COTTBUS: In the heart of the only remaining Slavic region of Germany lies Cottbus, where for 25 years the Cottbus Film Festival has been keeping its Soviet-era ties alive, much as the city holds on to its Slavic past. This year, after forays into the concept of a “global East,” the festival returned to its Central European roots, with a bevy of award-winners that reflected both the cinematic diversity and the growing cooperation throughout the region.
Croatia, Slovenia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic figured prominently not only in the selection of films in the competition, but also at the awards ceremony which took place on 7 November 2015. The standout was The High Sun, a coproduction from Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia directed by Dalibor Matanic. The film won the best film award, best actress for Tihana Lazovic, and the FIPRESCI prize.
Croatian director Branko Schmidt picked up the award of the Ecumenical Jury for his powerful chamber drama about an elderly couple facing memory loss, The Ungiven.
Slovenia, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Film Center at Cottbus, was rewarded for its forays in coproduction as well as domestic production. Cottbus festival favorite Jan Cvitkovic once more won over local cinema-goers, taking the Audience Award for his endearing Slovenian slacker comedy Siska Deluxe. Slovenia also feted an award to Family Film, a coproduction between the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovenia and France by Slovenian director Olmo Omerzu. The jury noted the outstanding performances by the film’s cast across the board, eventually giving the best actor prize to Czech actor and star Karel Roden for a performance that might arguably be a career best.
Festival programme director Bernd Buder shaped a competition that was remarkable on several levels. The diversity of the films ranged from social dramas such as the Macedonia/Kosovo tightly fashioned low budget (350,000 EUR) Three Days in September to Cvitkovic’s comedic Siska Deluxe, and from Marcin Wrona’s horror film Demon (which received a special mention in the best film competition) to the charming Hungarian film Liza, the Fox Fairy directed by Karoly Ujj Meszaros, an original blend of magic realism and fairy tale with a dash of Wes Anderson style black humor, that was a surprising product to come from Central Europe. The selection also paid tribute to the festival’s twin, Connecting Cottbus, where The High Sun, Siska Deluxe and Liza, the Fox Fairy were pitched. Finally, it must be noted how many of the films were coproductions that depended not only on funding from Western partners, but are a clear mark of the growth of CEE film funds and their strategic decisions to enter into minority coproductions with neighbors and partners in the region.
Cinemas, especially the largest salle where competition films were screened, had robust attendance, which, as Managing Director Andreas Stein noted, showed “increased interest, especially on the occasion of the anniversary, and this edition was indeed worthy of a quarter century festival history.” The city and region showed its support in a substantive manner as well, funding nearly 78,000 EUR in prize money.
Reflecting on the 25th anniversary, Buder told FNE, “We can look back at a very successful history. Cottbus started as a small festival that wanted to keep East European films on the market and see how filmmakers would reflect the changes in their society, but it really succeeded in becoming a very important factor in the film business. I’m very proud that Cottbus and Connecting Cottbus are quite important for filmmakers from our countries.”
Buder commented further on the business side of the CEE industry and sent a message to political decision makers: “Croatia is harvesting the fruits of long hard work by the Croatian Audiovisual Fund (HAVC) and producers. They are very successful in having big international productions shoot in the country. They also prove that film can be a big industry in a small country. The money put into film is not so great, but it’s really successful. Macedonia was also a surprise, seeing films like Three Days in September which is a well narrated psychodrama that can compete on an international level. I hope those funds will stay as stable as they are at the moment . I hope politicians know that film funds are independent institutions and they honor the work which has been done by those film funds. “
The list of winning films follows:
Feature Film Competition
Best Film: The High Sun (Croatia/Serbia/Slovenia)Directed by Dalibor MatinicProduction: KinoramaCoproduction: Gustav FilmSupported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre (HAVC), the Slovenian Film Centre and Viba Film Ljubljana
Best Director: Lili HorvathThe Wednesday Child (Hungary/Germany)
Best Actress: Tihana LazovicThe High Sun
Best Actor: Karel RodenFamily Film (Czech Republic/Germany/Slovenia/France)Production: Endorfilm Coproduction with Arsmedia, Punkchart Films, Czech Television Supported by The State Cinematography Fund – Czech Republic, the Slovak Audiovisual Fund, the Slovenian Film Center
Special Mention: Demon (Poland/Israel)Directed by Marcin WronaProduction: Magnet Man Coproduction: Telewizja Polska, Chimney Poland, Krakowskie Biuro Festiwalowe, Israel's Transfax FilmProductions, IF Silesia Film, Lava Films and Wajda StudioSupport from Polish Film Institute
Short Film Competition
Best Short: Fedor’s Journey Through Moscow at the Turn of the XXI Century (Russia)Directed by Aksinya Gog
Best Director: Grandma’s Day (Poland)Directed by Miłosz Sakowski
Special Mention: Ogasavara (Georgia)Directed by Tato Kotetishvili
Under 18 German-Polish Youth Film Competition
Best Youth Film: 4 Kings (Germany)Directed by Theresa von Eltz
Special Mention: Raging Rose (France/Poland)Directed by Julia Kowalski
Dialogue Prize for Intercultural Communication: Sagintay’s First Wife (Kazakhstan)Directed by Daniyar Salamat
Best Debut Film: Babai (Germany/Kosovo/France/Macedonia)Directed by Visar Morina
FIPRESCI Prize: The High Sun
Prize of the Ecumenical Jury: The Ungiven (Croatia)Directed by Branko SchmidtProduction: Hrvatska RadiotelevizijaSupported by Croatian Audiovisual Centre
"From Cottbus to Cinema" Distribution Support Prize: Heavenly Nomadic (Kyrgyzstan)Directed by Mirlan Abdykalykov
Cottbus Discovery AwardThe World is Mine (Romania)Directed by Nicolae Constantin TănaseProduction: Libra Film, deFilm
Audience Award: Siska Deluxe (Slovenia/Czech Republic/Macedonia)Directed by Jan CvitkovicProduction: Perfo ProductionCoproduction Evolution Films, Kino OkoSupported by the Slovenian Film Center, the Czech Film Fund and the Macedonian Film Agency
Cottbus FilmShow Main Prize: Seele ohne Sorgen (Germany)Directed by Atheer Adel
Special Prize: Mer (Germany)Directed by Anne-Kathrin Schöler-Rensch, Clemens Schiesko
Audience Award: Children of Earth (Germany)Directed by Ron Petrass