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Oldenburg Film Festival

14 -18 SEPTEMBER 2022

By Max Borg

“…if art is forced into certain areas, from the beginning, it’s propaganda…”

The Film Verdict (TFV): Festivals aim to have their own identity, but at the same time Oldenburg has been described as the European Sundance. How do you feel about that comparison?

Torsten Neumann: The way we do the festival, the way it’s financed, gives us a lot of freedom. We have no political need to program certain films, we are completely free. I’m pleased with the comparison, although maybe even Sundance isn’t really Sundance anymore, compared to what we’re doing.

By Max Borg

“…if art is forced into certain areas, from the beginning, it’s propaganda…”

The Film Verdict (TFV): Festivals aim to have their own identity, but at the same time Oldenburg has been described as the European Sundance. How do you feel about that comparison?

Torsten Neumann: The way we do the festival, the way it’s financed, gives us a lot of freedom. We have no political need to program certain films, we are completely free. I’m pleased with the comparison, although maybe even Sundance isn’t really Sundance anymore, compared to what we’re doing.

TFV: TIFF in Toronto pulled all of its screenings of Ulrich Seidl’s Sparta because of an article about his alleged work methods on the movie. How do you think the wish to please everyone is affecting festivals?

Neumann: In Germany it goes beyond that. To get a film financed, you need a letter of intent from a TV network, and there’s a questionnaire regarding topics of diversity and political correctness. I think that if art is forced into certain areas from the beginning, it’s propaganda. And we had the conversation in light of #MeToo: if we were to ban all filmmakers whose personal life is not “the right way”, what do we do with Hitchcock’s films, for example? I’m a big fan of Thierry Frémaux and how he runs Cannes; his responsibility is towards the art.

TFV: Besides the festival, what keeps you up at night?

Neumann: Cigarettes and Diet Coke! There’s a time of the year when I hate my work, as it gets more intense, but if you have a great team, which I do have, it’s a good kind of stress. And when the festival happens, there’s this strange energy you get from loving what you do, so there isn’t much sleep required on those days.

TFV: Is there a goal you haven’t achieved yet with the festival?

Neumann: Our financial position – which does make us truly independent, so I’m not really complaining about that – should be much stronger within the industry. Many great filmmakers choose to have their world premiere in Oldenburg, and we want to give them the best possible platform, so there’s always room for improvement. We need a bigger boat.

TFV: How did the pandemic affect that pursuit of a bigger boat?

Neumann: The pandemic played into the hands of streaming platforms and all things digital, which isn’t really what we stand for. We need to keep up some digital elements, so we can keep the festival going if there’s another pandemic in the future, but the people who come to see the films in Oldenburg tend to favor the cinema over home viewing. Our audience appreciates the quality of independent filmmaking, and they enjoy meeting other people at the screenings. Digital is no substitute for that. The main financial issue was that we didn’t really receive any help on the state level, only through the film fund of Lower Saxony. Culture in Germany is struggling in general, and it’s the first thing that gets sacrificed.

—Max Borg

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Venice International Film Festival

31 AUGUST - 10 SEPTEMBER, 2022

THE FILM VERDICT (TFV): How does it feel to be back at full throttle?

BARBERA: It’s a relief. The pandemic isn’t completely gone, which is why we’re encouraging people to still wear masks in the theaters and other areas, but we can’t enforce that as a rule because the festival follows Italian law. That said, the numbers so far are very encouraging. I don’t have the final figures yet, but we had 12,000 accredited visitors and sold around 85,000 tickets in 2019 [pre-COVID], and it looks like we’ll exceed both this year.

THE FILM VERDICT (TFV): How does it feel to be back at full throttle?

BARBERA: It’s a relief. The pandemic isn’t completely gone, which is why we’re encouraging people to still wear masks in the theaters and other areas, but we can’t enforce that as a rule because the festival follows Italian law. That said, the numbers so far are very encouraging. I don’t have the final figures yet, but we had 12,000 accredited visitors and sold around 85,000 tickets in 2019 [pre-COVID], and it looks like we’ll exceed both this year.

TFV: You’re very active on Twitter, responding to people’s questions about the festival. How much patience is required to deal with some of the nastier comments?

BARBERA: Naturally, it’s sad when they find the answers unsatisfactory, usually because screenings are sold out, but it must be said the gala premieres in the Sala Grande have always been like that, they sell out very fast. What amuses me most is a lot of their questions can be answered simply by visiting the festival’s website. Then again, I guess it’s easier to tweet a question than to look up the answer online.

TFV: It’s the 78th edition, and the 90th anniversary of the festival. Why was it important to highlight both numbers?

BARBERA: No other film festival is as old as Venice, and 90 is a major milestone. The editions aren’t as many because there have been interruptions, during the Second World War and in the aftermath of the 1968 protests. We won’t be doing a celebration per se during the festival, but we have been hosting some anniversary events, and we will be unveiling the English-language edition of the commemorative book written by film historian Gian Piero Brunetta.

TFV: Politics play an important role in the Italian cultural landscape, as you experienced during your first mandate as festival director from 1998 to 2002. How has Venice managed to retain its independence, when the government changes on an almost yearly basis?

BARBERA: One year, the government fell on the same day as our opening ceremony (laughs). The thing is, the Biennale as a whole used to be a government body before it became a private entity in 1998. The one thing that remained from the old system, which didn’t change until a few years ago, was that the mandates of the various department heads were tied to the president (of the Biennale). So when Berlusconi won the 2001 election and Paolo Baratta resigned as Biennale president, because he didn’t get along with the new Minister of Cultural Heritage, I had to leave as well. I hope the festival will continue to retain its autonomy in the future, even with governments whose ideals don’t align with ours, because culture should be about the quality of the artworks and not who’s in charge at any given time.

TFV: There’s a new screening room this year, the Sala Corinto. How did that come about?

BARBERA: There’s two, actually. The Palazzo del Casinò is being renovated, and the space that used to house the Sala Casinò has been repurposed for a restaurant. On the third floor, what used to be the press conference room – and doubled as a movie theater in the evening – is now the new Sala Casinò, with 340 seats, and the press conferences will now take place where the photocalls used to happen. As for the other venue you mentioned, you might remember we had an open-air theater near the PalaBiennale, in 2020 and 2021, to make up for the reduced capacity. That was only viable in the evening, for two screenings, so this year we’ve turned it into an indoor screening room, also with 340 seats, which will be used for the Venice Classics section, as well as reruns of the Giornate degli Autori and International Critics’ Week films.

TFV: In 2020, Venice, Telluride and Toronto did an unprecedented team-up for the world premiere of Nomadland. With the pandemic being – almost – a thing of the past, how’s the current relationship between the fall festivals?

BARBERA: It has improved. We no longer have the rivalry that got quite ugly around 2016-2017, with all three events competing for world premieres. Now, in terms of scheduling, we do our best to accommodate the films that wish to attend Telluride as well, and Toronto starts when Venice is almost over, so there’s minimal overlap. It’s become clear, for all involved, that being aggressively competitive with each other is counterintuitive vis-à-vis our mission, which is to promote and support films.
TFV: Italian exhibitors have famously complained about your acceptance of Netflix films in competition. How did they react when you chose one (Noam Baumbach’s White Noise) as this year’s opening film?

BARBERA: There’s been no reaction, publicly or privately. I think they have much bigger concerns to deal with, because theatrical attendance in Italy has been in very bad shape, in part because the overall quality of films during the pandemic was so-so. But I believe it will get better in the coming months, thanks to titles that have been held off until now, as well as this year’s Cannes roster and the films that are premiering at the fall festivals.

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Sarajevo Film Festival

12-19 AUGUST 2022

By Robert Koehler

Sarajevo Film Festival’s new artistic director Jovan Marjanovic has big shoes to fill: After 26 years, founding director Mirsad Purivatra has stepped aside (to begin the new Ponta Lopud Festival in Croatia) from an event conceived as a cultural celebration in the wake of the Bosnian War which had damaged or destroyed large portions of the city. But as Marjanovic points out in this interview with Film Verdict, he is more than prepared, having served as a co-director with Purivatra for the past two editions, when the festival had to be conducted as an online event during the COVID pandemic—to say nothing of his more than twenty years working for the festival in many capacities.

By Robert Koehler

Sarajevo Film Festival’s new artistic director Jovan Marjanovic has big shoes to fill: After 26 years, founding director Mirsad Purivatra has stepped aside (to begin the new Ponta Lopud Festival in Croatia) from an event conceived as a cultural celebration in the wake of the Bosnian War which had damaged or destroyed large portions of the city. But as Marjanovic points out in this interview with Film Verdict, he is more than prepared, having served as a co-director with Purivatra for the past two editions, when the festival had to be conducted as an online event during the COVID pandemic—to say nothing of his more than twenty years working for the festival in many capacities.

THE FILM VERDICT (TFV): This is the first time that the leadership of this relatively young festival has changed. How has it gone so far?

MARJANOVIC: It was a planned transition, with Mirsad and I sharing a lot of the work load for the past two editions. However, being at the helm does bring a lot of new responsibilities. But the team is so good, they’ve been together for a while, that it was quite easy to rely on their talents. The festival is an event, a life project for a group of people, and we also have younger people joining the festival team. A transition has always been the idea, just as I know that a younger group of colleagues will eventually take over from me. This is about longevity, the most important matter if you want to keep a festival alive. People have to come up through the ranks. That’s been a part of our philosophy since the beginning.
TFV: How do you go about putting your own stamp on a festival guided by a strong director like Purivatra since 1995?

MARJANOVICH: Well, the festival has a clear mission from the first edition. Simply, it’s showing the best of world cinema to our audience, and on the other side, the project of helping develop the local film industry. That doesn’t change. What changes every year is the program and structural aspects. For example, during the time I was manager of CineLink (Sarajevo’s Industry initiative), we developed from a mere co-production market with six to seven scripts and a hundred people involved to an event attracting thousands of professional and becoming a real conference for the entire region.

TFV: A new element this year is that there are several films from Ukraine, including Maryna Er Gorbach’s Klondike in main competition. It looks like the festival is making a commitment to including Ukraine in the festival’s concept of the regional focus.

MARJANOVICH: Personally, I think this is something we could have done before. The thing that was driving the festival’s need for a regional focus was that the greater region lacked a center in terms of the film industry. There was room for Sarajevo to be a center for this big, diverse area that still shares a lot in terms of economy and culture. Including Ukraine was being discussed before, but after Russia’s invasion it was clear that we should do it because our program is designed to spur our region’s industry and help talent grow. We thought this would be the most concrete thing we could do to support Ukraine’s cinema.

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