Andrei Dascalescu: Planeta Petrila

I had high expectations. I had seen and admired the director’s ”Constantin and Elena” from 2008. I had seen Andrei Dascalescu pitching the project at East Doc Platform in 2016, I wrote these words on this site: ”(Planeta Petrila was) presented with passion and humour, the director said it to be a rockn’roll film, about a mine to be closed and an artist fighting to keep the old buildings and make them into art. A Don Quijote, the director asks? The trailer was unconventional, hopefully the film will be the same…”

I am not disappointed. There is some rockn’roll atmosphere in the film, there is a Don Quijote, Ion Barbu, and yet he is very grounded in the reality that he lives in; he is a creative charismatic artist, who used to work in the mines of Petrila as topographer; he knows and expresses compassion for the history of the mines and for the few miners, who are there. The last ones before the mine activity stops.

Ion Barbu argues that the only solution for Petrila after losing the mining industry is culture

and he is the one to push in that direction. He wants factory buildings to stay as historic monuments, as a museum, he organises happenings, makes installations, an underground theatre festival, there are slogans and quotations on the walls, the grey buildings become full of life and colours, I noticed the name Kirkegaard… thanks for bringing our national hero to Petrila! It’s fun but it is also serious political activism. Barbu works with Ilinca Paun from an NGO, you understand that she is the one, who communicates with the authorities, and we are told that one of the reasons that the politicians want the mining building taken down is that there is a lot of €´s at stake to be given by the EU meant for ”greening”. But does ”greening” mean demolition, a clever woman says. Ilinca Paun?

It is maybe easy to think from the description above that the film is one of the trendy documentary works – ”movies that matter”, a campaign film, a film with an impact – it is not! There is no ”halleluja” here, it matters as a film about creativity and it is a beautiful homage to a dangerous industry and those who worked there or ”died for the coal”. In an excellent scene you see Barbu and helpers create a wailing wall with the names of the many who died while doing their work in the mines. Followed by a song. Solemnity. To add to that there is a scary scene from underground, where the ventilation suddenly does not work, and where the call to ”upstairs” is ”we have no air, we are dying down here if no ventilation…”. Not to forget the burial ceremony for the mine at the end of the film, it is absurd and moving at the same time.

On the photo Ion Barbu stands in front of a mural called ”Petrila, the Sleeping Beauty”. Yes, the mine has been put to rest but Barbu and his helpers have shown that you can make protests against the power and the bulldozers. Through artistic expression on many platforms. And with humour – as he says in an interview with a television crew: ”In Petrila everything is at risk of demolition. Except for the mayor”. It is possible to make a population wake up to be engaged and committed.   

Young Dascalescu has made two impressive documentaries, this one rockn’roll and unconventional cinema, an obvious talent.

Romania, 2016, 80 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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