopes are fulfilled, is for the viewers to discover.
2) One of the films screened during this year’s festival received very good reviews in the British press because it won two prizes at Cannes. Could you tell us what were the criteria used for the selection of the other films presented in the festival?
Outside Romania – in London, Berlin, Cannes or New York – the Romanian New Wave films have been recognised as a challenge to stereotypes about Romania and the rest of the East and Central European region. In contrast to routine media coverage, these films are among the few positive contributions to images of life in the region, offering audiences a detailed understanding of Romanians as individuals like themselves.
Of course, winning prizes in major international events is an important factor to the consequent career of a film, but it is not necessarily the main reason for selecting it. With the Festival, the main criteria have always been the overall quality and the capacity of the film to tell a powerful story.
3) What were the biggest challenges that you encountered as the festival director?
I am afraid I will have to reply with what has become a tired – but sadly very true – cliché. The biggest challenge to culture-making today is navigating the tough conditions imposed by the current economic climate. Funding has become increasingly difficult to find – luckily there are still many friends of the arts out there who are not afraid to commit themselves in an enterprise that does not generate financial gain. However, there is a net gain, which can be quantified, and that is the reputation of Romanian cinema and, with it, that of Romanian culture and Romania itself.
Culture is, most of the time, one of the most efficient ambassadors any country can have. Through our Festival, we manage to convince our London audience that media stereotypes do not represent Romanians, and that Romania has many interesting and valuable facets that are worth attention.
4) What was the most rewarding experience of this year’s festival?
Without any doubt, the most rewarding part of the Festival was to see so many people coming to our events. We had sold out screenings before, but this year it was the first time that both the opening and closing films – Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills, and Calin Peter Netzer’s Medal of Honour – were sold out before the Festival event started.
5) Do you think that the Romanian contemporary films presented to the British audience offer a fresh approach to cinematic storytelling in addition to a unique insight into contemporary Romanian life?
Yes, Romanian contemporary cinema does offer a fresh approach to cinematic storytelling, and a unique insight into Romanian contemporary life. Furthermore, it also shows the Romanians for what they are: people with qualities and defects, people who love, aspire to better things, live, fight, fail or succeed. Audiences can find themselves in these characters, even if the context is different. I think this is one of the main assets of contemporary Romanian cinema.