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ZAGREB 2020

Boris T Matić • Director, Zagreb Film Festival

“Going completely online this year was the only responsible solution”

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- We talked to Boris T Matić, the director of the Zagreb Film Festival, which is celebrating its 18th edition this year and happening entirely online from 8-15 November

Boris T Matić • Director, Zagreb Film Festival

Owing to the conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 18th edition of the Zagreb Film Festival will happen entirely online, from 8-15 November. The gathering is the leading international film festival in Croatia, and it will be the country’s largest event to take place in a completely virtual form. We sat down to talk with festival director Boris T Matić about the challenges of the festival’s past and present, and the future it is facing.

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Cineuropa: The Zagreb Film Festival is, in a way, a pillar of the film festival and, generally speaking, film scene in Zagreb and Croatia. However, this is the second year in a row that the ZFF will be held under special circumstances. Last year, you lost the main theatre…
Boris T Matić:
That’s right. Last year, the city of Zagreb decided to take Kino Europa back from the ZFF after ten years of successful management. We even won the Europa Cinemas Award in 2016, but the city obviously had some other interests in mind. Since the other movie theatres in Zagreb are smaller, we were forced to stretch out the festival length from eight to 11 days in order to realise the programme we had planned. Last year’s edition was phenomenal: despite the limited capacities, our screenings were sold out, even the morning ones, and we had about the same number of visitors as we did in previous years.

And this year is marked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, yes. But the situation is the same all over the world, so we should not complain. We are trying to do the best we can. It will be different, but I hope for it to be another successful edition of the ZFF.

Was the virtual edition an option, a plan B of sorts, right from the start, even before the recent developments in the pandemic situation?
We had several scenarios on the table, and we shuffled them, so to speak, while closely following the development of the epidemiological situation. The cinemas in Croatia are still open, but we realised that we would be putting our visitors and also our team at risk by insisting on having a “normal” festival. The number of people infected with COVID-19 is constantly growing in Croatia, so the only responsible solution was to transfer the festival completely online. The ZFF will be the first completely online event of this proportion in Croatia.

To what extent did your experiences with the virtual Kino Europa and the croatian.film platform help in terms of transferring the festival online?
Croatian.film is our platform for the promotion of Croatian short films. It is an extension of sorts to our Checkers programme, which is quite popular amongst the young, emerging filmmakers in Croatia. We have about 200 titles in our library, and they can all be watched all over the world. So far, there have been about 100,000 views. I consider it a success, and we have plans to further extend and develop the platform. Regarding Kino Europa, when the physical cinema was closed, a huge gap emerged in the film supply in Croatia, so we decided to start this web-based platform in the midst of the pandemic. So far, the results have been very good, and we shall see how it develops, especially in the context of the big, global VoD platforms.

What are the virtual attendance figures you are hoping for in these new and very specific conditions?
Frankly, I have no idea. We have talked a lot with our colleagues and partners from the Sarajevo Film Festival, and they were content with the success of their platform. I hope that our visitors will react the same way to this year’s edition of our festival.

The pandemic is global, and it has affected the entirety of the festival circuit. What was the selection process like? Was the pool to pluck films from a bit smaller this year?
The choice of films was still excellent this year. I am afraid that the problems will occur next year because the shooting process has largely been halted. There were some distributors who were not willing to give us rights to screen the films online, but luckily, there were enough of the really exquisite movies, so we could replace a couple of those titles with them.

What are the plans for the next, hopefully post-pandemic, edition of the festival?
The plan is for us to go back to the past and be a “real” festival again, a festival that celebrates cinema in the dark of the movie theatre and in the presence of the filmmakers, the visitors and the rest of the guests. That is the proper way to celebrate cinema. We hope that the problems that marked our 18th edition will be far behind us.

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