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Festival Reports

Review of the 35th Warsaw Film Festival

System Administrator Monday November 11, 2019

With Warsaw Film Festival there is always a certain uncertainty that accompanies all the films included in its various competitions. The films tend to be mediocre most of all the time – or quite simply bad; there is seldom space for a brilliant work, one that would bring something new to the table. And there is nothing wrong with it – after all, these filmmakers are mainly newcomers and, sadly, those who weren’t accepted to bigger events such as Venice, Cannes, Rotterdam, Toronto. That is the reason why I think the programme might be a big issue at WFF. I have a feeling that the programmers are mostly anonymous here – there is no position of artistic director, someone to put the blame on, to discuss, to argue about why this and not that.

NETPAC Jury - Mevlut Akkaya, Ms. Diana Ashimova, Lukasz Mankowski
NETPAC Jury - Mevlut Akkaya, Ms. Diana Ashimova, Lukasz Mankowski

 

But this year, despite the fact that the section began very slowly with the films that shouldn’t have been in any festival in the first place (Spring Comes after Winter), we were lucky enough to have at least two very good films: Brothers in Brothel and the one we chose - Move the Grave. I believe these films were better than those in the previous edition, and while not the greatest, they were nonetheless done in an admirable way, honest, simple, sometimes funny, but often times very dark. Both these films – with their personal takes on modernity - and were highly appreciated by both the audience and the critics in Poland (although it’s not a festival that many film critics attend).

On a less positive note – it’s weird to be forced to watch and judge films that are not part of the NETPAC policy: experienced directors, non-Asian filmmakers or films that have almost no Asian aesthetic. Therefore, our choice was limited to just two films – one Korean and one Japanese, because other films were either mediocre, bad or made by acclaimed directors. That being said, I think there should be a change in programming or in the vision of the festival. As the only A-class festival in Poland (which is helpful and vital for newcomers), it is nevertheless often mocked by the audience due to its programme and lack of identity.

NETPAC Jury - with Award winner Jeoing Seung O
NETPAC Jury - with Award winner Jeoing Seung O

 

Move the Grave: This was a film that many people from outside South Korea have been probably waiting for. It is a tale about a family, about women, about society that has a very little place for women’s emancipation and feminism; a story that is somehow dark and funny at once, gloomy, but then again, hilarious. A well-written odyssey of misfits who eschew all prejudices towards each other, because this time they dare to stand as a family. It may be read as a capsule of the country, a metaphor with a solid criticism of patriarchy, and for this reason therefore, it will resonate with the audience, leaving a firm gesture of saying ‘no’, a silent riot captured in a fresh voice of a newcomer, Jeong Seung-o. This is a witty take, a glimpse of Korean modernity captured through the lens of a family drama that has in it all that a black comedy from South Korea needs: sharp dialogues, eeriness, character studies, shortcomings of men and a Koreeda-like approach to a family sketch. This blunt piece is easily one of the smartest debuts in the past few years, and an important one to say the least – it won’t leave anyone indifferent, and that itself is a privilege for the audience.

-- By Lukasz Mankowski (Poland) Netpac jury member -- Edited by Latika Padgonkara

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Shindisi (Georgia: dir: Dito Tsintsade) and Atbai’s Fight (Kazakhstan; dir: Adilkhan Yerzhanov) were films that stirred a viewer’s experience at the 35th Warsaw International Film Festival. Comparatively, Shindisi was more mainstream while Atbai’s Fight was minimalist in style. However while their story-telling techniques were strong, we did not consider them for awards as the filmmakers were experienced and had several films to their credit. 

Similarly, White Snake (China; dir: Ji Zhao & Amp Wong) and Listen to the Universe (Japan; dir: Kei Ishikawa) were big budget, mainstream, commercial films, more suitable for out-of-competition sections or for Opening or Closing Nights. 

Meanwhile, A Hairy Tale (Iran; dir: Homayoun Ghanizadeh) and Best Director (China; dir: Xian Zhang) were both interesting films and they held our attention. Brothers in Brothel (Japan; dir: Jiro Sato) was our second best choice as it was provocative and bold with an edgy story-telling style.

But in the spirit of NETPAC we instead decided to extend our support to first and second-time filmmakers. Our selection for the NETPAC award went to Move the Grave (South Korea; dir: Seung-o Jeong). The filmmaking was smart and ironic, and provided a strong, important comment on Korean society. It was both dark and funny, with interesting characters with very good acting. 

Overall, the jury was disappointed with the quality of the selected films. 

For example,  A Punk Day Dream (Belgium-Indonesia; dir: Jimmy Hendrickx) is not by an Asian filmmaker, and therefore we did not consider this film. The Asian subject of the film was very interesting but the storytelling was not strong. Similarly, Omar and Us (Turkey; dirs: Mehmet Bahadir Er & Maryna Er Gorbach) and  Chronology (Turkey/Germany; dir: Ali Aydin) were both co-directed or co-produced. While the subjects they handled were interesting, they were, again, not strong or original enough for us. 

-- By Mevlut Akaya (Turkey) Netpac jury chairperson

-- Edited by Latika Padgaonkar

Obituary

Sun Shaoyi (1961 - 13th Aug. 2019) Shaoyi Photo It is with great sadness that we inform you of the demise of our senior NETPAC member, Prof SUN Shaoyi (孙绍谊) on 13th Aug 2019. Born in 1961, Prof. SUN Shaoyi did a Masters and a Ph.D from the University of Southern California (USC). He was Professor of Film and Media Studies at Shanghai Theater Academy (STA), taught Chinese film and literature at USC, University of California at Irvine, National Chung Hsing University (Taiwan), Shanghai University and New York University in Shanghai. Read More...