FNE at ERA New Horizons: Interview with Roman Gutek

Written by Katarzyna Grynienko

While celebrating the 10th edition of ERA New Horizons, festival director Roman Gutek talked with FNE about the unique role of the festival and its plans for the future.

FNE: The 10th edition invites reflection. How did the festival change during the last 9 years?

Roman Gutek:
The festival has definitely grown and developed over the years. Above all, its location has changed. We started out in the small town of Sanok, where the festival's first edition gathered a surprisingly large audience of 25,000. Then we moved to Cieszyn, a small city with a unique atmosphere. In the beginning, I consciously decided to organize this event outside of urban areas in the summer to give the audience a chance to live and breathe cinema without interruption for 11 days. However, after four editions it became clear that the festival had outgrown its small location.

A breakthrough decision was made to relocate the festival to Wrocław, where Era New Horizons has adapted well. The festival needed a bigger budget to accommodate not only the growing audience but also its expectations to see new, fresh and interesting films from all over the world. Our priorities have always been to make the program as diverse and attractive as possible, to invite international guests and to organize artistic events that would accompany the screenings. All this led to a greater need for financial resources.

Wroclaw's municipal authorities enabled this growth by covering almost half of our expenses. This proved to the mobile network provider ERA, our corporate sponsor, that the festival has an additional source of income, which encouraged them to prolong their contract with us. The relocation also resulted in setting up a much bigger team, as for the first five years a very small group of people organized ENH. A permanent office was established so we could focus on creating a program for at least two years ahead, which is crucial for an event as large as our festival.

2. How is ENH different from other international film festivals in Europe?

The festival began as a response to the need to present a more challenging, artistic cinema that was not present ten years ago at many Polish and European festivals. Since the beginning, I have wanted to show films that are experimental and deal with difficult themes that the mainstream cinema avoids. Even the name "new horizons" clearly indicates that we want to screen films that go beyond the borders of conventional cinema. This festival is a place for non-conformist filmmakers who use their own film language. This is especially important since many of the big festivals have become commercialized and recently even the international film festivals in Venice and Locarno provide less and less room for independent cinema. My priority is to give the audience the opportunity to experience this type of cinema.

3. So does the ENH program focus more on independent, "off" cinema?

We intentionally created the NEW HORIZONS International Competition, our main contest, as a forum for films that are absent from mainstream production. And I have to say that the number of viewers of the NH International Competition outgrew our highest expectations, although the films presented in this section are challenging, not very well known and often radical and uncompromising. I am aware of our place on the European map of film festivals. In terms of the number of films screened and the number of visitors, who numbered over 120,000 viewers last year, our festival can be compared to such events as the London Film Festival or Viennalle. Over the years our main goal has been to broaden the horizons of the festival's audience and to complement the selection of other film festivals. We will continue to show challenging films such as Steve Mcqueen's Hunger, which had also gained recognition elsewhere.

As for the film professionals, we would like to make the directors and producers aware that the ENH Festival, and especially our main competition, is open to experimental and artistic cinema.

4. What are the most significant criteria for the Main Competition selection?

Over the last 9 years we have witnessed how directors such as Guy Maddin, Tsai Ming-liang, Harmony Korine and Jonathan Caouette, who were previously unknown to Polish audiences, became ENH's stars after having presented their films at our festival. And now audiences always impatiently wait for their new films.

The process of competition selection evolved and started to include excellent and challenging films from directors who were already known and appreciated by larger audiences. For example, last year's winner, Steve McQueen's Hunger, was awarded by the international jury. Although it is certainly a "new horizons" film, our prize was one of many it received that year and probably meant a lot less to the director than it would have meant to an unknown filmmaker.

This situation inspired us to rethink and redefine the competition's rules. We want our awards to have more than just financial merit and we also want to help independent filmmakers develop their international careers and gain recognition.

5.And what does the recognition gained during ENH mean for the filmmakers?

The directors selected to the main competition gained the recognition and attention of not only Polish viewers but also drew the interest of the young generation of film critics. This year, the NH international competition has a remarkable international jury including Yeşim Ustaoğlu, Jonathan Caouette, Piotr Dumała, Gideon Koppel and Mariusz Treliński, who will award the Grand Prix and €20,000 to the best film. The competing films are also eligible to win the Audience Choice Award and, for the first time in 2010, the prestigious FIPRESCI Award. Apart from these awards what is perhaps most important and may distinguish us from other film events is that ERA NEW HORIZONS ensures that all the winning films from each competition section are distributed in Poland. We also try to single out a couple more titles so that each year the most interesting productions are presented in Poland on a national level.

5. What about the promotion of Polish cinema?

Since each year we invite a large number of international guests who want to familiarize themselves with Polish cinema, the idea for a Polish films competition came naturally. Unfortunately, I must admit that we have problems with getting new Polish productions to enter the competition. Many Polish producers and distributors are afraid that the competition in the festival will jeopardize the likelihood that their film will be shown at one of the major international festivals. This is especially frustrating because the selectors from festivals such as Venice or Berlinale assure us that that screening at ENH will not disqualify the film in any way. The best example is Krzysztof Krauze's very successful Plac Zbawiciela (Saviour Square), which was presented at our festival in 2006 and won several international awards. Currently, we are seriously considering transforming the competition format into closed industry screenings, so that we will still be able to present Polish cinema to our guests without having to deal with distribution issues.

6. Does this mean that in the future ENH will be more open to film professionals?

For several years, we mainly focused on the audiences, but with the passage of time we have had to answer the needs of the film industry, especially those concerning the promotion of Polish cinema. We will not create a regular sales market, because the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, which responds to the needs of the Central and Eastern European market, precedes us each year. This year we launched the Era New Horizons Studio, which is dedicated strictly to the Polish film professionals' career development. 30 young directors and producers will take part in special workshops with experts who will guide them through the process of production, from the development stage through realization, looking for a sales agent and promotion of the film abroad. It is important to promote the exchange of talent and ideas, such as during the last year's Polish-Swedish co-production forum, in which two feature-length co-productions were established at the time of our festival. During the ENH festival foreign filmmakers can learn about the conditions of film production in our country and establish vital industry contracts. We want to create a platform of meeting and a dialogue between international film industry professionals that will focus more on our national industry and its potential.