Romanian Documentary Survey - 2011

By Iulia Blaga

    BUCHAREST: Romanian documentaries were catapulted into the international spotlight with the success of several films in the last two years. Andrei Ujică's The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu/Autobiografia lui Nicolae Ceauşescu was selected in the Official Selection in Cannes 2010; Alexander Nanau's The World According to Ion B./Lumea văzută de Ion B. won the International Emmy in the Arts Programming category 2010; and Anca Damian's Crulic - The Way Beyond /Crulic - Drumul spre dincolo, a coproduction with Poland, won a Special Mention from the International Federation of Film Societies in Locarno 2011. But, with the financing of documentaries still in the early stages in Romania, the best may be yet to come.

    {mosimage}A 1939 Best Documentary Award received by Paul Călinescu's The Country of Motzi/Ţara moţilor in Venice and the 1969 Cannes Palm d'Or received by Mirel Ilieşiu's short documentary The Renaissance Songs/Cântecele Renaşterii were followed by a long silence during the communist regime. The fall of Nicolae Ceauşescu in 1989 left the country and documentary filmmakers with a tortured heritage, not only psychologically- the documentary was almost mutilated as an art form - but also administratively. Sahia Studio, founded 60 years ago, is still in existence under the name of Sahia Film (www.sahia-film.ro) but is now a barely visible presence on the Romanian documentary scene. After producing propaganda documentaries during the communist regime, Sahia accumulated huge debts to the state after 1990 and flirted with the possibility of privatization before being taken under the umbrella of the National Centre for Cinema (www.cncinema.abt.ro).

    Financing a documentary depends largely on production grants from the National Centre for Cinema. CNC financed very few documentary projects until 2007, when it suddenly gave money for 17 projects of short and long documentaries. Documentary and animation projects were judged by separate juries starting in 2008. The grants contest in Romania takes place twice a year. An emergency ordinance adopted in February 2008 stated that at each of the two annual grants sessions organized by the CNC, 10% of the money should go to documentaries. Romanian filmmakers stressed that the members of the juries are not always documentary professionals and that they represent the interests of the associations that sent them. In 2007 and 2010, three members of the documentary juries who were also members of DocuMentor Association, the first Romanian professional documentary filmmakers association founded in 2007 by Florin Iepan, Alexandru Solomon and Călin Meda, refused to sign the papers invoking violations of the contest procedure. The two sessions have random dates, making difficult for a producer to make a calendar.

    The Romanian CNC gave production grants of 674,501 Euro for six long and short documentaries at his first session of 2010, and another 240,383 Euro for four documentaries at his second session, with results announced at the beginning of 2011. CNC also gives grants for developing documentary projects, but these projects compete in the same category with all other projects in development. Most documentaries presented abroad were financed by the CNC. For a producer who needs or already has a foreign co-producer, a national grant is a must.

    The alternatives are emerging slowly. Aristoteles Workshop (www.aworkshop.org), supported by the CNC and ARTE France, arrived six years ago with an original plan: to produce four documentaries at least 30 minutes long, created by four teams of young filmmakers during the course of one month. Although it's perceived as a summer school, Aristoteles proved to be a perfect incubator for good documentaries. Adina Pintilie's Don't Get Me Wrong/Nu te supăra, dar, Claudiu Muşat's The Flying Shepherd/Ciobanul zburător, Ionuţ Piţurescu's Quest/Căutare, Mihai Bauman's Rebel, Rebel have achieved success at international festivals, receiving awards in Cannes, Locarno, Leipzig, and Nyon, among others.

    HBO Romania (www.hbo.ro) has made eight films since it began producing original documentaries in 2008, including Alexander Nanau's The World According to Ion B/Lumea văzută de Ion B. The last Romanian documentary produced by HBO in Romania, Pavel Cuzuioc's Digging for Life/Doina groparilor, premiered on 29 September 2011. Romanian public television (www.tvr.ro) is obligated by the Cinema Law to apply 15% of its income from advertisements for support of film projects that are also supported by the CNC. A film department, TVR Cinema, re-opened last year within the public television, with the goal of producing documentaries, teleplays, films and magazines, but to date it has produced only in-house programs. However, Sanda Vişan, the head of TVR Cinema, told FNE that she is willing to work with independent filmmakers.

    There are also scattered private initiatives to support documentary production. In 2010 the Soros Romania Foundation (www.soros.ro) started a co-financing programme, Open Society Documentaries. This year a contest was sponsored in partnership with Romanian public television (www.tvr.ro), giving 10,000 USD to a documentary in development by Ileana Stănculescu (Aşteptarea) and another 10,000 USD to a documentary in production by Anca Damian (Crulic - The Way Beyond /Crulic - Drumul spre dincolo). Another private initiative, Raţiu Foundation (www.ratiufamilyfoundation.com), is helping young documentary filmmakers with STEPdoc, an annual grant of £1,500 given to research or work on a project in Great Britain. The MEDIA office in Romania (www.media-romania.eu) supports documentaries in development (over 25 minutes long), as well as promotion, distribution, festival attendance and the professional education of filmmakers.

    New signs of hope are on the horizon. A few years ago, the jury of the Romanian competition at ASTRA Film Festival in Sibiu (www.astrafilm.ro) had few options for the Best Film award. This year one-third of the films screened at the festival (25-30 October 2011) are Romanian, with six world premieres among them. The 36 Romanian documentaries screening at the festival are presented in three sections: 14 in the local competition, 18 in a panorama of films about Romania and 4 in the student competition. Initiated shortly after 1990, the bi-annual ASTRA Film Fest has established itself as one of the most important documentary and anthropological film festivals in the region and the only showcase for the Romanian documentaries in Romania.