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ASTRA 2019

Dumitru Budrala • Founding director, Astra Film Festival

“It is not enough to have a history; it is more important to be relevant”


- We chatted to Dumitru Budrala, founding director of the Astra Film Festival, about the relationship between experience and relevance, and about the challenges of organising the event

Dumitru Budrala  • Founding director, Astra Film Festival

With 126 films screened at its 26th edition, the Astra Film Festival (14-20 October, Sibiu) is Romania’s biggest and longest-running documentary film festival. We asked its founding director, Dumitru Budrala, to share his thoughts about this edition.

Cineuropa: What aspect of the 2019 edition is most satisfying for you?
Dumitru Budrala:
I think the biggest achievement is that we managed once again to adhere to the standards we imposed upon ourselves 25 years ago: a rigorous and interesting selection of films, well-curated thematic sidebars, a synchronisation with what is new in the world in terms of filmmaking, and an industry programme that encourages the production of documentary cinema in Romania and Europe. Another success was Astra Film Junior, a project that is very dear to us, which invites all of the school students in the county of Sibiu to the movie theatres. At this edition, almost 30,000 children and teenagers came to the screenings. It is an impressive number, which left many of our international guests speechless. Some of them told me they have attended numerous festivals, but they have never seen such a thing. The dry figures on their own may not tell us that much, but what do we see when we look beyond them? We see joy, emotion, curiosity, empathy, openness, the wish to understand and the desire for change, all of them in a very appealing context.

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Some festivals grow until they become true supermarkets of films. What would you say about Astra in this regard?
The festival’s format and size are, in our opinion, ideal both for the local audience and for the professional guests. If there are too many films, the audience feels lost. If there are too many guests, there are fewer opportunities for meaningful networking, something that is so necessary in the industry. We take pride in the fact that Astra is an intimate festival with a unique atmosphere. Here, one can watch prestigious documentaries, and after the screening, one can meet the team and discuss their film freely.

You mentioned Astra Film Junior, but the educational aspects of the festival do not target only children and teenagers. How important is education through cinema for Astra?
Extremely important. Children and teenagers have access to all kinds of films nowadays, but watching a documentary in proper conditions is a very powerful experience. And we go even further: after the screening, they analyse the film based on the materials we provide. And every year, we organise a workshop where high-school students can experience all of the stages of production for a documentary film. They don’t only discover the technical aspects of filmmaking; they also experience the joy of shooting and putting their creativity to the test. And what they produce is screened at the festival.

The Documentary Tank programme, which is dedicated to industry professionals, was created out of necessity. Throughout our 26 editions, we have whetted the audience’s appetite for watching docs in the best possible conditions, and after we realised we had an audience and modern venues for screenings, it became vital to have a space for young creatives. That’s how Documentary Tank appeared, a platform that introduces budding filmmakers to the experts in the industry. And from that point on, anything is possible.

I would like to mention the fact that a project developed in our industry programme in 2016 had its world premiere at this edition, and even won the Best Romanian Documentary Award. I am talking about Teach [+see also:
film review
film profile
. Moreover, after the awards ceremony, I met Ksenia Okhapkina, the director of Immortal [+see also:
film review
interview: Ksenia Okhapkina
film profile
, the film that won the top prize in the International Competition. She told me this was not the first edition of Astra she had attended: seven years ago, she was selected with a student project, and then she made her first contacts in the industry.

What can you say about the challenges of financing the festival?
We are used to the fact that it is never easy, but this makes us even more ambitious. Having 26 editions under our belt really counts for the financing institutions, but these days, they are all being very careful. And it is not enough to have a history; it is more important to be relevant. And this is exactly what we work towards every year.

You are a documentary filmmaker yourself. What are you working on now?
I’ve been working for a decade on a documentary about transhumance in Romania. I hope to be able to show it at the festival next year.

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