FNE at IFF BRATISLAVA: Las Acacias Takes Top Prize at 13th Bratislava IFF

By Cathy Meils

    BRATISLAVA: A year from now, Slovakia will be on the eve of its 20th anniversary as an independent country. A visit to the capital and the Bratislava IFF (www.iffbratislava.com), in a new location and with a new festival director, sends a clear message. It wasn't an easy journey, but the Slovaks finally have a winning formula.

    That includes not only the Bratislava IFF (www.iffbratislava.sk), freshly installed in a snazzy riverfront (as in Danube, that is) cinema located across the street from the impressive new Slovak National Theatre, but the entire transformation of the Slovak film industry. Under the careful guidance of the Slovak Audiovisual Fund (www.avf.sk), Slovak films are back on the international scene, and Slovak film festivals are working in partnership to create an ideal balance. Artfilm Festival (www.artfilmfest.sk), a pastoral summer festival puts a spotlight on feature films and arthouse fare; the newer Cinematik (www.cinematik.sk) festival of documentary films is held in September in a quaint Slovak spa town; and Bratislava IFF, with artistic director Nenad Dukic, is designed to serve the urban population with an emphasis on young filmmakers in a city that is transforming as fast as its younger generation.

    Dukic took the reins of the festival in less than ideal conditions, with just three months to put a programme in place. But both the new artistic director and the management team, led by executive director Vojtech Kabath, were satisfied with the results. Although the festival was operating on a budget cut by at least one-third, audience attendance per film rose, with near 100% capacity on the opening weekend, and 10 or more sold-out screenings daily during the week. The festival also was cut in length by one-third, lasting just six days, and reducing its satellite festival operations from three towns to two.

    "We have a new team - it's really very strong and very professional - and a new venue, which is really very good," Kabath told FNE. The new venue, in a gorgeous glass showcase building that would be impressive in any capital city, has become, in effect, a second city center for Bratislava, with upscale cafes and restaurants lining the grassy banks of the Danube River. Along with keeping the team and venue in place for 2012, Kabath wants to have a seven-day festival in 2012.

    The dates of 2012 are still under discussion. The 2011 event overlapped with two other festivals that both compete for Central European films and filmmakers. "We'll think carefully about this," Dukic told FNE.

    Looking at the positives, Dukic said, "I'm satisfied with the programme and the team of people." He added, "There are a few things to build up and develop... First of all, more focus on young cinema - it's a festival of first and second films - and second, to pay more attention to current Slovak film production. ‘Made in Slovakia' is just a sidebar. We will meet with the Slovak Film Institute the day after the festival closes. We think the international festival should also be a place where international press and filmmakers should be able to see quality Slovak productions, and Slovak producers should be present at the festival. I will even suggest we make a small national competition."

    Slovak filmmakers managed to grab some of the spotlight in a closing awards ceremony held on 9 November 2011 that distributed its award among a wide array of films. The new Unicredit Audience Award for a Slovak Film with a 3,000 euro prize donated by main festival sponsor was shared by directors Zuzana Liova for House and Michaela Copikova for Dust and Glitter. And the Film Europe (www.filmeurope.eu) Award for representation of Slovaks abroad was presented by Film Europe general director Ivan Hronec to Slovak film music composer Michal Novinski.

    The Argentine/Spanish coproduction Las Acacias was the big winner of the night, taking both the festival Grand Prix and the FIPRESCI Prize.

    The prize for Best Documentary went to The Night Watchman (Mexico) directed by Natalia Almada. The Best Short Film prize went to Sundays (Belgium) directed by Valery Rosier.

    Other awards handed out at the closing ceremony included Best Actor for Ivan Trojan in the Slovak film Visible World (www.jmbfilm.sk) directed by Peter Kristufek; Best Actress for Iben Hjejle in Stockholm East; Best Director for Vincent Garenq for Guilty; Student Jury Award for 17 Girls (France); and Audience Award for Perfect Sense (U.K.).