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Csilla Kató • Head of programming, Astra Film Festival

“Good cinema can do a lot”

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- During Cineuropa’s visit to the Astra Film Festival, we caught up with its head of programming, Csilla Kató, to discuss her approach to curating the event

Csilla Kató  • Head of programming, Astra Film Festival

Cineuropa visited the 23rd Astra Film Festival (AFF) in Sibiu, Romania's biggest documentary cinema event. With a total of 90 films in its programme, the festival features four competitions: Central and Eastern European, Romanian, Student, and OutstanDox, dedicated to the most prominent international creative documentaries, such as Dead Slow Ahead [+see also:
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trailer
interview: Mauro Herce
film profile
]
, Don Juan [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, Depth Two [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
and Changa Revisited. We spoke to Csilla Kató, the AFF's head of programming. 

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Cineuropa: How do you programme the festival? You have 15 thematic sections, as opposed to competition segments, so how did you develop them?
Csilla Kató:
After we had selected the films for the competition sections, and picked others out of competition, we then came up with another programming concept. Our earlier programming experience showed that if we grouped the films into different common threads, based on either thematic or stylistic bonds in curated sections, it enhanced the audiences' access to the programme and gave added value to individual films. So this year, we adapted this concept to the whole programme; it is kind of a pilot year for us.

How did your festival start and develop?
We started in 1993 as an anthropological film festival, but after four editions, we rebranded it as a creative documentary festival. It is primarily cinema-orientated.

At the time, there were no documentary festivals in Eastern Europe of this size and featuring this concept, so we regularly had students coming from all over Eastern Europe. We were the ones who basically established the creative documentary genre in Romania and the region, and gave it visibility and significance. In the 1990s, this genre did not exist here, or in post-socialist countries in general. A TV report was what people thought of when you said the word "documentary". So we also had an educational function back then: local filmmakers came here to learn about the genre. The AFF is a place where at least two generations of documentary filmmakers have been brought up, and they are now a very warm, tight-knit community related to the festival. 

What is the focus of the Astra Film Festival today?
Each edition is a reformulation of ideas on what documentary is and what cinema is. We want to create a dialogue on what good cinema is and how the truth can be told through cinema. That is always the question that we ask: which films are the good ones? Which films succeed in capturing the truth, and how do they manage to do that? That is our main interest.

These dialogues are not just for the sake of an aesthetic exercise. Over the last 23 years, the Astra Film Festival has been, and still is, home to films about the most controversial and unsettling realities and stories we experience today, thanks to the remarkable efforts of the filmmakers around the world who work for years to immerse themselves in, to understand, and to present the unknown or insufficiently known communities of our society. 

In this sense, we have had many collaborations with great cineastes. This year, we celebrated ten years of collaboration with Cristi Puiu through an Excellency Award for his contribution. The motivation for this can be found on our website

The AFF has not declared any mission related to human rights or activism. Nevertheless, it embraces the efforts of filmmakers who are actively trying to correct and unblock communication between different parts of society. We do so by creating special-event screenings of films that bring up important issues for our society. Good cinema can do a lot! 

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