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Vol 3, No 15
30 April 2001
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4 festival slovenskego filma Not Quite Cannes
The Fourth Festival of Slovene Film at Portorož
Brian J Požun

The annual Festival of Slovene Film, held in the Adriatic resort town of Portorož from 28 to 31 March, has in just four short years become the most important showcase for the country's film industry. The films shown at the festival represent the highlights of the national film program and will be released to theatres throughout the year. Many will also make the rounds of the festival circuit.

Reflecting the increased quality of, and attention given to, recent Slovene productions, such as Janez Burger's V leru (Idle Running, 1999) and Damjan Kozole's Porno film (2000), this year's festival ran for an additional, fourth, day.

Last year's festival premiered four features, including Porno film, which won four awards at the festival—the most of any feature—and went on to rave reviews at festivals around the world. The film was also successful on the domestic market, along with Miha Hočevar's Jebiga (Fuck It), which also premiered at last year's festival and broke box-office records for a domestic film when it was released soon after.

This year, the number of features rose to six, five of which were premiering. Of the six features that were shown, half were dark tales exploring themes of violence. Alongside them were 21 documentaries, five short films, six video art productions and four animated films, as well as eleven short films and ten television works by students of the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television (AGRFT), rounding out the festival's program.

This year's films

Inspired by the great success of both V leru and porno Film, the number of features was at a record high this year. All together, six Slovene-produced feature films were shown, along with a Czech-Slovene co-production.

PreserenuFirst on the program was Martin Srebotnjak's Oda Prešerenu (Ode to the Poet). Shot in 19 days on a budget so low that the director had to play the lead role himself, the story starts when a young poet who makes his living writing jingles for commercials and wins a commission to compose an ode to the Slovene national poet Prešeren for his 200th anniversary celebrations. The film, following hot on the heels of last year's Prešeren Year 200th anniversary blowout, takes on the myths and legacy of the Slovene Romantic idol.

Zadnja večerja, pa al' kako sta dva norca snemala film (The Last Supper, or How Two Crazy People Shot a Film), directed by Vojko Anželjec, was shot in just seven days. The film starts when two people break out of an asylum, steal a video camera and try to shoot their own movie. The only one of the feature films on the program of this year's festival to have premiered beforehand, Zadnja Večerja has already been seen by more than 40,000 people.

Vince Anžlovar's thriller Poker was expected to premier at last year's festival, but due to technical problems in the film's post-production that proved Pokerimpossible. The delay created a huge buzz around the film this year, which unfortunately led to disappointment for many. The so-called "enfant terrible" of Slovene film, Anžlovar's other films include Babica gre na jug (Babica goes south, 1991) and Oko za oko (An Eye For An Eye, 1992). The dark film premiered in Ljubljana on 25 April and will soon be in theatres throughout the country.

Miran Zupanič's Barabe (Rascals) is another dark film exploring themes of crime and violence. It takes place in a fictional, Russian-dominated, criminal underworld in Maribor. Barabe will premier in theatres in mid-May.

Jan Cvitkovic, the star of 1998's V leru, made his directorial debut with Kruh in mleko (marketed in English as Black and White, but actually meaning "Bread and Milk"). While not nearly as dark as Poker or Barabe, this film also deals with violence, alcoholism and its effect on families. Kruh in mleko was originally opposed to be a 15-20 minute short film, but when Cvitkovic finished filming, he found that he had 40 minutes, and decided to expand the project into a feature.

Set to hit theatres in September, Sašo Podgoršek's Sladke sanje (Sweet Dreams) was the undisputed hit of the festival. The story breaks with the theme of violence that ran through many of this year's films and delves into pure nostalgia. The film is set in Yugoslavia in the 1970s and tells the story of a boy named Egon who wants a record player and will do whatever it takes to get one.

Among the other highlights of the festival was Czech director David Ondříček's Samotáři (Loners), a Czech-Slovene co-production that has already been well received internationally. The film is set in Prague and deals with the travails of seven twentysomethings. Ondříček's first film Šeptej (Whisper, 1998) became the second most attended feature in the Czech Republic after the Oscar-winning Kolja.

Winners and losers

This year, the festival's main awards bore the name "Vesna," in homage to the first Slovene Hollywood-style film of the same name. Vesnas were given for best feature film, short film, feature or documentary for television, video art work and student film, along with best actor and actress.

Sladke sanje took home the most Vesnas, for best feature film, screenplay and actress. It also won the Film Critic's award, the Stop magazine award for best actress and the Synchro award for best production.

The other films, with the exception of Zadnja večerja, split the rest. Poker won the Vesna for best editing and actor, Kruh in Mleko won the Stop magazine awards for best actor and supporting role and Barabe won Vesnas for best costume design and cinematography, the Kodak award for cinematography and the Stop magazine award for most promising actor.

Though it did not win any other awards, Oda Prešerenu took home one of the most important, the Audience Choice award, which is given according to the votes of the viewers themselves.

The annual Badjur Award for lifetime achievement went to director Matjaž Klopčič, the second Slovene director to be shown at the Cannes festival. His classic Vdovstvo Karoline Žašler (The Widowhood of Karolina Žašler, 1976) was shown at the festival, along with three of his short films. An exhibit about Klopčič called "The Story that is Not" was also presented.

Not all fun in the sun

In an interview for Delo, the director of the festival, Živa Emeršič Mali, said that the festival reached a point this year where it can no longer expand within the existing organizational and spatial parameters. Before next year's festival is prepared, the entire concept will have to be rethought and reorganized. The major issue is that the festival is conducted as an ad-hoc project of the Film Fund and does not have a permanent, professional staff of its own. For the festival to continue to improve, the first thing that must be done is to rectify this situation.

The festival's location is also problematic. Portorož, a popular tourist spot on the Adriatic coast, makes for a beautiful venue, but the Avditorija, the central theatre of the festival, is not. Among the options is building a new theatre designed specifically for the festival, or showing some films in other towns in the Primorska region, such as Piran or Koper.

Further, Milena Zupančič, an actress and head of one of the festival's juries, told Večer: "When you walk out of the Avditorija, the festival ends. It seems to me that Portorož and the area did not really know that there was a festival going on." Increased promotion, both domestic and international, must be undertaken to give the festival a stronger presence.

The state of film in Slovenia

The festival's problems, however, pale in comparison to the greater problems filmmakers face in the country. Funding is a huge problem. Last year's state budget allotted approximately USD 2.6 million to film activities, but this year funding was cut by more than USD 40,000 at a time when funding should be dramatically increasing to meet demand. The government's support for film making in Slovenia is roughly five to ten times less than that of similar- sized European countries, such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Greece or Ireland.

Film students are also having financial problems. The Film Fund cut the budget for student productions at AGRFT by two-thirds this year. The Film Fund said that the move was caused by the high cost of collaboration with Euroimages. After weeks of searching for a resolution, the Ministry of Culture decided to increase its funding to AGRFT, but added that this could not bee a long-term solution.

Hopefully, the forthcoming Law on the Film Fund of the Republic of Slovenia will create better conditions for all
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involved, through preparations for the law do not seem to be satisfying many. The law is among those that must be aligned with EU legislation and a draft should be passed by the Ministry of Culture's Committee on Culture, Education, Youth, Science and Sport just after 1 May, to be forwarded to parliament for passage at its 22 May session.

One of the main aims of the new law is to open up new avenues of funding for Slovene filmmakers, and the current draft law calls for a tax on film distribution and one on the public showing of films to accomplish this.

At a conference organized by the Society of Slovene Filmmakers last week to discuss the draft law, distributors and owners of theatres argued that the taxes will not only ruin their businesses, but will have an overall damaging effect on Slovene film. Ticket prices would go up, and the number of viewers would drop, and the money would only be enough to fund a single feature-length film at most.

Next year in Portorož

Filip Robar-Dorin, the director of the Film Fund, told Delo that in just the past two years, more than twenty feature-length films—a huge number for such a small market—have been made. Six have already been released and seven more were at this year's festival. A further seven are in post-production and should be ready in time for next year's festival.

Post-production, however, is not a smooth process in Slovenia, as is evident from the year-long delay for Poker. In general, the process takes two to three times longer than in other European countries due to a lack of state-of-the-art equipment.

Robar-Dorin told Delo that within five years Slovenia could become a "small superpower" in film, but the entire industry must be given substantially more support from all sides—the state, film professionals, the media and the public.

Delo conducted a small survey of 500 people last month, and found that for all the gains made by Slovene film production in the past several years, it has done little to draw people to theatres. Almost 50 per cent of men and over 60 per cent of women never go, according to the survey. For those over the age of 66, the figure is even more depressing—85 per cent.

The country's young people seem much more interested, with almost 40 per cent of those under 25 saying that they go no less than twice a month. They are joined by international critics in recognizing the great advances the national film program has made in the past few years.

Slovenia's filmmakers, together with the Festival of Slovene Film, are at a crossroads. Funding and other problems must be resolved, and perhaps will be in the context of the Law on the Film Fund of the Republic of Slovenia. In the face of the list of problems exposed this year, next year's festival will take considerably more work than in the past. But clearly the effort is paying off. Several international festivals have already picked up some of the films from this year's festival, and, domestic problems notwithstanding, Slovene film truly does stand to make a huge presence on the international level in the coming years.

Brian J Požun, 30 April 2001

Moving on:


Festival homepage


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A Majestic Comeback?

Montenegro Votes:
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A Vote for Victory?

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Independence or Chaos?

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L'Amour, L'Argent, L'Amour

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Slovenia's Potorož film festival

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Milčo Mančevski interviewed

Iva Pekárková

Madeline Hron
Iva Pekárková interviewed

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Gimme the Money Reviewed

Iva Pekárková
An excerpt from
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