Every day of the Christmas/New Year holidays, my wife and I enjoy a wonderful book “Solisterne” by Joakim Garff, where the author brings our Danish literary heroes, Søren Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen together on a trip down Europe with Rome as the final destination. ”A travel Adventure” is the subtitle and indeed it is fun to follow the two’s journey with train and diligence, clever thoughts, dialogues, comments on what they see and experience. I remember that legendary Danish documentarian Jørgen Roos, who made several films on Andersen, always said that the author, had he lived today, would have been a documentary film director with his sense for observation and interpretation of reality.
The holidays gave me time to look back at my travels in 2023, the travels themselves, contrary to Andersen and Kierkegaard, often a nightmare with delays, lost luggage, little space for legs in the planes, so on so forth. You know it all. Take the train, you might say, yes but the time it takes and cancellations… I sound like a grumpy old sport, I know…
Having arrived to be with colleagues/friends at festivals or workshops has again given me such great pleasure. To share what it means to observe and convey through film. To give some help. To experience how skilled and talented filmmakers search and interpret, trying to build and construct their stories and put a personal mark.
This being written in a bitterly cold Copenhagen making thoughts go back to warm visits to Sarajevo, Skopje and Belgrade, having the chance to sit outside to enjoy the weather and the hospitality of the festivals. It was great, in Sarajevo, to do Q&A’s with Aleksandar Reljic and his “Mamula All Inclusive” and with Mila Turajlic with her film on cinematographer Labudovic and his contribution to the Algerian fight for independence. And again, I think it was the fourth time, to be part of the team of the “Dealing With the Past” and the “True Stories” presentation.
In Skopje I was with Danish super-editor Jesper Osmund for some days working with four projects that had been selected to get advice on how to proceed with their work. I learned a lot from Osmund and met new talent as well as old, if you can say so about good friend Svetoslav Draganov, who was there with his “family film” on Snescha and Franz, that will be finished this year.
In Belgrade, for the 19th edition of “Magnificent7” (!) under the leadership of Svetlana and Zoran Popovic, always a pleasure to be part of a small team including wonderful Ema Teokarević, same procedure as previous years with a walk to the cinema, 10 minutes from the hotel, screening on a big screen, Q&A with the director and dinner in one of the restaurants picked by cinematographer Jelena Stojkovic, who has been part of the festival team since the beginning and who is the one behind the “survival kits” with goodies for those of us, who starve (!) at a festival where you also have a fine lunch with the visiting directors. Talking about the M7l hospitality I always say that it is a festival that invites to 7 films and 14 restaurants. This year I was happy to have, among the 7, Robert Kirchhoff there, an old friend, with his film on Dubcek and Danish Michael Graversen with his “Mr. Graversen” that totally took the audience by the heart. “Local is Global”.
Beginning of September means Baltic Sea Docs in Riga, equally a well-organized classic documentary event with a project developing workshop, pitching and a mini-festival, it was number 27 and again it is all about people, both those who work to make everything comfortable for the visitors, those who come with projects and those who come to tutor. Headed by Zane Balcus assisted by Margarita Rimkus and Evita Kļaviņa, and many others in the team with Lelda Ozola, running the Creative Europe Office and one of the founders of what started as Baltic Sea Forum – I had the pleasure to be tutoring with great colleagues Mikael Opstrup, Emma Davie, Phil Jandaly, Salomé Jashi, Alisa Kovalenko and Uldis Cekulis. Not to forget that Baltic Sea Docs has the best photographer one can think of: Agnese Zeltina.
This year was different as the workshop took place outside Riga, in Liepupe, a pleasure with an outdoor screening of Salomé Jashi’s masterpiece “Taming the Garden”. In Liepupe Latvian filmmaker Ivars Zviedris lives and has made a cinema in the middle of the forest, more or less. Fantastic initiative. Wish him luck!
Jumping back in time to a trip to Bucharest, a workshop in March for Romanian filmmakers with projects in late development stage, together with Dana Bunescu, enjoyed it a lot and it was a test of my skills, being alone talking to filmmakers trying to understand, what they want, asking questions again and again, giving feedback, never trying to suggest changes in the editing as I am not – unlike Dana Bunescu – an editor. I am always in doubt after sessions like this. Was it helpful?
One project, however, Ioana Grigore’s film “Leo Records”, I had met before at the film school, invited by Ana Vlad. I had a couple of nice days in this school, likewise at the workshop, where wonderful Laura Capatana came from Brasov to say hello. I know Laura from way back when she made “Here… I Mean There”, edited by Dana Bunescu and produced by Alecu Solomon, head of One World Festival for years and the one who invited me to Bucharest. Thanks for the trust.
One more, the last one before I stopped travelling, a sunny weekend in Athens invited by the local documentary association, a week before a hip replacement operation. Two talks, one – as a case study – with talented Ukrainian/Greek Vera Iona Papadopoulou and her work-in-progress “Nova Opera – The Art of War” AND the second day a presentation of the narrative diversity of the documentary genre of today showing clips from Denmark, Sweden, Eastern Europe including Georgia. Again, meeting old filmmaker friends like Anneta Papathanasiou, whose ”Laughing in Afghanistan” I have reviewed on this site, Maria Leonida, very active with children and film and Marianna Economou, who took me to the hills for a night drink with a view to Akropolis – and told me about her upcoming documentary. With a flashback to her visit to Copenhagen and Christiania with her boys, who are now grown up men!
The icing on the cake, however, was going to Batumi in Georgia, at the Black Sea. CinéDoc Tbilisi had arranged a workshop for school teachers to improve their skills in dealing with “film in schools”. As one element in the program I showed some films and talked with the teachers, but actually it was more Ellen, my wife, who talked, more competent as a school teacher and former editor of a tv strand showing films with written material for the teachers. There was a pitching session, where kids formed a jury with grown-up experts, it was fresh and encouraging for the pitching teams with precise analyses of the projects. Great fun and easy for me to be the moderator! A Georgian documentary competition took place in the cinema within the Batumi FF; I had the job to do Q&A with Anna Dziapsh-ipa after her “Self-Portrait Along the Border”. Anna, a very dear friend, also has the task to find a barbershop for me, when we meet, this time in Batumi. There were a lunch excursion to the sea, lovely. This adventurous journey to Batumi came about due to CinéDoc Tbilisi’s Ileana Stanculescu and Artchil Khetagouri, whose film cultural and educational work in Georgia is second to none. More about that in the second part of this 2023
Andersen and Kierkegaard would have loved it! Also the outdoor screening of “Taming The Garden” by Salomé Jashi in Liepupe Latvia, photo by Agnese Zeltina.