Odesa and Cottbus inaugurate the Eastern Partnership
by Vassilis Economou
- The Ukrainian and German festivals initiate a partnership focusing on the social impact of film festivals in Eastern European societies
At the 8th Odesa International Film Festival (OIFF) a new initiative was launched in partnership with the FilmFestival Cottbus. Both festivals are aiming to establish a network that will further investigate, through discussion panels and film screenings, the role of film festivals in Eastern Europe in revitalising civil society dialogue. As one of the arts that contributes most to raising awareness of lesser-known issues, film, and by extension film festivals, is the perfect medium for bringing social dialogue to a wider and lesser-involved audience.
The first panel discussion, which also inaugurated the Eastern Partnership, the network between the festivals, was held on 19 July during the Film Industry Office of the 8th OIFF with representatives of well-known festivals in Eastern Europe. The discussion was moderated by Bernd Buder, the programme director of the FilmFestival Cottbus, and looked at the national film production of each country and the impact of festivals.
Julia Sinkevych, the director of the OIFF, and Anna Chkonia, the programme coordinator of the Tbilisi International Film Festival, opened the discussion by looking at the amount of films produced in both countries. New forms of state funding provided in conjunction with support for emerging talents will hopefully allow new filmmakers to better focus on key social and political issues and get their voices heard.
Igor Soukmanov, the programme director of the Listapad film festival in Minsk, emphasised the importance of the small independent Belarussian film scene that operates without state funding. It offers flexibility to filmmakers, who in return create new types of films that portray their national identity in a more realistic and critical way. In the Republic of Moldova, the number of films produced is also quite low, as Virgiliu Margineanu, organiser of the Cronograf documentary film festival in Chisinau, mentioned. He spoke of the difficulties of organising a festival in such a small market, especially in introducing documentaries to a younger audience.
The case of Azerbaijan, which was represented by Samaya Asgarova, head of the department of international relations at Azerbaijan Film, is quite different. Without any film festival and a state funding slashed by 80%, only a couple of films were produced every year. Although, since 2015 there has been an increase in numbers totalling a record high of 40 feature films backed by state and private funds. The country inevitably takes a different approach to portraying its identity through film even though state supported films are not subjected under strict censorship. That said, Baku may hold its first festival sometime in the next two years.
The panel also focused on the lack of freedom of expression in many Eastern European countries, which results in censorship, obstacles to expanding on dialogues already initiated and the limited distribution of films between countries, mainly due to political and financial reasons. These factors create a hostile environment that limits the necessary exchange of ideas and opinions between different cultures and societies, and the drive towards film festivals becoming essential fora for social discussions. In this vein, the OIFF once again appealed for the release of Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov.
Closing the discussion, Bernd Buder announced that the next meeting of the countries participating in the Eastern Partnership will take place at the 27th FilmFestival Cottbus (7 – 12 November), and will be extended by also screening films that emphasise the social role of cinema.
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