One World Romania – A Brief History

What started in 2008 as a smaller-scale replica of the One World Festival in Prague, eventually turned into a civic and cinematic platform over the last 16 years. At its center lies documentary film as a vehicle for social and political dialogue, a window to the world, a medium that sparks reflection and forms communities.

As early as the first year, the festival had an overarching theme proposed by Monika Štepanova – the founder-director, together with Ana Blidaru – who created the festival’s visual identity and served as executive director until 2016. Even today the festival is structured around several thematic sections. The importance of debates, as well as of the discussions between the audience and the guests that take place after the screenings, was essential right from the beginning. As time went by, this gradually expanded, for instance through the programme Adopt a Documentary, where the festival offers various associations the chance to connect their name with a certain film that represents their interests and the causes they support. The team took care that the films reached communities that are directly interested in the themes approached by the documentaries, where the reality depicted on screen is perceived as a mirror of the people in the screening room. Starting with 2009, there have been screenings in prisons, at the ambulance service, in magistrate training institutions, or senior homes. In 2011, we began organizing mini-festivals around the country, which led to the development of additional travelling documentary distribution programmes extended to non-conventional venues (KineDok) or to libraries. That is OWR Non Stop.

The programme of the festival was determined by all these coordinates: we have always searched for films which talk – in a creative and challenging way – about stories our audience can identify with. And also for films that discuss and question the boundaries of the documentary genre, because the form is the message; the form expresses a moral and social commitment. Since 2012, One World Romania has organized retrospectives dedicated to audacious filmmakers such as Jennifer Fox, Jon Bang Carlsen, Marcel Lozinski, Kazuo Hara, Chantal Akerman, Ross McElwee, Avi Mograbi, Ruth Beckermann, Ulrike Ottinger or Želimir Žilnik. We have explored territories which were otherwise invisible or presented in distorted manners in mass media and we have been concerned with reflecting geographic and cultural diversity, through programmes focused on areas such as the MiddleEast, Ukraine, Albania and the Caucasus.

Most certainly, the festival grew and was shaped by the personalities and personal tastes of various artistic directors (Alexandru Solomon, Mădălina Roșca, Andrei Rus and Vanina Vignal, Monica Stan, Larisa Crunțeanu and – as of this year – Andreea Lăcătuș) along with curators Andrei Tănăsescu and Anca Păunescu. It was defined by the skill and the devotion of the entire executive team (lead initially by Ana Blidaru and Oana Koulpy, then by Laura Orlescu, Tudorița Șoldănescu and Oana Furdea). We don’t have enough space here, but there are many other names that should be mentioned.

The formative, educational side of the festival developed across several directions. The Matinees for Students appeared in 2012 and the High School Jury – in 2013. Since 2011, we have organized workshops for documentarians with international tutors and, since 2016, the Civil Society Pitch – which aims to strengthen the connection between filmmakers and civic associations. We felt we also have a duty towards the local cultural and film community – it manifested, among others, through the critical revisiting of the documentary film heritage. The first screenings featuring films produced by Sahia (the documentary studio of socialist Romania) were held in 2013, while the online platform sahiavintage.ro – started in 2019 – is continually extended. But even before this date we programmed and contextualized films that hadn’t been distributed in Romania, for instance those directed by Andrei Ujică, Errol Morris or Claude Lanzmann. The ”memorialistic” dimension further resulted in consistent programmes dedicated to Jonas Mekas (2018), the Simone de Beauvoir Centre (2021) or Jocelyn Saab (2023).

The films presented by One World Romania feature lots of civic action and this often overflowed into the streets, because the organization of the festival didn’t shy away from protesting either. In 2013, for the first time, we went to the CNC (the Romanian Film Centre) with the guests of the festival, in order to demand the acknowledgement of the importance of the documentary genre. In 2016 we projected films on towels and bed sheets to draw attention to the ridiculous situation of movie theatres. We organized the tourist bribe tour, or the urban demolition tour. Some of the guests of the festival were Antanas Mockus, the revolutionary mayor of Bogota, the Russian underground group Voina, artists such as Dan Perjovschi, choreographers like Farid Fairuz, Paul Dunca, or Cosmin Manolescu, the photographer Cosmin Bumbuț, the journalist Elena Stancu, as well as many others. We have always tried to include documentary forms from other arts: theatre, dance, photography, literature. Solidarity is essential at any time, even more so in precarious situations.

Because the growth of the festival meant enormous energy consumption, and the team was constantly subjected to a high degree of stress, in the absence of long-term institutional support. One World Romania has gone through the troubles of any other Romanian NGO that has reached maturity. The uncertainty of tomorrow is our job and without our few constant partners we wouldn’t have managed to survive. The conception of culture as a commercial event and not as a public service provided by associations which deserve durable support, the lack of spaces for independent cultural events, the anemia of the cultural press or of the press in general –  all these things affect us too, just as they affect everyone else.

In addition to those external dangers, there are internal ones: the danger of ageing in an unflattering way – something which every festival is confronted with -, the erosion of our energies in the administrative guerilla, reaching an audience number limit due to communication possibilities and the availability of event venues, as well as all the others. We don’t have any answers, we try to pay attention to the questions and to find solutions. And we reinvent ourselves as often as we can, taking energy and ideas from our audience in order to start over.

 Alexandru Solomon

Share your love
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.

Articles: 3876