“Aster Fest” Strumica (26th-29th of May)
The Southeast European authors create almost identical stories spontaneously
#1 “Aster Fest” is the name of the new independent film festival, the second edition of which took place at the end of May in Strumica. The festival’s interesting and provocative concept, although “Aster Fest” is still in its early stages, has secured an excellent position in the regional film festivals map. The starry name of the festival doesn’t mean that it celebrates film stars, but that it throws light on somewhat different cinematographies. It has subtly opened the “Balkan black box”, crammed with tons of film tape containing a history unique to this part of the planet. Around 80 short feature films, full feature films and documentaries in various formats arrived from 27 countries. And there was a prize for the best films in the official competition: a “Golden Horseshoe” – for good luck, of course.
The initial direction for the festival’s organiser, Goran Trenčovski, was the Southeastern Europe independent film production. Out of natural or imposed reasons, this part of the world has increasingly been recognised as a singular whole. It’s logical: When you see at least 10 films from these countries whose ambition is to show their realities, you’ll be faced with several almost identical levels. Start with the fact that they all work with minimal budgets, then consider their inspiration, which they all find in their social surroundings, until you reach the most important thing: The authors communicate with an identical catharsis. To be more precise, the weak economy, the war trauma, the transitional chaos, all those reflections from the disintegration of the communist countries that left serious scars in the individual fates – those are all strong trumps that connect the audience and the filmmakers from these countries. Like a psychotherapy group session, the creative visual media field is an endless playground for trauma healing.
During four days, “Aster Fest” showed movies in alternative locations adapted as cinemas. In an open space, in highly uncomfortable seats, but surrounded with many curious eyes, an intense intimate fusion was created. The culture code of this small community has slowly warmed up to the event, which has opened up their vistas and widened their pupils to receive something more than the humdrum everyday life. During the morning meetings with the authors you could often witness constructive and vehement polemics on various film-related matters. Most filmmakers were on the same page. They commented their Sisyphean troubles to find finances for their film projects, the lack of understanding in those who decide about the money, as well as the moment when the projects turn into creative workshops future scripts arise of.
Authors Delving In The Soul’s Shadows
In the competition section, titled “Asterdocs”, there were several 30-minute-long (or longer) documentaries, made by Southeastern European filmmakers.
Those films were: “Entirely Personal” by Nedžat Begović (the Bosnian candidate for an Oscar), “New El Dorado” by Tibor Kocsis (the best documentary in Hungary last year), “Sevdah – the Bridge that Lasts” by Mira Erdevički, produced by the BBC, “Sonja and Marko in the Near East” by Sonja Blagjoević and “The Lives of Kosta Hakman” by Zoran Stefanović, the Bulgarian documentary “Death and All the Way Back” by Zornica Sofia, the Turkish documentary “Bela Bartok 1936” by Sezgin Turk, “Mocking” by Ilber Mehmedaliu and Edon Rizvanoli from Kosovo, and the Macedonian films “The Soul’s Shadow” by Rusomir Bogdanovski and “Colours in Time” by Stefan Šaškov. All of them were judged by the members of the jury, i.e. the Macedonian film doyenne Branko Gapo, the German director Manuel Zimmer and Burbuke Berisha, a film director from Kosovo.
The Bosnian documentary, “Sevdah—The Bridge that Lasts” by Mira Erdevički, in addition to its compact and intense emotional story, had the luck to be masterfully packaged by the production team of the English TV-network BBC. This documentary piece could be a fun backstage story about music, but the personal stories of the band of musicians are screamy and heart-rendering. Still, they are no louder than sound of their instruments. The hour-long film tells the life saga of the Bosnian musicians, every one of them representing a different nationality from the multitude this country used to have before the disintegration of the former federation. The intense symbolism of the Mostar bridge, the simple portraits of the characters and the excellent postproduction brought this film several festival awards: in Sarajevo, in Madrid and in Carlovy Vary.
The Macedonian film “The Soul’s Shadow” by Rusomir Bogdanovski is a story about Stojan Konev, and the city. He’s a man infected by the incurable AIDS virus, or as the author says, the pre-apocalyptic virus. It’s a powerful, suggestive, brutally realistic story, which highlights Konev’s thought processes, pointing out the lengths a man has to go to in order to endure. The movie had its world premiere in Strumica, and began its festival circuit from there.
If we keep analysing the rest of the “Asterdocs” films we’ll come up, again, with a conflict with society’s marginal people, fates in confrontation with themselves, bitter truths… Their aesthetics and ethics additionally speak for their value; and to be sure, each of those documentaries could help in the healing of Balkan traumas.
The Documentary as a Film Medium Mustn’t Manipulate
The only trap related to the documentary genre—especially in countries where there’s too much fabric to make stories from—is that the filmmakers have to be careful to exclude any politisation and manipulation from their works. If they disregard this, it will result in grounding the film medium down to a primitive level of an ordinary, vulgar, everyday-politics functionalism. And in a thus defined idea of film politisation, the medium is put right next to the complex of society factors, which undoubtedly strive for an ultimate societal emancipation and free consciousness, the contours of which will be apparent later. In this sense, the idea of a political film opens the vistas towards every film which artfully and ideologically (explicitly or implicitly, subjectively or objectively, spontaneously in a documentary way or via the played out, i.e. postproduced construction) deals with the artful, critically humanistic aspect of today’s human being’s reality, and by researching or shedding some light on that part of one’s life, which is imposed on us today with its many-sided and many-layered integrity as a political lifestyle. At the end of the day, it’s skill to be able to recognise, but it’s art to be able to feel.
Translated by: Magdalena Horvat